The re-education of Dickson Etuhu

“Dickson Etuhu, who I had at Preston, was fantastic in training, but not so good in matches. Roy Hodgson [Fulham’s manager] rang me about Etuhu. I said, ‘If you can get him to play for Fulham the way he does in training, and I think with your experience you can, you have got the next Patrick Vieira.'”  Craig Brown

And now we begin to see it.   I have always felt that Etuhu’s contibutions to Fulham were undervalued anyway.   True, he rarely passed more than 15 yards, rarely threatened the opposing goal, and didn’t always make the most of his physique, but equally, he was always in position, deferred to better ballplayers, and never gave the ball away (despite what people like to think).

That was about that.    It was always a case of the system inhibiting his instincts, the question was whether he’d have the game to take advantage of the (missing) freedom.   Consensus seemed to be that he would not.    Maybe we’re about to find out otherwise.

Here’s a comparison between his first ever game for Fulham and his most recent:

The slight difference is the passing forwards, which didn’t happen to start with but which happened more than ever before on Sunday.  His brilliant surge into the area forced van der Saar into a pair of good/lucky saves, and while you might argue that Etuhu should have done better, the first shot was fair and he had little time to react for the second.   It would’ve been some goal.

The difference, of course, was the removal of what we might as well now call “Hodgson’s Handbrake”.   Here are our last two home games against United, and the team’s average positions.  The yellow lines show where the central midfielders have stationed themselves.

That’s a pretty sizeable difference (also note that the full-backs seem a bit narrower).   It leaves a bigger gap between defence and midfield, but closes the gap between midfield and attack.   Take your pick.   Hughes is backing his defence to be able to survive without a shield.    Based on how Hangeland and Hughes played on Sunday, that might be okay.   And it means we might well see Dickson Etuhu turn into that rarest of beasts:   a legitimate box-to-box midfielder.    There aren’t many who can be a force at each end, and while it’s a bit much to expect this of Etuhu, it remains exciting to see him develop his game.

I don’t think we need blame Roy for holding him back though.   You could very well argue that the entire team has benefitted from Roy’s schooling, and is now ‘ready’ to go to the next level.   Just as the Karate Kid honed his skills with repetitive drills that he longed to leave behind in favour of exciting tournament drama, so the Fulham players must have longed to burst free of their shape-led regime.    But in insisting on this dedicated approach Hodgson (Miyagi) probably did them a favour, laying a ‘walk-before-you-can-run’ foundation which they absolutely needed, and from which they might now, finally, go to the another level.   While we wouldn’t have got where we are without Hodgson, the chances are we wouldn’t have got beyond here either.    Under Hughes it really does feel as if the sky’s the limit.

9 thoughts on “The re-education of Dickson Etuhu

  1. I think Murphy and Etuhu are now playing side by side with one going back when the other goes forward, which is good, but I think Baird and Greening are probably better at that ‘dual’ role.

  2. Funny, I just made a similar point about Dickson on my blog.

    Totally agree with everything you’ve said though, I think it was clear that Hughes has already begun to encourage the team to attack more, and attack more directly. Etuhu was one of the more obvious beneficiaries of this. It does leave us a bit more open at the back, so I expect to see more goals at both ends this season. We just have to hope that the outcome ends in our favour more often than not, unlike the situation under Sanchez which saw lots of goals but also lots of losses.

    Good point about Roy laying the foundations too, I’d never thought of it like that but the more I do the more it makes sense. Here’s hoping Hughes can gradually improve us in the attacking third and make us into a more dangerous prospect for opposing teams overall.

  3. Etuhu plays the sort of role where age and experience really seem to matter. On that run into the box that lead to his shots (or maybe a run before that) you could seem him hesitate for a second when he saw the gap before going on the run. Sounds ridiculous, but that hesitation is important. You need these guys to understand the game and think before making a move or else they could destroy the system. Roy Keane kept on getting better as he aged. Viera too, until he lost his legs. Scholes and Murphy (slightly different types of player, admittedly) also seemed to get better with age, enabling them to move into a midfield two. We’re still waiting for Gerrard and Lampard to do the same. But they haven’t learnt and so need two midfielders behind them just to have them in the team. I have a very good feeling about Etuhu and think he could be the player that benefits the most from Hughes.

    Love the analogy by the way!

  4. If you are right about Hodgson laying the foundations but needing a Hughes to push on (and I think you are) it raises questions about Hodgson’s ability to succeed at a club like Liverpool where the requirement is to win virtually every match and not merely to avoid defeat.

    We shall see.

  5. Very interesting diagrams and comments, both from Rich and others. A Hodgson-Hughes transition probably has more chance of yielding progress than would a transition from Hughes to Hodgson. For as long as the current defence is in place we stand a chance of best of both worlds. But as memories fade and personnel shifts, how long will the RH foundations stand up, one wonders.

    Hughes is a man in need of quick success and, while the ingredients remain in place, so perhaps are.

  6. Intriguing analysis. My only concern about the progression from Hodgson’s shape-oriented discipline to Hughes encouraging attack; the “foundation” laid by Hodgson that Hughes is now capitalizing upon, is that, at some point, those who learned their discipline from Hodgson will be replaced. Where does that then leave the club?

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