Dempsey’s award, and a squad report card

Clint Dempsey is Fulham’s player of the year. Thank goodness.

This should have been the most one-sided vote in recent memory, and by the sounds of it Dempsey did win by some way.  Simply put, without Dempsey we’d have been in huge trouble last season.

Brede Hangeland might quietly feel a little miffed, having established himself as arguably our *best* player, but for whatever reason centre-backs just aren’t as glorious as their team-mates, and I doubt he’d have been surprised at not winning.  He was magnificent last year though, dominant at the back and moderately prolific up front. It all adds up to a very fine player and one we’re lucky to have.

Chris Baird’s third place seems about right. He deserves this for everything he’s contributed to the team, and players who can perform in a variety of roles, and do it well, are worth their weight in gold.  The reason I found calls for him to win the award strange are simple: while Baird has undoubtedly done well, his absence from the team would not have – in my opinion – been critical. He still had Hughes and Hangeland in the middle, and the loss of either of those would have been a much bigger blow. Baird did well, very well, but not to the point where player of the year award should be in the conversation.

Which might as well lead us onto a final report card piece:

Mark Schwarzer: B
I don’t really accept that he’s slowing down/losing something talk. He has always made the odd mistake, what with being human and all, but remains one of the game’s finest goalkeepers. Schwarzer doesn’t have to make the flashy saves because he’s done a lot of the hard work (positioning) before we’re even looking at him.  If an acknowledged great player can be underrated then Schwarzer is underrated – replacing him would be very hard indeed.

David Stockdale: B
But David Stockdale might just be able to do it. Or not, we don’t know. The trick with goalkeeping is in the margins – over a 38 game season these small things all add up, but in short bursts might not be so obvious.  So while Stockdale has been excellent whenever called upon, it’s too soon to suggest that he’s ready (just as we can’t say he isn’t). The likes of Ben Foster and Scott Carson have demonstrated that goalkeeping is as much about consistency as it is about talent, which is why the likes of Schwarzer and EVDS are/were so fine at this jobs. With Stockdale we don’t know either way.  Unfortunately for David he’s caught in that horrible Catch-22 where he needs the chance to prove himself.  I would imagine that a loan move is needed at this point.

John Paintsil C-
Not as bad as made out, Hughes’ ruthlessness made things look worse than they were, but equally, those own goals and lapses could not be swept under the carpet. It’s hard to know what to make of John Paintsil, but our lives have been made better by his presence at Craven Cottage, so whatever happens now, we must be thankful for his efforts.

Chris Baird B+
See above. I remember when Baird was struggling, Colin at Championship at Best launched a project to attempt to get a fans’ scouting report.  He wanted Fulham fans to rate players on various physical and mental dimensions to see if there were any interesting positional commonalities, and to see how fans evaluate players in non-traditional ways.  To my horror, the dominating mark for Baird was 1 out of 5, even on things like heading and jumping, which he’d shown himself to be pretty good at.  People were making judgements and writing him off completely. I could see how you might have criticised Baird for his ability to deal with fast running wingers (Young, Hleb and Petrov all gave him trouble, I recall) but not for his entire game.  There were matches that season where he played bloody well, although tellingly they may have been away from Craven Cottage (Chelsea and Liverpool away stick in the mind for full-blooded defiance).

Baird was in a bit of bother, probably because of the fans’ treatement as much as the opposing players’.  Roy Hodgson saw something there, and when Baird was next seen it was clear that Baird was rebuilding. All his passes were short, many to the ever hungry Bullard. It was the equivalent of a batsmen in cricket taking his time and not trying anything daft.  Gradually Baird became more comfortable, and before you could say “loan move to Southampton?” he was playing in centre-midfield against Juventus in one of the club’s great nights. Baird had a fine season last year and was nearly as good this.  The goals at Stoke finished his comeback though, and he is truly a fans’ favourite.  How he deserves it.

Carlos Salcido C+
Really, really good when attacking, his defensive work disappointed many. This isn’t quite fair, I don’t believe, as he came back when not fully fit and was obviously not right in the team’s awful defeat against Manchester City.  He’s a good player and I’m convinced would demonstrate this if he were to stay another season, but may not get that chance. One to watch – if he does improve then he’ll be a real asset. If he doesn’t, well perhaps Matthew Briggs can step up.  Otherwise this is transfer need #1.

Aaron Hughes B
Good, but not great in my eyes. Hughes has been fantastic at Fulham but to me this was his least successful season. He seemed ever so slightly off his game in a number of matches, perhaps suffering from the team’s more open approach, perhaps carrying a minor injury that was never publicised.  He did well, and the Hangeland and Hughes combination is one that will still be talked about in 2050, but I’ll be interesting to see how he does next year.

Brede Hangeland A+
See above. Don’t underestimate the goals – they were vital to the team, and will continue to be vital in the seasons ahead. He was fantastic.

Philippe Senderos B+
Looked good when given the chance, and performed admirably for Switzerland against England this weekend. A nice signing who gives our next manager interesting decisions to make.

Matthew Briggs B-
I and others were disappointing, but we must remember that young defenders do not typically arrive fully formed.  He lacks that special x-factor I saw in Smalling, but in his only game that wasn’t against World Class opposition (Port Vale in the cup) he was terrific, attacking with elegance and crossing like Kevin Sheedy.  Against this, he was embarrassed at Arsenal and turned inside out by Salamon Kalou at Chelsea. It’s a start, and I’m still hopeful, but still a bit to do.

Simon Davies B+
We didn’t see enough of him but Simon was excellent when available. He’s getting older now and plays in one of the team’s strongest positions, so his days of being Fulham’s 7/10 man every game are probably behind him. But what a great man to have around.

Danny Murphy A-
Ran the show from the midfield. I don’t know that there’s much to say about our captain that hasn’t been said already, but clearly he’s this incarnation of Fulham FC’s heartbeat. People will remember the Schwarzer-Hughes-Hangeland-Murphy-Dempsey-Zamora Fulham side for a long time.

Steve Sidwell A-
How about that? I’d almost assumed that players like Sidwell didn’t exist anymore, fiery, sparkplug types who pop up all over the pitch, driving forward or flying across the turf to make a crunching tackle.  He’s a red card waiting to happen in Europe but a terrific Premiership player.  Fine signing.

Dickson Etuhu B
Lost out to Sidwell but showed enough to justify the new contract. He still hasn’t quite put it all together, but last season we saw some attacking bursts and some more fine defensive work. He’s made a good career for himself and is another who’s good to have around.

Damien Duff B-
The Times, incidentally, called him our best player in one of their post-season roundups.  He is a good player, but for a lot of the season wasn’t quite himself.  Caught fire for a stretch to remind us that he’s still got it, but Duff is a player I’m not sure about going forwards.

Jonathan Greening B-
Hilariously good when called upon this season, whether it was scoring a late goal against Peterborough or making three in the last two games against Birmingham and Arsenal.  What kept you, Jon?  He went from being functionally effective under Hodgson to being a genuinely intriguing prospect for occasional wide cameos under Hughes.  Probably ought to get a move somewhere where he can make the most of the rest of his career.

Moussa Dembele B
People are waiting for the end product but players like Dembele don’t come around very often. It could be argued that this is no bad thing – the skills are more icing rather than cake – but let’s give him a bit of time to get that right.  Look at the way Nani and even Cristiano Ronaldo have played at Manchester United, evolving from show-boaters to world-beaters. Dembele might not have that in him, but it’s not proven that he doesn’t.  The Fulham player most likely to be a superstar. For now he’s not necessarily part of our best XI, but the possibilities…

Zoltan Gera C-
Oh dear. Without Europe he was lost. A horrible ending, too. Likely to be off now, a strange flicker of a Fulham career, nothing, then something, then nothing.

Clint Dempsey A
Single-handedly kept us afloat for much of the season, as there was genuinely nobody else capable of scoring on a consistent basis.  Now our highest ever Premiership goalscorer, Dempsey has a choice: stay, and rack up enough appearances and goals to become one of the club’s great players (another 7-8 seasons?) or follow his Champions League ambitions and see how far he can go.

Bobby Zamora A
When he played he was extraoardinarily.  I’m genuinely interested in how good he is in the big scheme of things, as sometimes you wonder how he could improve.

Andrew Johnson C+
I’ve talked about AJ enough on these pages, but in simple terms remain unconvinced. Why I don’t afford him the luxury of time, of getting fitness back, I’m not sure, but he’s a player I just don’t seem to appreciate.

Eddie Johnson C-
Ah, what can you do? He nearly scored a couple of times, one superlative save from Robert Green denying him a nice first goal, but another loan to the Championship only served to extend his poor goalscoring record at that level. Football at the highest level is a subtle affair, the differences between the great and the good being slight, the differences between the ordinary and the not-quite-good-enough even smaller.  Eddie’s been here long enough now, and for whatever reason his instincts aren’t quite there and now it’s too late.

9 thoughts on “Dempsey’s award, and a squad report card

  1. A fine summing up … Only one that I think wasn’t spot on was AJ. I think in most games he did well. I’d like him to be here at the start of next season linking up with BZ up front. I’d have rated him a ‘B’.
    Anyone now when the fixtures come out? I’ve heard 14th June …

  2. AJ is good with the link-up play with bobby or anyone but we have to be clear about something: He is useless at finishing. if scoring is meant to be part of his job then either he has to switch positions or he has to go. 10 goals in 63 league appearances is AWFUL. That’s worse than Steve Marlet!

  3. A good review of the various players this season – without the hype of certain players that usually surrounds this kind of thing.

    The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Brede Hangeland could easily play for a champions league side. He is pretty much consistency personified, diligent on the ball and mostly unflappable. Plus he doesn’t dive (looking at you Vidic). Add in his threat from set pieces and ability to lead the defensive line he really should be playing for a bigger club.

    Luckily, not many people have noticed this yet and insist on looking at young English defenders who are not as good.

    He is, quite simply, the best defender Fulham have ever had.

    1. I think the goals have taken him to that extra level. Football’s all about goals, and if you can be a mountain one end and a threat the other you must be doing something pretty well. Awesome player who’s gone from “wow, we did well to find him” to “wow, what an amazing player”. If Wenger’s serious about getting taller he needs Hangeland. This is one reason the managerial changes aren’t so hot, you don’t know how it might unsettle the players. Hughes clearly got Hangeland attacking the ball well, and I hope Brede likes the next man.

  4. A bit surprised that you dont rate Duff higher. Am I right in thinking you sit in the Riverside ? Is it conceivable that our Damien plays more effectively when attacking the Hammy end, as we lot sitting in Block B of the Johnny Haynes saw a definite B+/ A- when he was playing this season. Otherwise, cant disagree with your observations.

    1. Maybe – I think Duff’s an outstanding player, but my memory (shaky admittedly, what with having the baby in November) is that he’s blown hot and cold a little this season. As noted from reading Patrick Barclay’s “Mourinho” book, Duff was until recently thought of as a world class player in the Robben bracket. He’s still a fine player for Fulham, I just hope he can stay fit and well.

  5. Great post, I have to strongly disagree on Senderos, especially being having a better rating than Hughes, who wasn’t quite himself all season I agree, and looked pretty shakey on occasion but as a season on the whole he was solid. We didn’t see much of Senderos but if his performance against a very poor Sunderland, team at the Stadium of Light is anthing to go by I’d have Hughes every time… He’s Ying to Hangerlands Yang, Phillipe would be told to be Ying, instinctively try and be Yang, and make a panda’s arse of it all!

  6. I completely agree with your assessment of AJ. He’s a guy who was always a headache for the opponent, but never a migraine. To use a baseball analogy: He could always get the opposing batter to two strikes, but didn’t have an effective out pitch. Whenever he played this season, I was always disappointed, because I wanted to see more of Dembele.

    I’m far more bullish on Dembele than you, and, I think, many other Fulham fans. Many fans still seem skeptical of his ability in front of goal, but toward the end of the year he ripped a number of shots that were either deflected just past goal or rattled the cross bar. Plus, I don’t think that’s really his game. I see Dembele as Fulham’s Mesut Ozil. He’s going to test the keeper and score some goals, but he’s there just as much to rattle defense and set up Zamora and the onrushing Dempsey/Sidwell/Duff/Davies. I think he should absolutely be in the starting eleven.

    And just from a fan’s perspective, he’s such a pleasure to watch. He’s totally confident playing close to defenders in a way that reminds me a bit of Xavi.

  7. I keep looking for your assessment of Kamara’s performance. It will tell me much about how you watch the game!

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