Who impressed you the most last season? Who disappointed?
David Stockdale. After all the talk of Schwarzer leaving it was a mighty relief to find that we’d got a readymade replacement already in the ranks. It’s still early days but I’ve not seen him have a poor game yet.
At the opposite end of the scale I’d go with Carlos Salcido. It comes down to expectations and I have to admit mine were clearly too high but even based on that I was very surprised to see how far off the pace he was. I could have coped with him being poor defensively if he’d been an exiting force going forward, and equally vice-versa, but from my point of view we got neither. Shocking positional sense, too often caught out for pace, not enough decent crosses and not a single 40 yard thunderbolt to cheer us all up!
David Stockdale too. I had feared the worst to be honest but he was rock solid, looked very accomplished and acquitted himself superbly even when the pressure was on. Mark Schwarzer didn’t have a great year and often seemed as if he had his boots on the wrong feet when he was kicking. Not only that but he didn’t want to be at Fulham and I’m a firm believer in letting someone go if their heart isn’t really in the club. Stockdale was also willing to answer any questions posed to him via Twitter which I found impressive!
Matthew Briggs. Wow, how disappointing? I’d been expecting a lot from this young lad but his appearances didn’t give me much optimism, even though he was probably a tad unfortunate to be thrown in against the top teams straight away. Also – and this pains me to say it as I love the guy – but Johnny Pantsil had a disastrous time. The sad thing is we all know he’s so much better than that but he just couldn’t get it together. The fact that he must have known early on that Mark Hughes didn’t believe in him will have only added to the pressure and it all crumbled. A crying shame really, especially when you think how important he was to the team last season.
Seems unimaginative but I can’t get past Bobby Zamora. We all knew he was good already, of course, but in the rare appearances he’s made this season he’s been so imperious, so arrogant (in a good way) that I’m not sure he hasn’t stepped up a level since last year. For such a huge confidence player, it will of course have done his ego no harm to be so badly missed (and constantly talked about) by everyone whilst injured. When the ball gets launched at him, it’s incredible just how often it sticks and an intelligent pass to a teammate results. I think he’s the best at what he does in the Premiership – and I think, crucially, that he knows it too.
In terms of disappointments I agree with Salcido for the reasons stated. Personally I also sad to see the demise of Paintsil, whose exuberant style was just the tonic that was needed in Roy’s rigid system but became quickly unworkable under Hughes. I’m sure he’s off this summer – but always a Fulham cult hero in my eyes.
Can’t disagree with Zamora. At West Ham he was a bit of a joke, now he’s the best Englishman of his type there is. We didn’t half miss him.
At the other end of the scale Paintsil, Salcido and Briggs. I wonder how much Carlos’s difficulties could be down to the language barrier, however I can’t help feeling we should have another left back for next season. (Haven’t heard Konchesky mentioned much lately). My criticism of Briggs must appear harsh. I had hoped so much that one of our youngsters would come through and Briggs seemed as good a bet as anyone. When he got his chances there were some real howlers which made me wonder if he can make the grade. I’d love him to prove me wrong.
No doubt that Zamora was as good as anybody when available, but how about Simon Davies? I expected to see him in a slightly diminished role – filling in solidly when needed, maybe 10-20 starts and a handful of sub appearances. Instead, we may have seen the best season of his career. He was our best creator of chances, and was still a threat to score himself. He did all of the little things that help you win – drawing fouls, winning corners, making the defensive plays, and avoiding turnovers. Davies exceeded all of my expectations by far.
I have to agree with criticisms of Carlos Salcido. I loved the long-range shot he showed off a few times early on, but I was disappointed with our defensive performances during the first half of the season, and Salcido was the weak link. To his credit, he did improve as the season went on, and I wouldn’t mind having him back.
Rich: It’s been a strange season. I’ve been really impressed with the continued growth of Brede Hangeland, who at this point is so good that we almost take him for granted. He’s added goals to his game and that pushes him up towards the elite level in my eyes. Clint Dempsey was obviously vital to the team this season, and ought to get the player of the year award. Zamora was incredible when he played, and I agree with Colin that Simon Davies’ form was impressive. I loved the look of Gael Kakuta and wish we could sign him longer term. I think he’ll be a star. It’s interesting that in such a bland year, so many of our players took a step forward.
On the other side of the ledger I will defend Carlos Salcido, who I still think could be a real asset next year. There’s a nagging suspicion that he needs to be playing in a sort of Dani Alves type role to make the most of his skill-set, but equally he might just have needed some time to settle in. I loved watching him cross the ball on the run. I think Aaron Hughes had a slightly down year by his high standards, and don’t think the team got enough from the second striker position, however it might have been configured: we didn’t see enough of Gera (in both senses), Eidur Gudjohnsen was good and bad, and Moussa Dembele reminded me of the old Barnes/Waddle issues England used to have – so gifted, so frustrating. He’ll come good though.
I got to agree with you Rich on Hangeland. The big lad scored six league goals and one in the FA Cup this year. That’s SEVEN total. Not to mention he led a defense that ranked was tied for fourth best in goals against, goals against average, and clean sheets. Simply stunning.
On the flip side I was extremely disappointed with Zoltan Gera this year. Obviously a lot of that wasn’t necessarily his fault as he was either played out of position, or not at all. But a little over a year ago he was a fixture in the side and fired us into a European Final. Last season he scored just one goal and got one assist in 27 appearances this season: his lowest league tally ever. He played about 30 minutes total from February on. I found his complete exasperation after getting sent off in the season closer, quite fitting: what a miserable end to a miserable season for him.
If being impressed by a player is measured by that player performing above your expectation of his limitations, I think it’s fair to say that Chris Baird impressed me the most. I have been a Baird defender from the days when he was routinely excoriated as “the worst player in the Premier League,” and I knew he was a solid defender in a number of positions, as well as a more-than-passable center-mid. But I thought that fullback was probably his worst position until this season. He proved himself to be a solid, unflappable defender as well as a real force moving forward. Yes, Dempsey and Hangeland had brilliant seasons, but I wasn’t nearly as surprised about their performances as I was by Baird’s.
Over on the flip side, I’d like to thank Rich for beating me to the defense of Carlos Salcido. The Mexican had about three dodgy outings — when Hughes brought him back from injury too early — but apart from that proved to be an adequate defender and a positive force when moving forward. In each of those categories I thought him a significant upgrade over Paul Konchesky. I’m also not disappointed with Gera’s performance. Gera is a betterthan-average midfielder who caught lightning in a bottle in 2009-10 — especially in The Europa League – and couldn’t replicate his once-in-a-career performance. No, my major disappointment was Eddie Johnson. After not being given any opportunity by Hodgson [or Fulham’s supporters] the previous two seasons, Eddie was given every chance to prove himself by Mark Hughes and, in reply, proved what everyone [including me, really] always knew: he’s a nice kid with a turn of pace who is, in no way, a Premier League footballer.