This one’s a real shame.
Hangeland wasn’t like most footballers and it’s no surprise to me that he’s off. He liked Fulham and all it stood for, until such a point as he didn’t like Fulham and all it stood for, and now he’s gone.
I suspect Hangeland was of the Moritz Volz school who appreciated football as a means to an end, a great way to earn a living and to earn money with which to cultivate interests, enjoy time with the family, travel the world, and so on. Fulham was perfect for him in this sense: he earned super money, he wasn’t under any great pressure, and he was a big fish in a small pond.
The big clubs craned their necks over the Motspur Park fence I’m sure, but their scouts would probably have worried about a man who even on his best days was slightly giraffic in approach, who wasn’t great (and I mean that literally – he was really good at most of his job) on the turn and who couldn’t really be used in the high defensive lines that are increasingly becoming en vogue.
He was very good at what he was good at though, namely being part of a well drilled back four and dominating in the air when required. It should also be added that he and Aaron Hughes were a wonderful combination and never really functioned apart. A few years ago I’d have gone back and counted how often they played together but those days are gone. I shall instead be happy to say that they played a lot, I saw almost all of their games, and they were great. Hughes was quick in recovery and quick to spot danger, and very adept at sweeping up anything that Hangeland hadn’t dealt with first up. They were simply perfect for Fulham, neither particularly liking the ball (I can well imagine Hangeland stepping out, looking up, then threading a pass 50 yards out for a goal kick), both particularly adept within the scheme Roy Hodgson concocted for them.
Hangeland had played for Hodgson before of course, sometimes as a defensive midfielder, and when Hodgson got the Fulham gig he took one look at Fulham’s team and realised he needed height, and badly. Hangeland came in and Fulham were instantly better. He also brought something that the team needed, and in retrospect became the model for the Hodgson team: character, intelligence. Hangeland is a bright man who is not obviously quick to anger, and that’s more or less what Hodgson’s team was about. They didn’t give away silly fouls, pick up silly cards; they played like grown-ups. When I was researching the Roy book Erik Nevland told me that the team had absolutely been built like it was on purpose. Hangeland embodied this spirit, this ethos. People can say that he hasn’t shone as captain but his leadership was quieter, substantial no doubt, and I’m sure effective. If you played for this Fulham team he’d have been one of the big presences; he’d have been the one you wanted to impress.
After Hodgson left the defenders got a little big less protection. Mark Hughes found a decent balance and someone in that coaching staff got in Hangeland’s ear about attacking corners. That season he was immense. He didn’t achieve anything like the success afterwards but I can still see him powering through the air like a second row forward, ready to head home.
The Jol years will look even worse in retrospect and our centre-backs of the period will want to forget every moment. Hangeland and Hughes had aged slightly, but also had to make do with Sascha Riether and John Arne Riise beside them, both more wing-backs than full-backs. They lost the patio door that was Dickson Etuhu, and after a brief Diarra-Dembele explosion had to settle for the Sidwell/Parker axis of doom, with various undefending wide-men too. When they defended for Hodgson it was part of a unit of 11; under Jol you were looking at whoever might be arsed to retreat, often 11 again but the wrong side of the ball this time. It meant the centre-backs couldn’t now focus on building an inpenetrable line, but instead had to step out and meet onrushing players. It was no way to defend, and I’m sure they were all miserable about it.
I doubt Hangeland will stick around in the UK now. He has made serious money and I’d guess will see out a few years in Norway, before disappearing into normality.
When we look back on these glory years we’ll conjure up all kinds of mental pictures, and our giant centre-back will be in most of them.
Seeya, Brede, and thanks for everything.