It was the participation of Fulham fan and TOOFIF columnist Dave Kidd that made me a regular viewer of the Life’s a Pitch podcast run by BT. You tend to get sharper punditry here than in the back pages as the coverage isn’t as driven towards the top four or five and covers a broader range of topics. So it proved this week as the panelists debated some of the less high-profile signings towards the tail end of the January transfer window.
The Times’ Rory Smith was positively purring about one of Fulham’s new recruits, the on-loan midfielder Urby Emanuelson:
Emanuelson is a belting player. When he’s on form and fit he’s a top-four player, so Fulham have done really well to get him. He can play centre-midfield, left-back or wide left, and he’s been at Ajax and AC Milan, so you can’t get a better education than that. He knows Martin Jol so he’ll be comfortable, and he’s the sort of player Fulham fans will really enjoying watching. A hit.
It’s not exactly a secret that the Jol connection was what secured Emanuelson’s passage to Craven Cottage. He had worked with the Fulham manager at Ajax and, enduring a spell out of the Milan side at the moment, was eager to do so again. There’s no doubting Emmanuelson’s quality and it’s a bonus that he can feature in a number of different positions. He’s probably classier than a continental Chris Baird, but the versatility Emanuelson offers is similar. Comfortable on the left wing or at left back, we’ve seen him so far deployed in central midfield – and he’s caught the eye even in just an hour’s playing time.
Jol has compared his new arrival to Moussa Dembele and it’s easy to see why. He’s got impeccable balance and a deceptive turn of pace but perhaps most impressive he’s increased the intensity of Fulham’s performance both times he’s stepped off the bench. That might not have been difficult during a dire game at Norwich, but the way he was quickly carrying the attack to Manchester United the other week was encouraging. Whilst he was still picking up match fitness and integrating into his new surroundings, it made sense to use him from the bench, but the task for Jol is to find a place for Emanuelson in his side.
Central midfield seems the most likely place for the Dutch international to slot into – although he’ll need to be prepared for Stoke’s physical approach if he starts there in Fulham’s next fixture. It’s probably the best fit for the system Jol’s looking to play to – with Emanuelson able to carry the ball forward from deeper positions, quicken the transition from defence to attack and pick a penetrating pace, that would allow both Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov to spend more time in the advanced areas where they are most likely to hurt the opposition. Like Smith, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more of Urby in a Fulham shirt.