Hangeland’s return the key to survival for Fulham

Guest writing for Hammyend.com Archie Rhind-Tutt looks at the return of Brede Hangeland and the significance that the Norwegian could have on the remainder of Fulham’s season.

These days, a phone call between David Moyes and Roy Hodgson would be an interesting insight into coping with two of the most high profile, and subsequently, most scrutinized jobs in English football. Just over nine years ago, Moyes and Hodgson probably had a different comprehension of the word scrutiny.

Brede-Hangeland

Back then in November 2004, a phone call did take place between Moyes and Hodgson. Managers of Manchester United and England, they weren’t. Manager of Everton and coach of Viking Stavanger, they were.

With a six foot six inch Stavanger centre back completing a trial at Everton, Moyes asked Hodgson if Brede Hangeland was good enough to play in the Premier League. Indeed he was, according to Hodgson. Yet despite his endorsement, Hangeland did not move to Moyes’s Everton. Instead, the towering Norwegian went to FC Copenhagen in 2006 but he would eventually get that Premier League move.

With his former manager moving to Craven Cottage in late 2007, Brede Hangeland became Roy Hodgson’s first signing at Fulham in January 2008 – and what a signing. Without Hangeland, you could argue whether Hodgson would be in the position he currently holds, such was the integral role he played in the side that revitalised Hodgson’s standing in English football.

Like most relationships, it all started on a cold Tuesday night in Bolton with a most glorious clean sheet. That night was the genesis of a central defensive partnership that would form the bedrock of Fulham’s success under Hodgson. Because it was there, that Hangeland first played with Aaron Hughes.

Salt and pepper, gin and tonic, fish and chips, Batman and Robin, dust pan and brush –Hangeland and Hughes was a combination to rival any. Hangeland, in footballing parlance “the stopper”, was the man charged with sniffing out the danger, meeting it head on whilst it was Hughes’ job to cover the lanky Norwegian should any pesky forward nip past him.

So they had to overcome some hard times, namely the Whites near relegation to the Championship in 2008. But after that hurdle was negotiated in the most improbable manner, it was with Hangeland and Hughes at the back that Fulham enjoyed, firstly, their best ever league finish and then most memorably, that run to the Europa League Final. Hangeland was the one who took most of the credit, linked with a move away as a result, with Hughes the able yet underappreciated sidekick.

But then came the inevitable fall after attaining such heights. Whilst the partnership made it through the Mark Hughes reign, it was to be Martin Jol who’d split up the pair and it’s no coincidence that Hangeland’s performances deteriorated. Pace has never been a great strength of the lanky Norwegian, so as a result, Jol’s increasingly attacking or defensively irresponsible tactics, depending on your point of view, were not conducive.

Still, by this point, Hangeland had been made Fulham captain after Danny Murphy’s departure. His mere presence in the side was still important though. Fulham and Hangeland’s form was already waning before he was ruled out through injury in October last year.

His final game of 2013 came against Crystal Palace where he was outjumped by Adrian Mariappa for the opening goal. Clearly the sciatic nerve problem, as it was later revealed, was affecting him given that Mariappa is nearly a foot smaller than the Norwegian. Fulham went on to win that game but it would be Jol’s final victory as five consecutive defeats after sealed his fate.

His successor Rene Meulensteen hasn’t had a chance to use Hangeland in the Premier League yet but he might well be the key to survival this season. In the eight games with Brede Hangeland this season, Fulham conceded 10 goals in eight games. In the 13 without him, the Whites have conceded a staggering 36 – averaging out at nearly three per game.

It’s not just his statistical importance to Fulham though – symbolically, he is crucial. It’s a mark of the man that away from home, no Fulham player makes a greater point of running over to the visiting fans to applaud them before kickoff. After every game, he’s there too. He embodies the spirit that you want from a captain.

It’s poignant too that his Premier League return should come against Arsenal. It was against the Gunners that he was first presented to the Craven Cottage faithful back in January 2008. His first Premier League goal for Fulham was also against Arsene Wenger’s side and during his time at Craven Cottage, he has been linked with a move to the Emirates on a few occasions.

Six years to the day that he signed for Fulham, Brede Hangeland is likely to lead the Cottagers out at front runners Arsenal on Saturday. A result is unlikely but that game won’t decide if Fulham survive. If Rene Meulensteen was able to bring in a lithe central defensive partner for Hangeland, it would only help but that looks unlikely given the backlog of centre backs at the club. Dan Burn appears to be Hangeland’s protégé judging by the FA Cup replay against Norwich.

000 Norwich FACR 21.ashx

Burn worked well with the captain on the Norwegian’s return from injury as the Whites kept only a second clean sheet in Rene Meulensteen’s 13th game in charge. He may not be the most suitable partner for the rest of the season but in the long term, he looks the heir apparent to Hangeland’s position in the side.

Even though 20 goals have been shipped in the last 6 league games, the general performances have been improved under Meulensteen. You might argue that it wasn’t too difficult when they’d plumbed to such depths as those given away at West Ham in Martin Jol’s final game. Then again, the ten goals conceded against Hull and Sunderland alone testify against any improvement but overall, there has been a greater balance to Fulham under the former Manchester United coach.

Brede Hangeland’s return to the first team will only improve that and providing he stays fit until the end of the campaign his comeback is likely to provide the stability that Fulham need to stay in the Premier League once more.

Archie is a reporter for BT Sport’s European Football Show and he produces LBC 97.3’s Saturday Afternoon radio programme Scores with Ian Payne. You can follow Archie on twitter @archiert1

Settling the score

If one game epitomised the desperate nature of Fulham’s winter slump, it came at Loftus Road on December 15. Leaving that ground, Fulham’s home in name only for a couple of seasons before their return home almost a decade ago, after watching a performance hardly worthy of the name was a desolate experience. Spineless, supine, sacrificial: several synonyms could sum it up. Fulham were wretched and meekly surrendered in a second half that unfortunately isn’t forgettable.

The sight of Adel Taraabt, who famously sought a quick getaway from Craven Cottage after being substituted at half time in last season’s 6-0 drubbing, dribbling through the remnants of a lackadaisical Fulham defence to score QPR’s second, winning a loose ball from Brede Hangeland just past the half way line, will send a shiver down my spine for years to come. For me, it wasn’t so much that QPR had secured their first league win of the season and glimpsed survival after the poorest start in Premier League history, but that Fulham were so devoid of fight, passion and spirit. It seemed fitting that Mladen Petric’s deflected strike came too late – it was almost an apologetic afterthought.

Rivalry for me didn’t come into it, although it certainly will have bothered others. I grew up with a raging dislike of Brentford, who were a division above Fulham when I first started visiting Craven Cottage regularly and had aspirations of climbing higher, while Chelsea feel like more natural geographical rivals these days. Passions will rise in anticipation of Monday’s return fixture for many, however. 1983 still lingers long in the memory, an abject 3-1 defeat securing the Second Division title for Rangers, and the deathly phrase ‘Fulham Park Rangers’ should serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come in the years since Fulham conjured up images of the halcyon days of the 60s, the 1975 Cup final and the latter stages of Bobby Moore and George Best’s careers.

More recently, of course, the fortunes of the two clubs have been inextricably linked. From Mark Hughes’ own ‘ambition’ to that of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, there’s been a fair bit of traffic travelling down the Askew Road towards Shepherds Bush. Hughes’ departure from the Cottage looks more and more like a moment of hubris that might prove one of his biggest managerial miscalculations – his time at Loftus Road saw an expensively assembled squad plumb depths that few pundits could have predicted in the summer – while his two striking recruits have endured uncomfortable injury-plagued spells at their new club. Andy Johnson’s lack of fitness was the reason why Fulham were unwilling to extend his contract, while Lorcan’s already adequately covered the subject of Zamora’s return.

Monday’s meeting assumes massive significance for QPR as Harry Redknapp runs out of games to prove he can still claim his Houdini mantle. It goes without saying that Rangers badly need a win, even though they’ve climbed off the foot of the table thanks to Arsenal’s pummeling of Reading on Saturday, but the importance of the fixture for Fulham shouldn’t be understated. Jol’s side have quietly crept towards the top half of the table – and as both Swansea and West Brom stumble ahead of them – there’s a slim chance that Fulham could climb even higher. The Whites have acquired the handy habit of finishing seasons strongly in recent years – and Monday’s game offers the rare opportunity to clinch consecutive London derby wins following the defeat of Tottenham before the international break.

Victory tomorrow night would prove cathartic for a number of the Fulham faithful. It shouldn’t be taken for granted, however. QPR do have the ability to score goals – Redknapp’s capture of Loic Remy and Zamora’s return to fitness have offered the strugglers a striking threat that they had previously lacked. If Fulham can console themselves that the mercurial talent of Taraabt might start on the bench, they’ll face a physical and explosive partnership in the shape of the French forward and a man whose ability to infuriate central defenders we know all about.

In their media comments in the build up to this game, it seems as though both Jol and the players have got the message. They seemed lacklustre and leaden-footed at Loftus Road. It wasn’t good enough. There’s a score to settle this time – and a few psychological scars to repair.

Hangeland Signs New Contract!

The empty article was not a red herring: Brede Hangeland has signed a new deal! After months of protracted negotiation, Fulham have announced Hangeland has extended his stay with Fulham to 2015 with the option of another year. This is a huge relief as our captain, who has lead a defence that has kept three clean sheets in four games, could have left for free in the Summer – and it would have cost a fair bit to replace a player of his quality. We have had nothing but good times since his arrival and hopefully that continues over the next couple of years.

Congratulations Brede!

LRCN

Has Hangeland Signed A New Contract?

As noted on Friends of Fulham, the club appear to have let slip that captain Brede Hangeland has signed a contract extension. An ’empty’ new article was published with the headline “Brede’s New Deal”, implying that there’s a new story set to be released with that article – and that can only mean one thing surely. Hangeland’s current contract expires at the end of June and confirmation of a new contract would be a welcome relief.

LRCN

Hangeland close to signing new deal, says Jol

Fulham captain Brede Hangeland is close to signing a new contract to keep him at Craven Cottage beyond the summer, according to his manager Martin Jol.

The Fulham manager, speaking after Saturday’s win over Stoke, is confident that prolonged discussions with his Norwegian centre back will soon result in a confirmed deal. The 31 year-old defender is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with a Bosman move away from the club. Fulham rejected three offers from QPR in the January transfer window and Jol is confident that Hangeland commit his future to the club.

I think we are close. We will have a few players [signing new deals] in the next couple of weeks. Over the last couple of months Brede has been a tower.

Hangeland has starred in Fulham’s last two matches as the Whites kept two clean sheets and climbed to eleventh in the table. The captain was outstanding against Stoke on Saturday and has been a pivotal part of Fulham’s revival since joining the club from FC Copenhagen in January 2008. The 6ft 4in centre back has made 224 appearances, scoring ten goals.