Oh, I remember the days when every Fulham fan would look at the team sheet and try to skip over the defence. I remember the days when we had the great Ian Pearce in defence. I remember the days when we had Zesh Rehman defending the goal. But most of all, I remember the days when we had no reliable centre backs.
But a messiah soon came- in the most unlikely of people. When one Brede Hangeland arrived at our relegation-threatened club in 2008, who, and let us be honest here, can put up their hands and say that they thought he would be the man who would bring calm and stability to our defence? Before you think that I am criticizing you I am not- I am merely pointing out that our Hangeland has turned into the man of the hour in the most unlikely of circumstances.
But why, I ask, why is Hangeland such a great presence in our defence? We all see that he is exceptionally calm on the ball and that he combines great physical presence with supreme aerial ability and a certain elegance about himself. More importantly, it’s shown in the stats. This season Hangeland is averaging 6.9 clearances a match, 0.8 blocks a match and almost 3 aerial duels won during a match which only serves to confirm the general view that he is an exceptional defender. For comparison, Vincent Kompany, who is considered one of the best defenders in the league, is only averaging 0.7 aerial duels a match, 5.9 clearances and 0.9 blocks a match. To put it in short- Hangeland is outperforming Kompany. Underrated?
Hangeland, however, brings more than his defending to the team. This season his passing has been superb. At every Fulham game I have seen this season (which is a lot!) Hangeland has been an outstanding passer of the ball. He looks so natural on the ball, with such calmness that he reminds me of our very own Johnny Haynes looking for a pass. His passing has been the starter of many an attack this season and his accuracy of passing is extremely good, with a rate of 82% this season. This displays not only great ability on the ball but also exceptionally good concentration.
Physical presence is another aspect that Hangeland has in his game, being our second top scorer last season (all from corners!). He might have stopped scoring for this season, but I firmly believe that he will return next season. The site of Hangeland jumping highest to powerfully head in against the likes of Roma, Manchester United and Shaktar are moments I will never forget. He has fantastic timing on his runs, and good accuracy on his headers, aiming for the sides of the keeper. Goals from defenders are an added bonus, and his whilst his scoring might have dried up this season, his presence in the box has created goals as markers get worried about him.
However there is a trio of particular factors that has led me to label Hangeland as Fulham’s greatest ever Premier League player and my personal favourite. His passion, his leadership and most importantly for me, his loyalty. Whenever Hangeland steps on that field you can see the passion he has for the club- he gives his all in every game, and I have one particular memory of last season’s goal against Man Utd where the passion when he scored that goal was so big that even I, from the back of H6, could feel it- he wanted to score that goal, he wanted to make a difference and he wanted to get that point. That’s hunger, that’s desire and that’s passion.
He also displays incredible leadership at the back. Chucked the armband whenever our Captain Fantastic goes off, he takes it with aplomb. He organises the players, doesn’t shout at them, doesn’t get frustrated but simply encourages them- I’ve watched that on numerous occasions this season. He does it naturally at the back. Look closely and you will see him expertly marshal that defence into moving up on the offside line, and keeping the players in check. At the Arsenal game, you could see him getting that backline sorted out against the best striker in the league- and it’s clearly worked. The team that Mr Van Persie hasn’t scored against this season? Fulham.
But there is one thing that has endowed Hangeland to me more than any other Fulham player- his undeniably brilliant sense of loyalty. When other clubs came to notice that we had uncovered a gem of a defender in our midst, they naturally got interested. A crumbling Arsenal defence needed propping up, and who better than Hangeland? Papers are papers at the end of the day, and we don’t know if they did in fact make an offer, but what Hangeland did say was that he wanted to stay at Fulham. In a footballing league where money is becoming increasingly a pulling factor (as displayed by recent transfers at Fulham, most notably one B Zamora getting one last pay day) a sense of respect and a sense of dignity is becoming fast lost. It takes real men like Hangeland to keep that tradition alive. Unquestionable loyalty to the club and its cause is what Brede Hangeland’s greatest factor is.
I hope you have a new contract ready Mr Jol…
Because Brede Hangeland sums up Fulham Football Club at its best.
For more Fulham related ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @willpaul25
Many thanks to @RobertOrdever for the title!