We got only the briefest of glimpses of Urby Emanuelson at the weekend. Havig gone through an extensive warm-up along the Riverside touchline, he was introduced as a late substitute for the tiring Damien Duff as Fulham strove to hang onto their slender lead against Stoke City. The Craven Cottage faithful saw Emanuelson in his natural left midfield role, as opposed to the central midfield position he had filled during his two previous cameos in a white shirt.
The Dutch midfielder was probably the biggest name to make a loan move to Fulham over the January transfer window as Martin Jol bolstered his midfield with a few temporary additions. Emanuelson has been adamant that he’ll return to parent club AC Milan come the summer – and he reiterates that position in a revealing interview with InsideFutbol. It’s clear he still feels he has unfinished business at the San Siro, having suffered through a tricky third season – spent mostly on the bench – at Milan and also wants to force his way back into the Dutch national side. What better way to remind everyone of his enduring ability than with a successful spell in the Premier League?
Even in his three substitute appearances, Emanuelson has quickly acclimatised to the major difference between the more cerebral Serie A and English football:
The main difference between this league and Serie A is the speed of play. Football in England is faster. Moreover, the referees are more tolerant, while sometimes in Italy it is frustrating to see the game stopped every minute because of a foul.
The Dutchman is also candid enough to admit that his move to London has made having to adjust to the fact that he’s dealing with a different kind of challenge for the first time in his career.
It is the first time in my career that I am at a club that does not play dominant football. Both Ajax and Milan were powerhouses in their countries, whilst Fulham have to face giants like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Against them you can try to play football, but you can’t dictate the game. I don’t see Fulham as a step back in my career. I am 26. I need to play. Fulham? It was a choice I made for my career.
Emanuelson’s history with Martin Jol might the only reason he’s ended up at the Cottage. Facing up to the reality of a fractured relationship with current AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri, he jumped at the chance of being reunited with a coach who helped him burst onto the European scene during his time at Ajax. The move might just prove mutually beneficial.
He was key to my move to London as I’d already worked with him before at Ajax. Under him I had one of my best seasons. He knows me and I needed a coach who believes 100% in my qualities. Tactically speaking, Jol has asked me to bring more creativity to the team, but at the same time I must take care of my defensive duties and keep the team compact. That’s fine by me, I am an all-round player and I have considered my versatility to be one of my strongest points. Playing a key role both in the defensive and attacking phase is the same thing I did at Milan. The only difference is, as I said before, that in England I have less time to close the space to my opponent or to put a team-mate through on goal.
Emanuelson’s cameos from the bench have whetted the appetite of Fulham fans eager to see what sort of impression he might make on the Premier League were he given a prolonged run of games in the side. The competition for places in the wide positions is fierce, with Damien Duff’s determination making him the first choice on the left and Ashkan Dejagah’s display on Saturday suggesting that the Iranian winger is right to make the right-sided spot his own. The most intriguing possibility is whether Jol could successfully deploy Emmanuelson as a deep-lying playmaker, like Mousa Dembele.
In that regard, Saturday’s three points – which inched Fulham closer to safety – could be crucial. Jol might be tempted to release the shackles over the closing weeks of the season, allowing his side, which suddenly has a collection of flair players, to play a more expansive game that would suit the talents of Emanuelson, Ruiz and Berbatov. If the Dutchman is keen to remind Milan of his ability, Fulham might be in line for an exciting end to their campaign.