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.
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.
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