Counting the bright spots in Fulham’s 2014 won’t take you too long during this festive season. They were conspicuous by their absence as the club’s thirteen year tenure in the top flight came to an end with a whimper, but the emergence of Lasse Vigen Christensen represents a real fillip as the most f0rgettable of calendars closes. Successive Fulham managers have sought an energetic midfielder to take the team forward in the post-Murphy era without success – and now it looks like the answer to that most cursed of conundrums was to be found at Motspur Park all along.
Unlike much of the Fulham’s fabled young talent, Christensen doesn’t owe his opportunity in the first team to Felix Magath’s reboot of an ageing side. The German coach offered the Danish youth international two helpings of first-team football lasting 45 minutes each. Christensen’s step up to the senior side came when his own boss, Kit Symons, was similarly promoted in the aftermath of Magath’s abrupt departure following a topsy-turvy encounter at Nottingham Forest. His first start at Craven Cottage this term was just three minutes old, when somebody in front of me reacted to a heavy touch by exclaiming, ‘Where have we got this Vigen guy from? Kindergarten?’
First impressions aren’t always instructive. Christensen has indeed rolled off the famed conveyor belt of Fulham’s youth set-up, after arriving from FC Midjtylland in January 2012, but his performances passed many by. I always liked the look of Ronny Minkwitz – a German with a keen eye for a pass, who Christensen quickly usurped – but his unfussy attitude to retaining possession and his own position meant he wasn’t as eye-catching as a Patrick Roberts, all pass and adventure, or the goalscoring exploits of Moussa Dembele. Symons appreciated Christensen’s steady qualities over the course of his 21 appearances for the Under-21s last season and when he was looking for someone to fill the gap in his midfield diamond, he plumped for the disciplined youngster he could trust.
Appreciation of Christensen’s potential ran higher, too, as the club have shrewdly safeguarded the Dane against any passing vultures with a long-term contract that runs until 2017, by the far the longest of any of the Academy graduates. That deal, signed in January when avoiding relegation remained the immediate priority, looks an even more astute piece of business with every passing week. Few could have predicted the way in which has seamlessly taken to life in the rough and tumble of a Championship midfield, but Christensen’s calm demeanour, confidence on the ball and an uncanny knack for picking the right option leaves me in no doubt that he can go much higher.
That’s the prevailing opinion in Denmark too, where they talk about Christensen as a prospect with the potential to step into international football before too long. His accomplished displays in Fulham’s midfield have brought representatives of the Danish FA to Craven Cottage in recent weeks to take a closer look – and they can’t fail to have been impressed by the mature performer they watched. Christensen’s goals from midfield have been the most eye-catching feature of his play, but his strength and steadfast refusal to go to ground in a challenge unless it is absolutely necessary, make him just as important in his own half as going forward.
Then there’s those fancy feet. Our first glimpse of Christensen’s nimble footwork came in the way that he worked yards of space on the edge of Huddersfield’s box where there appeared to be none on his way to scoring a sublime individual goal moments after the Terriers had equalised, but the way in which he turned Jack Grimmer’s routine throw-in into a winning goal for Hugo Rodallega at Elland Road was just as spellbinding. His pace, which people may have overlooked prior to Saturday’s thirteen second past from his own box into Sheffield Wednesday’s to score a match-settling third, is pretty devastating too.
That’s not to say Christensen’s the finished article yet. Of course, like any of the young talent that is suddenly getting an extended run in the first team, there’s improvement to be made. It begs the mouth-watering question: just how good can Christensen become? Equally intriguing is the make-up of a Fulham side in the years aside that might feature a fair helping of our recent Academy graduates, six of whom finished the thumping victory over Wednesday at the weekend. With patience, a vibrant young side could emerge under Symons’ tutelage.
Patience, of course, is a precious commodity – and rare – in football. The next time Symons’ young tyros take a shellacking or suffer a setback, remember how much Christensen has grown in a white shirt in the space of four months. Regular football has turned a promising youngster into one of the Championship’s most consistent performers. At the tender age of twenty, Lasse already looks the part.