Last week at work, a Chelsea-supporting colleague (yes, we all have our crosses to bear) spotted me walking down a corridor and asked if he could have a quick word – ‘because it is important’. I nodded, racking my brain in search of what I may have done wrong, but the reason for the urgency quickly became clear: ‘How is Tomas Kalas doing?,’ he asked, eagerly. I replied that, without exaggeration, he might have been the key signing of Fulham’s summer and possesses such confidence on the ball and composure in organising the defence, that we are still very pleased to have secured his services.
These points were only certified during Kalas’ commanding performance at Griffin Park on Friday night. Last season’s scourge Scott Hogan barely had a sniff of the ball – and, when he did, Kalas was quick to swoop in and sweep it away, as he did to set up a second half chance for Sone Aluko with an effortless swing of his right foot. Brentford barely threatened the Fulham penalty area in the first period – not getting close enough to register a shot of any description – but, when the pressure was ramped up after the break, Kalas and his colleagues stood firm. That Championship pedigree that the Middlesbrough fans assured us the Czech came with was reaffirmed in the 20 minute spell where the Bees pressed for an equaliser but were limited to two efforts from Josh Clarke.
It was telling that Slavisa Jokanovic chose to highlight another clean sheet early in his post-match press conference. The Serbian, such a competitor in his playing days, was exasperated by Fulham’s shambolic defending in his early months in charge – and recently had cause to lament the basic errors that were undermining his side’s early improvement this term. Kalas’ composure, as well as his undoubted quality, have made a significant difference upon his return from a hamstring problem – indeed, the 23 year-old has been at the heart of the defence during all of Fulham’s five clean sheets – a total that has already eclipsed what they managed throughout the whole of last season.
The solidity that Kalas provides in that back four has allowed Jokanovic to become slightly more adventurous, even in the big contests. So complete was the 6ft 1/2in centre back’s nullification of Hogan’s threat that Kevin McDonald’s deployment as the single holding midfielder never really posed a problem and the powerful, overlapping runs of both full backs offered the genuine width that Fulham have sometimes lacked. Kalas’ reading of the game – he made two interceptions, one block and nine successful clearances – is often overlooked when people list his attributes, but it often allows swift redistribution of the ball to a midfield that now comprises a host of playmakers.
Kalas’ position as the first choice centre back was only enhanced by his period out of the team – when dreadful defensive blunders saw Fulham lose twice to Bristol City, contrive to be beaten at home having dominated QPR and slip up in an even game at Villa Park – and his assertiveness makes the timely return from injury a welcome one. Although he isn’t tall by modern standards, Kalas didn’t lose a single aerial duel at Brentford and his positioning was spot on to repel a number of second half crosses. There are certainly encouraging signs, too, that his partnership with Ragnar Sigurdsson is gelling nicely – and given that he had struck up a good bond with Michael Madl in the early part of the campaign, that bodes well for the remainder of the season.
What the future holds for the highly-rated Kalas remains to be seen. He has been scathing about his previous use by his parent club – once telling a Czech radio station that he was used as ‘a player for training sessions. If they need a cone they put me there instead’ – and hinted that he might be time to move on from Stamford Bridge permanently before his loan move this summer. Chelsea were reportedly close to agreeing a fee with Middlesbrough for his permanent transfer, but for the moment this latest loan deal has Fulham reaping the rewards of procuring a talented player eager to prove his worth.