Knee-jerk reactions are all the rage in modern football. It took some just half an hour of watching Aboubakar Kamara in a Fulham shirt to write him off. Others, after viewing the admittedly lamentable League Cup defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers, reckoned he was the worst striker the club had ever had. Plenty of internet correspondents suggested that Tony Khan’s analytical approach had recruited a dud at a time that Slavisa Jokanovic needed a serious striker – especially after Rui Fonte got injured at Ipswich.
Kamara isn’t anybody’s idea of the dream lone forward to lead the line. He shares few of the attributes of the last French forward brought in to fire Fulham into the Premier League, barring Louis Saha’s nationality. In fact, Kamara is much closer to cult hero Barry Hayles, barrel-chested, physical and quick – preferring to take the shortest possible route to goal. It was clear he was raw earlier in the season but, as I wrote then, to write him off after the briefest of cameos seemed harsh. I felt Kamara put a real shift during a creditable goalless draw at Leeds – and some of the stick he took from supporters was out of order.
What is also clear is that Kamara has warmed to the task of working with Slavisa Jokanovic. He was brave enough to move out of his comfort zone, away from the side he had just lifted into Ligue 1, and to London, where he hardly speaks the language. The team he joined hardly played to his strengths but Kamara has knuckled down and is now getting the rewards. It was evident during his twenty minutes on the field against Middlesbrough that he had worked hard both on holding up the ball and linking the play – the chance he spurned eight minutes from time was created by a lovely give-and-go at pace with Rui Fonte.
If you thought that miss was going to wreck Kamara’s confidence, you underestimated the man. His header that gave Fulham the most fleeting of sights of a big win on Saturday hasn’t been remarked upon enough. It was a colossal leap at the back stick to reach a floated cross from Ryan Sessegnon and, to hang in the air long enough to generate the power necessary to beat Darren Rudolph, was a stupendous effort. Even if Fulham ultimately squandered the advantage Kamara had given them, the joy in his frenzied celebration in front of the Johnny Haynes stand was rather heartwarming.
The ex-Amiens forward was something of a surprise starter at Nottingham Forest last night. Rui Fonte’s predatory instincts were rather sacrificed for the good of the team and, with confidence now flowing through his veins, the Frenchman gave Matt Mills, once a Fulham target, and Michael Mancienne, whose footballing pedigree includes coming through the Chelsea academy at Cobham and starring in the Bundesliga, quite a thorough working over. These centre backs are not novices and yet they didn’t have an answer to Kamara’s pace and power.
Allied to his selfless running, Kamara now knows he can finish in this league. His movement to drift across the Forest back three and give Ryan Sessegnon the option of early slide-rule pass down the side of the defence was first class and the finish, after a touch to gather his composure, gave Jordan Smith little chance. The goal was just the first act in a high-octane performance that saw him harry defenders without the ball and use it intelligently to bring team-mates into play. He rattled the near post with a venomous drive that surprised Smith in the second half and showed great vision to tee up Stefan Johansen for an effort that clipped the bar.
Nobody is suggesting that Kamara is the finished article or that he’ll blow Championship defences away single-handedly. But he’s far from the disaster some were predicting – and is the best advert going for all the painstaking work that goes on over at Motspur Park. Ryan Fredericks, whose barnstorming run from right back changed the course of the contest last night, was effusive in his praise when discussing Kamara with BBC Radio London after the final whistle:
He is a credit to himself, he has had to adapt, but we need to adapt to his strengths, he has improved so much.