When Calum Chambers arrived at Craven Cottage in August of 2018, he seemed ideal stylistically for Slavisa Jokanovic’s football. As a leaner centre half, comfortable with the ball at his feet, Chambers seemed primed to be an asset in our possession based football. Chambers also came with a partnership with Alfie Mawson as the Swansea City centre half (who signed in the days prior) and the Arsenal loanee were the preferred centre back duo for Aidy Boothroyd. With Chambers and Mawson in the middle of the defence, England conceded just once in the three group games before being knocked out by the eventual winners Germany (shock incoming) on penalties. I recall this tournament well, and whilst England’s attacking ability was lacking, it was the performances of the two centre halves that had me ‘desperate’ for Swansea to sign Chambers that summer; completely unaware that I would see it at Fulham a year after. Fast forward another 12 months, Fulham only used the two as a centre back duo in two fixtures, Exeter at home in the League Cup before Alfie Mawson was substituted after 75 minutes and Watford at home before Alfie Mawson was substituted at half time.
While Alfie Mawson was out injured, Chambers found time at centre half harder to come by with Fulham’s return to Premier League football being littered with defensive frailty and Slavisa Jokanovic tinkered with Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Maxime Le Marchand all potential partnerships. With Slavisa Jokanovic’s last game at Anfield came Calum Chambers’ first match in the midfield, In a post-season interview with the club website, Chambers said about the Jokanovic experiment, “He wanted me to get myself about, try and break up play, try and protect and stop the ball going into the strikers. It was a very defensive role I was playing.” Chambers also admitted to the impact Scott Parker had on his transition, even before the former Fulham captain was made head coach, “we do stuff after sessions, quick feet stuff, working on my body position and making sure I’m aware of what’s around me. I’ll ask him where I should be with and without the ball. If there are little things I’m unsure of, I’ll go and speak to him and get his advice.”
Chambers fairly seamless transition into midfield was surprising for what initially appeared to be a short term solution became a fixture of the side under the regimes of both Claudio Ranieri and Scott Parker. After continuing as a ‘water carrier’ for Ranieri, once Scott Parker was placed in charge, an attempt came to add another string to Chambers’ bow, “with Scotty it’s been more of a box-to-box role if you like, getting myself about and trying to help out with the forwards.” While Calum himself appears to still see himself as a central defender, his year at Fulham was beneficial, “now when I play centre-back I’ll appreciate more what the midfielders have to go through and it will help me realise what pass they want or where they want me to give them the ball, so it’s definitely been a great experience and added to my game.”
Whether Calum Chambers, at 24, can break through at Arsenal is another question. Newspaper reports suggest he may be used as bait for the Gunners to clinch a deal for Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha on top of him being the only of Arsenal’s six central defenders to go out on loan, whilst Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos remained in Unai Emery’s set up. Chambers’ performances as a makeshift central midfielder could attract Emery to trial him as a rotational player given Arsenal will look to compete on four fronts again. I do think Calum’s future (like most Englishmen of his age) is better playing consistent football and if the opportunity to work with a Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace comes up, why not?
Whatever happens, Chambers is one of the front runners for Fulham’s Player of the Season voting and I’ll be personally surprised if he isn’t one of the top two. His consistency, work ethic and personal qualities have been a pleasure at Fulham and he seemed to have more ‘want’ than some players signed here permanently. I think I speak for a lot of Fulham supporters that wish Calum Chambers the best of luck in his future.
For Fulham, they’ll have to find a replacement for that anchor role in midfield. Kevin McDonald coming off of a season where he experienced the ruthlessness of football may be charged with returning to his former self in the Championship, or does Tony Khan dip into the transfer and find Scott Parker that style of player?