On the Fulhamish podcast this week, Tony Khan delivered a bombshell of sorts when he definitively stated he wanted to bring back Aboubakar Kamara next season.
The French livewire splits opinion like none other among Fulham fans. That statement alone is perhaps the only thing we can agree on. But despite his polarising presence, Kamara must be brought back to the squad and will play a crucial role in Fulham’s promotion hopes.
I was as appalled as anyone else when Kamara snatched the ball out of Aleksandar Mitrovic’s hands against Huddersfield, and then went on to miss the penalty. I was shocked to read reports he was arrested on suspicion of actual bodily harm in a January training ground bust-up. And yes, I laughed along with everyone else when that viral video of Kamara missing an open goal in Turkey materialised.
But in the face of his obvious flaws, Kamara offers so much to Fulham. While it is often lazy and ignorant to dispel a player’s talents to just ‘pace and power,’ that is a massive reason why Kamara is such an asset. One of our biggest issues last season in the Premier League was a lack of cutting edge and physicality that could cut it in the top flight. Kamara possessed those attributes, terrorising defences in matches against Wolves, Arsenal, and Leicester City.
And for all the ridicule that is directed toward his technical ability, Kamara’s skill is actually far better than many give him credit for. The goal against the Foxes is a case in point. Kamara uses his speed to latch on to an adventurous Mitro flick-on, and makes his way to the byline. But he shows superb close control to turn on a sixpence, cutting back with a measured approach to leave the Leicester defender hurtling toward the advertising hoardings. Then, Kamara sizes up a shot between the legs of Kasper Schmeichel for an excellent goal.
Yes, his detractors will dispute all that. The shot was all luck, they’ll say. He should have passed the ball across the face of goal. His cutback was fortunate.
But at the very least, the example shows that Kamara is far from a one-dimensional player with no technique or skill. Look back to his time in the Championship. An exquisite chipped finish, nay, a scoop, against Burton. A lovely feint followed by an exquisitely slotted goal against Hull City. Another shot-fake and confident strike away at Nottingham Forest.
And I’m sure you will find countless instances where the final product didn’t come off for the Frenchman. He is liable to errant, long range strikes, speculative decision-making, and wastefulness. But what attacker isn’t? My view is if you are willing to take risks and if you add energy and verve to an attack, you are a useful option who can make things happen. I’d certainly have an erratic yet energetic Kamara in my team every day over an entitled and disinterested Andre Schurrle.
Let’s also resist the urge to write Kamara out of the history books of Fulham’s promotion. Although for most of the unbeaten run, the winger was out of the team, he returned to the home stretch to fire Fulham up. While Tony Khan focused on the decision to start Kamara in the second leg against Derby, he actually came back at an earlier point.
With Fulham in trouble at home against relegated Sunderland, Kamara came off the bench in a bold move for the injured Matt Targett. It was Kamara’s surging run that led to Lucas Piazon’s equaliser in a huge game for the side’s momentum. It was Kamara’s shot that led to a corner and Denis Odoi’s headed winner against Derby. And it was Kamara’s energy that gave Villa’s backline headaches in the final and led to the celebratory scenes at full-time.
Perhaps the best case for Kamara’s return is not even his own qualities, but rather Fulham’s priorities. The club is desperately short of attacking options, with only Mitrovic, Kamara, and Rui Fonte able to play at centre-forward. If Kamara is loaned out yet again, the club will have to spend major money to fill a need that could easily be met by the Frenchman.
Kamara’s disciplinary issues do raise a concern, but I truly believe most of his actions can be explained by a love for Fulham and a desire for his team to succeed. The penalty incident was an example of a supremely passionate player who deeply believed he would be the best player to score a goal so Fulham could win. It just turned out he wasn’t.
And when Claudio Ranieri was left with a young player in the aftermath of a controversial flashpoint, he bungled the response. At a time like that, Kamara needed an arm around his shoulder and a stern talking to. Both to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again, but also to reassure Kamara that his team was counting on him to behave.
Instead, after an overblown yoga incident that even disciplinarian Kevin McDonald agreed was a non-story, Ranieri banned Kamara to the youth team. What followed was the disgraceful arrest. But the banishment was completely the wrong approach for a tempermental player who needed guidance, not ostracisation.
In all, if Tony Khan, Scott Parker, and the Fulham players are ready to welcome Aboubakar Kamara back to Motspur Park this summer, then his return is fine by me. In the Championship, a focused and motivated Kamara can tear up the league and complement Mitrovic’s attacking qualities up front.
Some supporters may hate him, but what they can’t do is claim he doesn’t have an impact on the pitch. And that impact is what makes Aboubakar Kamara so valuable to Fulham.