Much has been written about Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa in the past year. The Cameroonian midfielder was made one of the scapegoats for Fulham’s dreadful relegation from the Premier League in 2018/2019, an apparent misfit and the poster child for the club’s reckless spending after winning promotion, someone who was ill-suited both to English football and the role he was asked to play in a struggling side, and regularly features on those lists of worst transfer purchases that clog up cyber space. Gradually, the punditocracy may be revising their considered opinion after another dominant display in the Fulham midfield.
It took Sky’s commentary team less than eight minutes to reference Fulham’s 2018 splashing of the cash last night. Anguissa always seemed something of an awkward target for that sort of criticism, though. It used to be accepted that signings from the continent needed at least a year – and sometimes much longer – to adjust to the unique pressures of the English game. Anguissa certainly didn’t get that time. It was obvious, too, that he struggled with being the lone holding midfielder in front of a dysfunctional defence. He didn’t fulfil that role at Reims or Marseille and was frequently facing several opposition midfielders rampaging through at pace.
Claudio Ranieri is rumoured to have told the Fulham hierarchy on his departure that the club had a serious talent at their disposal in Anguissa, which makes you wonder why the Italian didn’t deploy him more regularly. Scott Parker certainly rated him – something which Anguissa himself recognised before his departure to Spain on loan. The spell with Villarreal saw him utilised as more than a mere destroyer and was so successful that El Submarino Amarillo strove to sign him permanently this summer before reluctantly admitting defeat when he became clear that Fulham wanted to fit him into their first-choice midfield.
There’s no doubting the attributes that Anguissa brings to the table. He’s a powerful presence precisely in the place where Fulham have previously appeared lightweight and easy to play through. But he’s a much more progressive player than we’ve seen in the past. Freed up from some of those defensive duties by the presence of Harrison Reed, who continues to look like a crucial acquisition, Anguissa can stride forward with real purpose and pick out a pivotal pass in a manner that would make Tom Cairney proud. Evidence of this was on display at Elland Road where, with Fulham seemingly hopelessly adrift in the second half, Anguissa shrugged off Kalvin Philipps’ attempts to tackle him with a drop of the shoulder and sent Bobby Decordova-Reid clear with a perfect pass. He made excellence look easy.
There was another example at Leicester last night – and it arguably turned the game. He got a touch on a wayward pass from Youri Tielemans and when receiveing a short pass from Reed, he could have taken his time on the ball, allowing Fulham’s defence to reorganise and take the sting out of a period of prolonged home pressure. That might have been what would have been expected given the magnitude of this fixture and Parker’s attempt to nullify the Foxes’ midfield. Anguissa had something else on his mind, however – he injected pace and power into the game in an instant, driving forward with the ball at his feet, carrying it past would be tacklers and deep into Leicester territory, before slipping a wonderfully weighted ball to locate Ademola Lookman’s run in on goal. The winger finished with commendable composure, but the goal was made by Anguissa’s outstanding intervention.
Anguissa’s energy and sense of adventure, married with Reed’s apparently insatiable appetite for hassling and harrying opponents, immediately makes Parker’s side far more difficult to brush aside. The pairing are undoubtedly vital as Fulham look to amass the sort of points total necessary to secure a second season in the top flight, something that doesn’t look as outlandish now as some of the pundits were suggesting at the beginning of the campaign. As we’ve already seen, Anguissa adds a fresh attacking dimension as well – he’s already one of the division’s most proficient dribblers (he leads the league currently with 48 in total) – and it is clear to see why Parker wanted to make him a key part of his reshaped side.
Parker was far too polite to offer a pointed reply last night to Jamie Carragher’s brazen assertion that ‘Fulham are going down. I’ve never been so certain of anything in my life,’ which Sky put to him during their post-match interview. The former Liverpool defender, now occupying a cosy pundit’s chair instead of learning his trade as a manager, was far from the only offender as the talking heads went for hyperbole in the opening weeks of the season. If Fulham prove them wrong, it will be a brilliant achievement – and Anguissa will deserve some plaudits too.