Tim Ream’s record at the heart of a Fulham Championship defence speaks volumes. The journey of self-discovery he took to force his way back into Slavisa Jokanovic’s plans, having been considered surplus to requirements ahead of the Serbian coach’s first full season in charge at Craven Cottage, speaks volumes for both his character and ability to hit high performance levels. His outstanding form at the end of that magnificent promotion-winning campaign vindicated Jokanovic’s volte-face and rightly places him alongside names like Schwarzer, Dempsey, McDonald and Mitrovic as modern greats in south west six.
Ream’s reliability in a back four wasn’t always a sure thing. He endured a rocky period after securing a move from Bolton, but in defence Fulham’s reshaped defence was a mess right up until Jokanovic was able to underpin the foundations in the summer of 2016. The American international worked his way back into the picture, despite the summer arrivals of Tomas Kalas, Denis Odoi and Ragnar Sigurdsson, through sheer hard work and a determination to ensure his own credentials fitted the head coach’s desire to play possession-based football from the back.
Ream’s distribution from centre half, his reading of the game and a reluctance to go to ground in the challenge were all characteristics that served Fulham well in a second half of the season where they roared up the table to almost pinch the second automatic promotion place from Cardiff. The fortitude the squad showed to swiftly bounce back from the disappointment of the final day at Birmingham and book a place in the Premier League via the play-offs was impressive and Ream’s quiet combination of relief and exuberance as he sat on the Wembley turf taking in the enormity of the achievement with the delirious Fulham fans will live with me for a long time.
Ream assumed the captain’s armband for Saturday’s friendly victory over Charlton in the absence of Tom Cairney was fitting recognition of his own quiet leadership qualities – respected around Motspur Park for many years. The experienced centre half has been someone who leads in actions both on and off the field, embarking on charity work both in his native home and his adopted one – his input to footballers4change and EduKitters, where he has been involved with a number of fellow Fulham team-mates this summer, speaking volumes about a strong commitment to social justice. He had to robustly defend himself against invented and spurious allegations from a Twitter troll last week, but defused the situation as adroitly as he has dispossessed many an attacker over the years.
Ream’s longevity – he has made 213 appearances across six seasons with the Whites – and experience in at this level will prove a priceless asset as Fulham prepare to enter a new era under Marco Silva. He may be getting on in age but was never blessed with outstanding pace to begin with and has always relied on his reading of the game to see problems emerging on the pitch. The 33 year-old has two promotions to his name from this division and spoke excitedly last month about the prospect of adding a third under Silva after adding the CONCACAF Nations League to an impressive honours haul earlier this summer.
His return to the side at the very end of last season could have been interpreted as a valedictory gesture for one of the club’s most committed servants, but both his performance at Old Trafford and the news that he had extended his contract earlier in the season suggests we’ll be seeing much more of the likeable centre half at Craven Cottage. The elongated cries of his surname when he’s on the ball will continue just like Ream’s steadying influence at the centre of the Fulham backline. One hopes he can flourish under the new regime because he’s a leader that all Fulham fans can be very proud of.