Sports page reporting is apparently simple maths – Fulham minus Zamora equals a desperate need for a new striker. But as the Whites continue to be linked with every forward from every country Roy Hodgson has ever managed in (and even some he hasn’t), the emphasis at Craven Cottage has been on keeping things familiar.
As transfer talk boomerangs around Fleet Street, the only official line from Roy Hodgson – aside from the likely deal of Stefano Okaka, which should go through today – is that he is looking to keep Erik Nevland for another season. The manager, who himself recently signed a new deal, is clearly looking for stability this January rather than wholesale changes. Whether this news signals the end of Diomansy Kamara’s spell at the Cottage remains to be seen, but this writer considers Nevland a more important figure at the club, despite being three years older than the Senegalese at 32. Yes, Kamara has more pace. Yes, he runs at defenders more. And yes, he has the potential to pull off the spectacular. But he cannot be relied upon to hit the back of the net with any given chance – and that is why Nevland deserves this deal.
With both men – in Hodgson’s time – having been limited to appearances off the bench, it is Nevland who will always remain the more likely of the two to provide his side with an all-important goal. Hodgson is certainly a manager who sees reliability as a more important characteristic than unpredictability. Although guilty of a howling miss against Blackburn earlier this season, the amount of times the Norwegian has hit the back of the net when provided with a clear-cut opportunity is second to none at the club, and that includes the reincarnated Bobby Zamora. As impact substitutes go, thrown on to grab a vital point or three, they don’t come much better than the former Manchester United trainee. In fact Nevland, until Hodgson discovered Gera is excellent when played in the hole, was far more effective when started alongside Zamora than either Kamara or Andy Johnson in the league. He forged an excellent partnership with his big teammate, and is an ideal partner for a target man. Now, with Zamora’s long-term injury, his finishing talents will have to be utilised if the Whites are to continue their goal-scoring form.
Hodgson is all about teamwork – his players defend as a unit. And this could be why Nevland is likely to be asked to extend his Cottage stay. While Kamara is unstoppable when on form – he can beat anyone for pace and can make life a nightmare for most defences – there are too many facets to his game in order for him to be on top of it with any kind of regularity. Nevland, on the other hand, is a straightforward ‘get into position, find the target, beat the goalkeeper’ type player, which complements Hodgson’s passing game perfectly – aimless running (which Kamara can sometimes be guilty of) does not. Of course, he has a very gifted footballing brain in order to get into those positions in the first place and, alongside the right partner who will look to play him in, is likely to take any opportunity with both hands. No amount of pace can compete with the understanding of the game the Norwegian has, and Hodgson is quite rightly looking to reward that ability with a contract extension.
Even with the addition of Okaka, Nevland’s role – whether off the bench or as a starter – will be as important as ever in the second half of the season, perhaps more so, depending on how quickly Johnson recovers from his lengthy lay-off. Johnson will probably partner Clint Dempsey for the time-being, leaving Nevland with his familiar role of changing games late on. However, should Hodgson’s likely front pairing not work as planned, then expect the Viking to be asked to conquer from kick-off. Of course, if Hodgson does bring in any, or some, of the names that have been plucked by the newspapers, then the Fulham attack could have a very unfamiliar feel to it. Knowing Hodgson, however, that looks very unlikely.
Unless the unannounced winter break continues, the Cottagers travel to Ewood Park next for the return of the game in which Nevland missed one of his only Fulham sitters to date. Despite it mattering little – the team ran out 3-0 winners and had Nevland already scored the opener – the Norwegian has a personal score to settle on the 17th. And not many would expect a repeat performance.