Amidst all the rightful fervour surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his four goal wonder-show for Sweden against England, Fulham fans will have been alerted to the fact that on the home team’s left hand side was one Alexander Kacaniklic, making his fourth appearance for his country.
It marked a quite remarkable rise for the 21-year-old, who having moved from Liverpool to Fulham as part of the deal that saw Paul Konchesky move to Anfield, made only four league appearances last season and eventually spend the last four months of the season out on loan at Watford.
Indeed, coming into this season it was Kerim Frei who was seen to be the young winger to watch at Craven Cottage. The Turkey international was the man on everyone’s lips at times last season on the banks of the River Thames, and was even tipped by manager Martin Jol himself for a big breakthrough season.
However, a pelvis injury saw the 18-year-old sidelined at the start of the campaign, and with the sales of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey opening up positions in the side, the stage was set for Kacaniklic to make his bow against Norwich on the season’s opening day.
The young Swede did not look at all fazed as he played the entire 90 minutes, scoring once, assisting once and lighting up Craven Cottage with some quite outstanding wing-play.
However, the true test would not be a 5-0 home romp against a struggling Norwich side in the August sunshine. How would Kacaniklic cope on October afternoons at Wigan or against the big clubs at big grounds such as Old Trafford and the Emirates?
Wigan’s Emmerson Boyce is probably still having nightmares after being run ragged at right wing-back by the Fulham flyer, who laid on chance after chance for the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz and Damien Duff. Additionally, despite the Cottagers’ eventual defeat at Manchester United, the away side’s best moments all came courtesy of Kacaniklic’s quick feet and inventive play down the left-hand side.
However, Kacaniklic’s display against Arsenal last week was probably the biggest indication that Fulham have a quite terrific Premier League player on their hands. Up against arguably one of the best right-backs in Europe in Bacary Sagna, and only coming off the bench after Kieran Richardson was forced off with a hamstring injury, Kacaniklic proceeded to dovetail with Berbatov as the Cottagers’ biggest threat.
It was not just his goal, which came courtesy of a quite brilliantly placed header just beyond the reach of Vito Mannone in the Gunners goal, but Kacaniklic’s constant willingness to get involved, his desire to run with people at pace and make things happen. No matter that it was Sagna, or Rafael or Glen Johnson of England on Wednesday night, Kacaniklic simply has one thing on his mind – to threaten the opposition goal and in Martin Jol’s attacking Fulham side, he can surely only improve.
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