by Mike Forrest
Wikipedia the name Phillipe Senderos and you might be surprised by the information displayed. A combined 98 appearances for English giants Arsenal and European giants AC Milan reads as a distinguished career. So why then at the age of 27 – when he should be beginning his ascent to the peak of his powers – does the Swiss stopper find himself at Fulham, a club of notably smaller proportions?
His worried and furrowed brow along with his baby face are not features than one would associate with a central defender; a position that has been defined as a “hard man’s” position. His innocent visage reflects his affable personality but translates poorly onto the pitch and he is often bullied by opposing strikers.
However he does possess all the attributes needed to be a top class centre half. The problem for Senderos is that he struggles to collate his attributes and have them running in synchronization together which suggests that his problem is more of a mental one rather than an actual lack of ability.
At Fulham he may benefit mentally from the tame media exposure compared to playing at a world renowned club such as Arsenal, but fans have yet to see the player that Arsene Wenger once viewed as a key cog in his defense.
But trying to fix the mentality of someone is much harder than say recovering from a physical problem such as tearing an achilles tendon which Senderos did upon joining Fulham. The mental toughness that is needed to be a centre back especially seems to have evaporated from him. Senderos was once a fixture in the Arsenal side and played a prominent role in getting the Gunners to the Champions League final. Now he finds himself as a bit part player at Craven Cottage.
Whilst not unpopular among the Fulham fans he certainly isn’t a terrace hero either. He usurped Aaron Hughes for the starting centre back spot thus breaking up the very successful Hughes and Hangeland partnership, but he hasn’t been able to replicate the telepathy that exists between Hughes and Hangeland. It is worth remembering though that Hughes and Hangeland took time to click as a partnership and also benefited from Roy Hodgson’s defensive tutorage. Senderos has not had the benefit of either sustained playing time or coaching from Hodgson but rather the more attack minded Jol.
Somewhere lurking in Big Phil is a class player but I’m not sure the potentially excellent player wants to escape. I think he has found his comfort zone at Fulham but what a shame if that is indeed the case. If he has the desire to play champions league football again – which I firmly believe he has the ability for – then he needs to shed his Achilles heel of being a nice guy on the pitch and develop a nasty streak. He is 6 foot 3 and a big guy, he should be the one bullying strikers not the other way around.
But his stuttering career will continue to vacillate if he does not grasp the importance of exerting himself physically and mentally on the pitch. I fear that it will be with an air of melancholy that we look back on his career; he is slowly but surely consigning himself to the mournful “What could have been?…” brigade. There’s still time for Big Phil but it is slowly getting away from him.