The Manchester City academy product has helped shore things up at the back for the Cottagers, and could be the future for the Super Eagles as well
There is a simple, if slightly reductive, measure of the impact Tosin Adarabioyo has had since moving to Craven Cottage.
When Fulham secured a place in the Premier League by downing Brentford in the Promotion Play-off Final at Wembley in August, they were immediately installed as favourites (along with fellow promoted side West Bromwich Albion) to return whence they came. Right away, they set about justifying that prognosis, losing their opening four games in the top flight and conceding an eye-watering 11 goals while at it.
On the 5th of October, a day after their defeat to Wolves, Manchester City academy graduate Adarabioyo joined the club for a modest fee of £2 million. Thirteen days later, following that month’s international break, the England youth international made his debut for the Cottagers, starring in a 1-1 draw against Sheffield United that earned Scott Parker’s side their first point in the division.
Since then, Fulham have amassed nine more, and while they remain in the relegation places, there is a clear demarcation: zero points in four before Tosin (BT), 10 points in 10 after Tosin (AT).
A more sophisticated measure comes in the form of Expected Goals conceded per game, which had dropped from 1.575 (BT) to 1.56 (AT) ahead of this weekend’s draw against Newcastle United.
This is borne out by the eye test as well: Fulham appear a world removed from the chaos and defensive indecision that characterized the previous partnership of Tim Ream and Michael Hector, and this despite completely overhauling the back line.
On the evidence of recent performances, the partnership of Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen is getting even stronger.
Against reigning Premier League champions Liverpool, Fulham were resolute, giving little away and carrying a significant threat themselves. Only a penalty for an unfortunate Aboubakar Kamara handball denied them all three points at Craven Cottage, and the 23-year-old was particularly defiant inside his own penalty area for the London side, completing a game-high 11 clearances and looking dominant in the air.
This will no doubt have come as a major encouragement for Parker. While Adarabioyo’s education at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City has imbued him with oodles of composure in possession, it is in the more fundamental aspects of defending that the Fulham boss suggested he needed to improve only a fortnight ago.
Parker told the Press Association, “I think you can definitely see (it) the way he is, he’s a ball-playing centre-half, plays through the lines, nice with the ball and confident with the ball so there’s definitely that element that you can tell he’s been schooled in a certain way and it’s probably the other side that we need to keep working on.
“The defending, the bread and butter of his game – and Tosin does that as well. He’s done extremely well, he’s got loads and loads of facets to his game, he can keep growing and become a top Premier League centre-half.”
Parker will have viewed his most recent performances with satisfaction then, as will Nigerian football fans everywhere.
Despite representing England at youth level, Adarabioyo remains eligible for Nigeria through his parentage. He has an admirer in Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr, who reportedly has set his sights on the 6ft 5in centre-back with a view to incorporating him into the national team set-up.
Beyond simply swelling the available allotment of options, it is easy to see why, from a stylistic standpoint, Adarabioyo would be so attractive to Nigeria selectors.
For the most part, Rohr’s centre-back options tend to be physical, aggressive man-markers: William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Chidozie Awaziem and, to a lesser extent, Semi Ajayi all fall into this broad categorization. The exception to the rule is Rangers’ Leon Balogun, whose composure and expansive style is sadly tempered by a propensity for injury, as well as the fact he is into his 33rd year.
With a view to maintaining the brawn-plus-brain dynamic going forward, a player of similar gifts is eminently valuable as a direct replacement for both Balogun’s quality in possession and his leadership qualities. Adarabioyo, a player who has captained England at different youth levels already, fits the bill excellently.
The Three Lions are, of course, spoilt for choice at this time with respect to central defenders, and this could very well open the door for a switch of nationality, especially with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on the horizon.