CamWatch: Tomáš Kalas

After a scintillating 2016-17 campaign on loan at Fulham from close local rivals Chelsea, supporters on virtually every platform were baying for the Whites to secure Tomáš Kalas yet again during the summer either permanently or on a temporary basis once more for the 2017-18 campaign, and after weeks of stalling and speculation over his immediate future at Stamford Bridge, the strapping Czech Republic international answered our prayers by penning another loan deal to ensure that his assured qualities behind the midfield department remained by the river.

Kalas is an experienced Championship centre-half which understands what it takes to earn the right to grace the Premier League, given his previous spell at Middlesbrough in particular, and after becoming a vital component of a Fulham squad which fell short of the mark last term in the play-off semi-final against a frustratingly underwhelming Reading, the 24-year-old certainly has a score to settle with the Cottagers, as the club’s slick, vibrant football ultimately belongs in the top-flight.

Last season, Kalas proved his calibre in the heart of Slavisa Jokanovic’s and showcased his authoritative grip upon proceedings on a regular basis, a presence which made him an undisputed mainstay in the match-day XI, whilst gaining the trust and adoration of the awestruck masses in the terraces.

Although in the early stages of the current season against Reading at the Madejski, the usually dependable centre-half was sent to the stands after just 39 seconds of the tie due to a contentious red card. Kalas was hounded by two Royals attackers and was dispossessed on the edge of the 18-yard box, and as he tumbled to the turf, he clawed back at the initial tackler to haul him to the deck and stunt Reading’s advances. An irrational decision no doubt, but whether it was genuinely worthy of the punishment it incurred is still under debate and scrutiny.

His lack of composure and restraint against Reading was out drastically of character and highlighted the fundamental fact that there are questionable flaws and blemishes within his game, and though his disciplinary record is actually immaculate compared to other stalwart centre-backs in the second-tier of English football, the last thing Jokanovic would have asked for is for one of the squad’s upholding members to be banned through a deplorable red card.

Kalas, as a result of his dismissal, missed Fulham’s next domestic fixture against Leeds United at Elland Road, a drab 0-0 draw, so evidently his absence wasn’t necessarily felt as auxiliary centre-half Denis Odoi deputised and anchored the void left by Kalas boldly, and if the punished defender was to reclaim his spot in the starting XI once more, he would have to outshine the steadfast Belgian, who performs manfully whenever the opportunity to make an impression arises.

It seems as though this season Kalas’ inclusions have been slightly disjointed, a wary demeanour which has seen him panicked and hurried on occasions, which is, as we know, very out of the ordinary. Kalas has had to keep an observant eye over his shoulder, especially now that Tim Ream is predominantly the outstanding, unwavering figure in the back four. No one is indispensable, but with Odoi also knocking on the door for more regular first-team starts, it would be wise for Kalas to remain vigilant and alive to the competition his colleagues readily pose.

The Whites simply couldn’t unearth an element of consistency and losses came just as freely as draws and victories before the turn of the new year. Fulham had to devise a formula which married every department together perfectly, a cohesion between attack and defence mediated by patience, judgement and intelligence.

The first half of the season, traditionally, is always a mixed bag for the Cottagers. A work in progress which warrants very little fruition and momentum, and after only managing to complete 45 minutes against Bristol City at the Cottage on October 31st, a tie which ended 2-0 to the visitors, Kalas was benched and unused for the meeting against table-topping Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on November 3rd.

‘Slav’s’ wounded contingent had a point to prove after being beaten by the Robins previously, although they were swiftly put to the sword by Wolves and failed to make a defining impact upon proceedings. Another limp 2-0 loss befell the Whites and many were curious about how and when a change in attitude would materialise as something fundamentally had to give if they were going to salvage a charge for promotion.

Image: Paul Burgman (via Get West London)

It wouldn’t be the only time when Kalas languished on the sidelines either, as Kalas was indeed surplus to requirement against Ipswich Town on January 2nd, and Bristol on the February 21st, proof that despite his name being on the team sheet between being discarded, Jokanovic was clearly calibrating his fold specifically for each given opponent, tailor-made strategies which at times meant that the bullish Czech would have to make way to satisfy his Serbian boss’ thirst for perfection.

Injuries hamper and mar professional careers without warning and after Fulham scalped Wolves 2-0 by the river on February 21st, ‘Joka’ would be without Kalas indefinitely for virtually a month after the defender sustained a hip problem, a substantial knock which would keep his sidelined for 4 fixtures against Derby County, Sheffield United, Preston North End and Queens Park Rangers. Although Fulham were well within their illustrious unbeaten run by then, and thankfully Odoi – barring his calamitous slip against QPR which handed the Hoops the right to strike level on the day – deputised at centre-back superbly once again.

It’s a desolate, unforgiving spell on the physio’s table when trying to shake off a niggling affliction and given Fulham’s unrelenting, defeat-dodging streak, Kalas would have presumably wanted to get back on the turf as soon as possible to aid his set-up’s betterment, as depth and cover in all areas are relevant and significant to a club’s prosperity. Returning to the match-day regiment against Norwich City on March 30th, Kalas may have prepared himself for a brief cameo, although in order to ensure that he was managed and monitored appropriately, he was spared a run out in the 2-0 triumph for Fulham at Carrow Road.

Fulham have climbed the table from 12th to 2nd since their last loss in the league in December against Sunderland and have exhibited their class, togetherness and individual flair throughout 2018 to date, and it’s safe to say that us plucky faithful are currently in a state of delirium. The club hasn’t been as rigorous and cutthroat since the glorious days of Jean Tigana most notably and this corps is something different, very different.

On April 3rd, my 24th birthday, Leeds came to town and were gunning to upset Fulham’s free-flowing prowess on the ball, however with Alaksandar Mitrovic leading the line with a vast cluster of playmaking maestros behind the fiery Newcastle United loanee, Paul Heckingbottom’s tough-tackling battalion was no match for Jokanovic’s dogged outfit, and after missing out on game time versus the Canaries, Kalas finally strode onto the pitch for a full 2 minutes, and it was a particularly welcome, albeit brief, sight to drink in as now our hindquarters were virtually back to full compliment for the remaining matches of the campaign.

But, without upsetting the fabrics of the defence too drastically upon his reemergence, Odoi was elected to partner Ream at centre-half against Sheffield Wednesday on April 7th and Fulham rumbled towards a 1-0 win at Hillsborough, courtesy of yet another instinctive goal from the man of the moment, ‘Mitro’. Spectating from the dugout, Kalas isn’t quite 100% just yet and with the realisation that his duties aren’t solely his to execute, the fatigued defender will have to dig deep and invest every ounce of endeavour and enterprise within his capabilities at Motspur Park to persuade the boss to favour his services more frequently, or face being overlooked and undermined continuously.

On April 10th, Reading travelled from Berkshire to spar with Fulham at CC, a fixture which had been dubbed a chance for ‘Reademption’ for the Whites, however Kalas, who would have been pining desperately for a starting slot, was handed no such shot at redemption himself as the bench was becoming a very familiar sight indeed. Locking out the opposition is also becoming a regular occurrence for Fulham and though Reading’s target was peppered, the Whites only mustered one solitary goal without reply from Paul Clement’s stragglers, a compliment to Marcus Bettinelli between the sticks, however for Kalas it’s yet another damaging throb to add to the selection headache he’s straining unremittingly to subdue.

With just 4 games left to play of the season, the clock is ticking down rapidly to trample a claim upon Jokanovic’s strategic blueprints, but if things are to simmer for the Whites in the coming weeks in terms of defensive focus, rotations could be implemented and that may benefit Kalas’ cause for involvement and supremacy in the dying embers of the campaign.

But, as the Whites are consummately registering numerous clean sheets whilst stifling the opposition as a proficient unit across the length and breadth of the park, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that the steadfast No.26 will disrupt the current state of affairs regarding the weekly line-up, but if there’s need for resolve in the spine of the formation, Kalas will undoubtedly elect himself as a worthy utility man to suppress and plug any burdensome leaks as it’s all part of the service, even if he is reluctantly on a short sabbatical from his customarily dexterous constituent duties.