King Kenny finds his balance

Kenneth Tete came into Ajax 1 at a young age. What is good, comes quick they say in Holland. And Ajax has the tendency of using their talented players from a young age (Cruyff, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Van der Vaart). But for any of those, there are also Riedenwalds, Bazoers and El Ghazis, who take a longer road to success (if any).

He made a name for himself as a young and un-Ajax like player: no frills, no circus skills but dogged defensive work. I remember a typical game of Tete (at Olympique Lyonnais) against Neymar of PSG. “Keep looking at the ball and take it from him.” He didn’t display the attacking prowess of his rivals (Karsdorp, Veltman, Janmaat) and was considered a top defender but lacking in the attacking department.

This season, at Fulham, he made his way back to the EPL with a debut match vs Liverpool. An assist on his striker Mitrovic displayed a Kenny Tete who had developed into a rebel rousing wingback.

And it didn’t stop there. The 27 year old had assists versus Spurs, Nottingham Forest and Southampton and is one of the first on the Fulham team sheet.

“i want to be a modern full back. I worked hard to get there. I was always the only real defender at Ajax and it gave me a status, if you like. They didn’t have many players like me, until Tagliafico came along. At Lyon, under Bosz, I was forced to add more to the attack as Bosz wants his teams to defend and attack as a unit. My move to Fulham made that even more important. In England, the game is also way more physical so I had to work even harder, both on my physical strength and on my football skills. I could have had more than four assists. I mean, you’re depending on the guy who gets the ball to score. If they would have scored, I would have had more assists.”

In this heat map, you can see how Tete indeed covers the whole flank, but also assists his central defenders where needed.

More and more forwards realise they’ll have a tough day in the office, versus Tete. He played new Chelsea signing Mudryk from the pitch. “I tell you, I never heard of this guy before. But I did hear he cost Chelsea 100 million euros. So then I thought, hmmm, he’s probably pretty good and that motivates me even more!” Mudryk didn’t get any thing going against King Kenny and remained in the dressing room at half time.

“My first big encounter against a super star was my game against Neymar. I was super nervous, but I decided: just do what you normally do but stay 100% focused and don’t start to think “oh my , I am facing Neymar”. And ever since that match, I feel secure and confident. And yes, when a guy like Mudryk gets hooked, it feels good but at the same time: at Chelsea they’ll put another top player opposite you and you have to go again. You know, Sterling or Mount or Havertz, they’re all top players.”

Tete ended the match vs Chelsea with the Man of the Match trophy.

Football players are never “safe”. Coaches want at least two players for any spot so Tete got competition from a new signing, Swiss international Mbabu. The talented defender hasn’t had a peak, so far. Tete: “I used to overthink things, you know. What if this, what if that. And I made myself anxious and lost confidence, by not controlling my mind. I’m different now. I take things step by step. I am not thinking about the matches in April, or next season, or the new signing. I am working hard on training and go from match to match. It serves me.”

“When I was at Ajax, playing in the first team at 19 years old, there were rumours of Real Madrid having an interest. And that screws with your mind a bit. You start with fantasies and with dreams and you play with the idea in your head that the next game might get you that transfer. I mean, many players made big moves in those days, and I too wanted to reach high. I ended up with Fulham and got relegated! But I stayed, I love this club and now we’re number 7 in the league! I am focusing fully on Fulham as I love it here, I love living in London and my family loves it here too. If I have to finish my playing career here, I wouldn’t not mind a single bit.”

Marco Silva’s team has found the way up and has the best season since a long time. “We didn’t lose too many players and were able to bring in some good new lads and it just clicks now. We are playing with flair, with passion, with joy and it works. And we played Arsenal twice, the number 1 in the league, and we lost to them by goals in the last minute. This does mean we are not 100% there yet, but it also means we’re getting close.”

In the past years, the Dutch National Team was a no fly zone for King Kenny, but it might well be that a mainstay in the Premier League gets another call up. Dumfries doesn’t play a lot at Inter. Rensch doesn’t convince. Karsdorp only just started playing again, Geertruida plays as a central defender… Any thoughts? “Well, I was on the prelim list of De Boer’s squad, but I wasn’t a part of the squad for a long time. I missed the Euros, missed the World Cup so I’m not a go to guy at the moment. And I will not claim I should be. But sure, playing well in the EPL does mean you’re reaching a good level, so if the invite comes, I will be ready.”

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  1. tete is a formidable defender and could survive in any league and at any club he plays for. its often when you have another defender in the team to compete with that it comes down to the package. this was precisely the case when he overtook experienced Van Rhijn whose development just took a nose dive.

    if I recall correctly Mazzaouri was coming up at ajax when ajax decided to sell Tete. veltman was also used as make shift until he was also sold and mazzaouri became a starter.

    I think for him the only way to make a case for himself into NT would be to join a bigger club.

    1. I also recall in jan transfer window Fulham were also scouting a RB. milan van Ewijk was one name linked to them. karsdorp as well. I think they did loan Soares from arsenal

  2. a ray of light in the tunnel for Mohammed Ihattaren. he is back self training at Juventus. im sure if he can get to full fitness, things can change for him and even proves critics wrong. he can even force his way into juventus if he can pick himself up from the slump. juventus are in deep shit and they will wanna make use of any one who can be benfical to the club and inject quality.

    1. Like the 10th times this happen. I don’t think any professional player can come back at their full potential after not playing for two years. There is always the new kid that is coming up. In this case, it is Xavi Simons.

  3. Tete is a decent backup options. RB position is worrying with Dumfries and Frimpong’s form. IMO, the current RB order: Frimpong, Dumfries, Geertruida, Veltman, Tete.

  4. I watched Liverpool vs Madrid, the game came up too early for Gakpo. You can tell he is not ready for those big matches. His two contributions: slipping when in open position to pass to Salah and another one is a heavy touch on the ball that Madrid defender kick it back to Courtois and result in the goal for Salah.

    I feel sorry for VVD. He is the victim of media and plastic fans. All the goals are not his fault. However, people start talking like he is no longer a good CB without watching the game. Liverpool does not invest any money into midfields and got overrun. Gomez is not good CB. TAA is not good defensively, he is good at attacking. Previously he got covered by good midfield but now the midfield are gone. Vinicius just ran over the entire left side of Liverpool defense like no one is there.

  5. Kevin, excellent analysis. I agree, the back four of Liverpool is a back 2. Van Dijk and Robertson are good defenders. I rate Matip too, but TAA is a midfielder and Gomez is not a good centre back.

    The midfield is sluggish and can’t put in the shift. I feel they need to play 4-4-2, in big games and shore up their midfield. if Liverpool lose their intensity, they are mediocre. Not unlike Ajax actually.

    Not sure if they tested TAA in midfield already, with a real RB in the team.

  6. I think Koeman will not overlook Tete just because he is a Fulham. Playing in the EPL for a mid tier club beats playing in the Eredivisie for one of the top clubs.

    With all due respect, Rensch and Geertruida are against players like Pepi (Groningen) Muhren (Cambuur) and Van Crooy (Sparta). Tete plays against Grealish, Sterling, Nunez and Martinelli… No comparison.

    1. That’s true. Plus Koeman picked Tete before. How about Veltman? He is playing EPL for two seasons now and getting regular minutes. Geertruida looked good in ECL campaign so I will give him benefit of the doubt.

  7. I reckon danjuma would have been a better option for liverpool than gakpo. I wonder if pep lijnders would have recommended his name to klopp. Danjuma is better dribbler and more technical than gakpo and plus the system that liverpool plays would have suited danjuma fittingly.

    Also agree liverpool needs to spend big in the midfield. Henderson, Milner and few other old legs are done.its time to move on from them like they did from wijnaldum. Ketia was a promising signing but has not lived up to expectation due constant injuries.

    Dont think they will play European football next season. Time for rebuilding.

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