Following Fulham’s relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2020-21 season, some supporters and pundits quickly assigned blame for the Cottagers’ failures. The London-based club has recently relied on the loan market, and that was no different last season. However, this time, their business failed to yield positive results as Scott Parker’s team finished 18th in the table and 11 points behind 17th-placed Burnley. But is it fair to lay some of the blame at Ola Aina’s door?
Commitment to the Cause
Nigeria’s Aina signed with Fulham on loan at the start of the 2020-21 season and became a first-team regular under Parker. The right-sided full-back put pen to paper on a season-long deal with the Cottagers, providing competition to the Netherlands international, Kenny Tete. The Nigerian limited Tete’s starting opportunities, and thus he didn’t get selected for Holland’s EURO 2020 squad. Prior to the knockout rounds, the Netherlands were 12/1 to win the tournament in the odds for EURO 2020, but a shock loss to the Czech Republic saw them exit in the round of 16. The Czechs are priced at 22/1 to pull off what would be one of the most unlikely tournament victories. Instead of Tete, Frank de Boer, the manager, picked Denzel Dumfries at right-back, and the PSV defender scored two goals in the group phase, as well as generally impressing with his performances.
It speaks volumes about Aina’s ability and commitment to achieving Fulham’s objectives that he kept Tete out of the starting team. While the Super Eagles defender arrived on loan, the Cottagers signed the Dutchman on a permanent deal, paying Lyon £3 million for his services. Despite agreeing on terms on a four-year deal, Parker only started the Dutchman in 18 Premier League matches. By comparison, Aina featured from the off in 31 top-flight games. It also speaks volumes about the Nigerian international’s commitment to the cause that he played in several positions for the Cottagers, showcasing his versatility.
Aina Performed Admirably at Craven Cottage
Despite being on loan at Craven Cottage, Aina had aspirations of securing Premier League safety for Fulham. Although this didn’t happen, few can argue that the Super Eagles defender didn’t impress on a personal level. While it’s possible to dispute that the Cottagers’ loan-driven approach to player recruitment doesn’t guarantee maximum on-field effort, the 24-year-old somewhat disproves that theory. According to Aina’s official stats from the 2021-22 season, the Nigerian international helped Fulham to seven clean sheets. Moreover, when he played, Fulham conceded 36 goals in 31 appearances.
Compared to other top-flight full-backs, such as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, these numbers are impressive. In 36 appearances for the Reds, the 22-year-old guided Liverpool to ten clean sheets, conceding 40 goals along the way. Not only that, but Aina enjoyed a tackle success rate of 54%, only 5% lower than Alexander-Arnold. Defensively, this shows that Aina wasn’t to blame, with his output coming close to matching one of the world’s best full-backs.
Aina Still Cares About Fulham
At the end of the 2020-21 season, Aina returned to Torino, his parent club. Despite falling short of achieving Fulham’s collective objectives, the Super Eagles defender stated that the Cottagers have “become a part” of him. Aina was unquestionably determined to succeed at Fulham, and his on-field numbers reflect that. As such, Aina, in particular, isn’t to blame for Fulham’s relegation.
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