It has long been said that, to a man with a hammer, everything starts to resemble a nail. Tim Clarke has a few words for those who want to hammer Denis Odoi every week.
You may have seen this attitude in the flesh: Someone has an idea (a hammer), and they begin to boldly provide their solution. Nuance means very little. New evidence is right out. The capacity to change your mind is irrelevant when you have a hammer. And down in SW6, we have a hammer problem.
Regrettably, Denis Odoi is the nail.
- Fans have a problem: The team isn’t performing.
- They have already decided: Odoi is not good enough.
- Only possible solution: Denis is at fault.
But is this actually true? It almost doesn’t matter how he plays in any given match. Search his name in Twitter, and you will find the obligatory “Another Odoi brain explosion!” or even “Denis Odoi is the cancer of the Fulham defence.” And these were both after clean sheets. Rather than an honest appraisal of his performance, we are witnessing confirmation bias at its best.
Confirmation Bias: The psychological event of interpreting, recalling, and searching for events which confirm our pre-existing beliefs.
Essentially, our pre-existing belief is the hammer, and we interpret everything to suit us. And for months now, Odoi has fallen victim to this. Make no mistake, Denis is not perfect. He can misplace a pass, and his positioning is not always right. It would be confirmation bias the other way to neglect these aspects of his game.
However, he mops up a good number of genuine chances each week, wins headers he has no business winning, and is more comfortable on the ball than any other defender we have at the moment. His ability to beat two players, surge forward and put Cairney in on goal against Huddersfield is testament to what he offers. Yet this, and his cleaning up of loose balls in the box barely seems to register on the Twittersphere.
It’s lucky he seems to have no social media presence, because the steady stream of hate he has received, even during our unbeaten streak last year would be enough to put anyone off their game (especially given that his emergence into the starting XI coincided with the longest unbeaten run in our club’s history).
It may be that he has an absolute shocker at the weekend. And if he does, he needs to face the music, just like Cairney or Kamara have (though ideally with no racist trolling this time). I’m not suggesting he needs to be canonised, or that he is above critique, but he does need to be judged fairly.
Those with a hammer need to see him objectively, to have the self-awareness to recognise their implicit bias against him. They must look out for the things he does which does not fit into their mental picture, and then modify the way the way the perceive him. It may be tricky, or uncomfortable. But it’s a necessary part of life.
If nothing else, both Slav and Ranieri have trusted him, while chopping and changing almost everyone else. If you have more insight into his ability, and have more footballing knowledge than them both, then please throw your hat into the ring when Ranieri retires after Fulham win the league* in 2019/20.
* Premier league. Not Championship, for all the comedians in the room…