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16 Aug 2018

Fulham: Tom Cairney is the difference between safety and relegation

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Per Ardua ad Astra

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The beating heart

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To me, to you

Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

It's 26th May 2018. "Ain't nobody, like Tom Cairney, makes me happy, makes me feel this way!"  echoes around the Wembley walls.

The sun beams down intensely on the prime Wembley turf. Thousands of Fulham supporters are in pure jubilation. It was the perfect day for the most expensive match in football: the Championship play-off final. 

Fulham had secured promotion back to the Premier League; their captain with the all-important goal that was the difference between the sides. 

It was a day that their captain would never forget. Manchester City have Kevin De Bruyne. Real Madrid have Luka Modric. Tottenham have Christian Eriksen. Fulham? Well, they have Tom Cairney.

Per Ardua ad Astra

Self-belief is a vital component in making it as a professional footballer. The ruthlessness of modern-day academies shatters thousands of youngsters' aspirations when they are told they're not at the required standard to become a scholar. 

At the Leeds academy since he was seven years old, Tom Cairney was released nine years later. The psychological impact this has on many young prodigies is often detrimental but not for Tom. He stayed true to his abilities, kept on persevering and, most importantly, kept believing in the traits he possessed. 

REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

He was soon offered a place on a Youth Training Scheme at Hull City after which the young Cairney never looked back. 

Since his breakthrough, the Nottingham-born artist broke into the first team at Hull before moving onto Blackburn where his performances caught the eye. This culminated in a move to Craven Cottage where he since developed into a huge fan favourite, subsequently being made captain. 

The beating heart

Cairney was instrumental throughout Fulham's remarkable promotion season. 

Just as important to Fulham as De Bruyne is to City, Cairney may not quite be on the same level as the Belgian but his ability is just as important to his club.

The 27-year-old recorded six goals and five assists from central midfield last season, a smaller output than his 13 goals and 12 assists in the previous campaign. While that could be seen as a drop in performance levels, it is important to remember Cairney experienced regular knee problems throughout the season. 

REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

On top of this, under Slavisa Jokanovic, no player made more passes last season than Cairney, despite missing a number of games as a result of his knee troubles. 

His vision, awareness and proficiency were fundamental to Jokanovic's possession-based football last season. Being able to keep the ball moving at a high tempo, Cairney facilitated Fulham's retention of the ball for long stretches of games.

The Fulham captain built a compelling partnership alongside fellow Scot, Kevin McDonald, with the two complementing one another's styles perfectly. 

McDonald is the more defensive-minded of the two and allowed Cairney to thrive in a number ten role. However, it wasn't uncommon to see Cairney drop deeper to pick up the ball and play long diagonals out to the wide men.

To me, to you

Last season, Fulham topped the charts in terms of possession, averaging 57% over the course of their campaign. Cairney was pivotal to this possession.

This season should be comparable. Fulham may have lost their opening fixture, finding it hard to break down a resolute Crystal Palace side, but they didn't change their tactics. They repeatedly played through their number ten and, in the end, he made an impressive  90 of his 93 passes.

This emphasises how much of Fulham's football goes through the Scottish international and how imperative he is to the side.

Much relief to the fans, Cairney signed a new contract this summer. Had he moved away from the club, it would have left an incredibly difficult void to fill. 

The Flying Scotsman is a metronome in the middle of the park keeping everything ticking and, the Fulham fans will be hoping, keeping their team in the Premier League.