How Raul Jimenez found his scoring boots again and reinvented his career at Fulham

Raul Jimenez (L) - How Raul Jimenez found his scoring boots again and reinvented his career at Fulham
Raul Jimenez (left) is a man transformed under Marco Silva - Getty Images/Javier Garcia

Millions of television viewers saw it happen, but very few people were able to properly hear it. There were no supporters inside the Emirates Stadium when David Luiz’s forehead smashed into the skull of Raul Jimenez, and the live footage beamed around the world could never convey the true horror of the sound.

In those dark days of Covid, when football took place behind closed doors, newspaper reporters were fortunate enough to be allowed into the grounds. For the most part, this was an immense privilege. On the evening of Nov 29 2020, though, there was no enjoyment to be found.

Sound travels differently in an empty stadium, especially one as big as the Emirates, and no one in the press box, gantry or dugout will ever forget the noise that was created when one skull thudded into another. To describe it as sickening would almost be an understatement.

The one man inside the Emirates that day who has forgotten it? Jimenez himself. The former Wolves striker remembers nothing of the collision that could have cost him his life. The moment itself simply does not exist in his mind, although the subsequent nine-month recovery certainly does. “The hardest and biggest challenge,” he has said.

More than two years have passed since Jimenez returned to action. In that time, most outside observers reached the same conclusion: he is simply not the same player he was. The numbers backed this up – before joining Fulham this summer, he had gone 23 Premier League matches without scoring a single goal.

But if Jimenez has proved one thing in these past few years, it is that he is always capable of a comeback. All of a sudden, at the age of 32, he has rediscovered the form of old. In his past seven appearances, Jimenez has scored five goals. In Fulham’s most recent Premier League game, he caused more problems for Arsenal’s defence than perhaps any other striker this season.

As Fulham prepare to meet Liverpool in their first ever League Cup semi-final, then, they do so with Jimenez – a striker reborn – at the centre of Marco Silva’s plans.

“Each game that he was not scoring, the same conversation was coming,” Silva said. “Imagine what was going on in his mind. He kept his focus on what is important, on what he can control. He is a hard worker, you know? He had a difficult spell after the bad injury. For him to come back from that moment, he is a guy with a really strong character. He plays without any fear.”

Striker’s time in England

Jimenez’s time in England can be divided into three parts. His pre-injury performances for Wolves, his post-injury performances for the same club and now his spell at Craven Cottage. There is a clear contrast between each of those chapters.

Before his injury, Jimenez established himself as one of the league’s most impressive strikers, with a record of 0.49 goals per 90 minutes (from an expected goals of 0.46). He took an average of more than three shots per game and, in 110 appearances, scored 48 times.

After the injury, those numbers plummeted. From his comeback until his departure, he scored only nine goals in 57 games, at a rate of 0.21 per 90 minutes (from an expected goals of 0.3). His shots-per-game fell from 3.27 to just 2.16. In other words, Jimenez turned from an overperforming, clinical finisher into an underperforming, wasteful one.

It was therefore understandable that many Fulham supporters were uneasy about the prospect of Jimenez replacing Aleksandar Mitrovic, who moved to Saudi Arabia last summer, as the primary striker in their squad. When Jimenez failed to score in his first 12 games, after signing for £5 million, those concerns appeared well-founded.

A consolation strike in November’s 3-1 loss at Aston Villa proved to be the turning point, however. From there, Jimenez has reached levels of performance that many people thought were beyond him. He scored two more goals against Nottingham Forest, one against West Ham United and then another in the victory over Arsenal.

Silva’s initial plan was to play Jimenez alongside Mitrovic. Instead, after the Saudi Arabian offer tempted Mitrovic away, the burden has all fallen on the Mexican. But from the moment Jimenez scored against Villa, he has appeared capable of handling that pressure.

It should be said that, in between the West Ham and Arsenal wins, there was a red card for a wild challenge at Newcastle United. Without him in two subsequent league matches, Fulham failed to score in losses to Burnley and Bournemouth. Clearly, they have come to rely on Jimenez in their attack.

“He did not come here to replace anyone,” Silva said. “Since the first day we felt that we took the right decision [to sign him]. We trust him, he kept trusting himself. It is nice to see him performing and scoring goals. He deserves it.”

By the end of this season, Jimenez will be 33 years old. No one believes he is the long-term leader of Fulham’s front line. But he is the man for right now and his enduring quality, after everything, is testament to both his footballing ability and his strength of character.

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