Jimmy Bullard: The Spark in Hull City's Engine

Last updated : 01 December 2009 By Carolina Tiger

When Hull City signed 31-year-old Jimmy Bullard in the January transfer window at the beginning of this year, it was hailed as a giant coup for the Tigers. Despite reservations at the huge record breaking price tag of £5m and the astronomical wages of around £45,000 a week it was seen as a display of the club's ambition to be an established member of the Premiership.

Bullard had lost much of the previous two years for Fulham to an anterior cruciate ligament injury and many pundits and fans alike questioned the validity of Phil Brown and the Tigers signing a player with his injury record at the wrong end of his career.

Brown saw the introduction of a player of Bullard's quality as a catalyst who could take the Tigers to the next level. At the time, Hull City were still flying high in the Premiership, despite a dip in form at the tail end of the previous year.

Bullard made his debut in the away defeat at Upton Park against West Ham. Bullard was playing well and getting to know his new team mates when disaster struck: A robust tackle after 37 minutes and his season was over.

It was originally thought that the injury was not too serious, but after seeing renown sports medicine specialist, Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado, Bullard's season was officially over. Steadman had been the doctor who rebuilt Bullard's knee previously and Bullard had full faith in his ability to bring him back again.

So, it was after another large operation and much rehabilitation that Bullard made his long awaited return against his old club, Fulham. It was a lacklustre performance for the Tigers with Bullard coming on as a second half substitute.
Unfortunately, Bullard couldn't turn the team's performance around.

However, Bullard was able to make his long awaited home debut against Stoke City, and what a debut it was. Bullard was involved in both of the Tigers' goals in a stunning 2-1 victory were he controlled the midfield like a general as well as winning the Man of the Match award.

His fine form continued after the enforced international break, controlling the midfield again in the 3-3 home draw against West Ham. Bullard was instrumental in all three of the East Yorkshire team's goals, scoring his first goal for the club from the penalty spot, and winning the Man of the Match award for the second game in a row.

However, despite the turn around in form, it is the manner in which Bullard has marshalled the Tigers since his return which has been the most impressive. Bullard has been like a magnet for the ball. He has become a conduit for the Tigers. He is becoming the channel through which everything moves forward.

Bullard has the uncanny ability to somehow make space for himself where it looks like he has none. He would make the difficult pass-and-run movement, that should be a staple of any professional footballer, look like the simplest of things. Where others struggle to break free of their marker, he does it with ease. He makes telling crosses with pinpoint accuracy and is not afraid to take a long-range, speculative strike at goal. Quite simply, he is becoming the heartbeat of the team.

His bubbly, effervescent demeanour is rubbing off on a team that has been listless at times. Players that have been playing well but not great have caught his bug, and it has changed the team's dynamics, with phenomenal success.

Brown has noted the similarities of Bullard to the inspirational figure of Jay Jay Okocha. Okocha signed for the Tigers in the promotion-winning season from the Championship and much of the Tigers' good play came through Okocha in that successful season, even without him scoring a single goal.

The worry for the Brown and the Tigers is that as other clubs start to notice just how influential he is, they will start to make Bullard a target for special attention. Not that they will necessarily do anything to injure him, but he will obviously be marked closer to stifle his style of play.

If the Tigers are to survive and prosper in the Premier League, they will need Bullard to stay fit and hopefully he will be the catalyst for other great signings for Yorkshire's only Premiership club.