The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 11 of 25
Reading enjoyed their best result of the season so far this weekend when dispatching West Ham United at the Madejski. Central to this fine performance was their Malian winger Jimmy Kebe – frustrating at times but undeniably gifted.
Jimmy Kebe (Reading)
What to say about Jimmy Kebe? Disinterested for long periods, occasionally explosive, a game-changer and a man that can stretch an entire defence by himself – he is anything but consistent. Even if his end product differs wildly (and very few wingers outside of the Premier League can boast consistency in their crossing and final pass), Kebe’s ability to take play from one end of the pitch to the other in a matter of seconds is an enviable trait.
Perhaps best demonstrated by the lung-bursting sprint that brought Reading’s third goal in a 3-1 win over Leicester in April, his game resembles that of a rugby union winger at times – not necessarily involved all that often, but able to make a large territorial advantage for his team on occasion.
Kebe is also the sort of player who receives jealous glances from opposition supporters. In a tightly-contested division comprising lots of similar clubs with similar squads, Kebe gives the impression of being something out of the ordinary and it is no surprise that he is widely coveted despite his inconsistency. Nearly all clubs crave further creativity.
This spark was in evidence yesterday afternoon as Kebe terrorised second-placed West Ham at the Madejski, helping the hosts to a 3-0 win which takes them to within five points of the play-offs. Although he didn’t provide a direct assist for any of the goals, he did leave the pitch to a standing ovation when substituted after a display that demonstrated Kebe at his very best. Reading fans can be forgiven for venting their frustration that this doesn’t take place more often. Jack Collison vented by raking his studs down Kebe’s legs to receive a red card after the winger had showboated out towards the touchline, pulling a sock up during open play. He must have known this spotlight was about to arrive.
Wisdom points to Reading manager Brian McDermott being responsible for bringing the best out of Kebe, so any suitors would be well-advised to keenly judge whether he would be the right fit for their side. Last season, he was unstoppable for long periods as the Royals stormed to the play-off final. This season, he has only one goal to his name so far despite ending the previous campaign with nine. But there is a little more to things than that.
An interesting relativity exists between Reading’s indifferent start to the season and a perception of Kebe’s performances as below-par. After the loss of Shane Long, more responsibility fell on the shoulders of Kebe and Jobi McAnuff to provide Long’s replacement, Adam Le Fondre, with the easy goalscoring opportunities that would help to settle his transition from League Two to the Championship. The statistics show Kebe is pulling his weight in overall terms, as this excellent post on The Tilehurst End demonstrates, but he is still coming in for strong criticism from some sections of the Reading support.
Kebe has been accused of looking lazy and languid over the past few months but that is nothing new – even at his brilliant best, he often still looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. Soon, he probably will be. Kebe is out of contract at the end of the season and appears almost certain to leave the club. The main question seems to be whether his stay in Berkshire will outlast the forthcoming January transfer window.
And maybe the time has come for Kebe to move on. But regardless of his contract demands, he would be well-advised to consider one important point when making a decision – if, indeed, it remains his to make. Brian McDermott’s reign as Reading manager is characterised by a late charge up the Championship table. It happened in early 2010. It happened again in early 2011. If it happens in early 2012, will Jimmy Kebe be an integral part of the jigsaw or looking on with regret from elsewhere? Only time will tell.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.