The Monday Profile: Jimmy Kébé
When Reading Football Club entered the January transfer window a year and a half into their Premier League odyssey in 2007-8, it was clear that the policy of relying on those players who had gained the club promotion was producing diminishing returns. True, a line up composed entirely of men from the Championship winning side had helped ensure an historic win over Liverpool that December, but the gaps between the peaks were growing.
Nor had many of those brought to the club post-promotion proved their mettle. Seol Ki-Hyeon had scored some vital goals but was now comforting the bench while Liam Rosenior and the Summer’s two African acquisitions, Kalifa Cissé and Emerse Faé had provided no improvement at all on the existing roster. At various points, Steve Coppell made attempts to sign the likes of John Mensah, Matthew Taylor, Steed Malbranque and Joleon Lescott only to be taught a harsh lesson about salary expectations.
So, the Royals’ newest buys were no more murmur arousing. Along with Greg Halford and Marek Matějovský came a seemingly callow Malian – Jimmy Kébé joining from Lens.
Kébé had come to the attention of the management after starring for Boulogne in Ligue 2, on loan from their fellow Nordistes. Having already served a spell at sometime Paris St. Germain feeder club, Châteauroux, this fleet fox of a winger had provided the seasiders with some thrilling moments as they launched an atypical bid for promotion that season.
“One for the future” we cried – his chances were limited as Reading slid miserably to relegation that season, losing out on goal difference after a Fulham surge. An unseasonably chilly April afternoon at the Emirates had illustrated the difficulties – Coppell gambling on swingeing team changes and bowing to the inevitable – Kébé never got out of first gear as Gaël Clichy thrust him deep into his poche. Hence, we knew we would have to wait to see if this third musketeer would go the way of the invisible Faé – aside from a pitch length run in a plucky 1-0 defeat at Everton, we hardly saw him.
Leap forward a few months and a sunny Saturday with Reading back in the second tier – the visitors Plymouth were struggling under Paul Sturrock and his 101 course on never returning to the scene of former triumphs. My fellow blogger Lloyd had been unimpressed with the Pilgrim’s capturing of Chris Barker to fill a hole but still Kébé’s dominance of the beleaguered left back was total. Several 50 yard + runs had us enthused.
But a crash ‘n burn of a season that initially promised much and featured hammerings of the to be promoted duo of Birmingham and Wolves away from home began to fizzle and fans being the types of people they are, began to apportion blame. While Stephen Hunt, for all his 100% effort, was plonking free kick after free kick on to the heads of central defenders and redefining the word “limited”, it seemed easier to blame the Bambi of a wide man on the opposite flank, especially given his status as an étranger.
The Vitry born man became the scourge of the message boarders for nigh on a year and a half. True, his slid centres into the box often failed to find their man and confidence led to often woeful finishing, but who else could pick the ball up on the edge of one’s own penalty area and create a chance at the other end in a jiffy? The few pro-Kébé voices among the support were drowned out however, and although I never vocalized anything beyond encouragement whilst in the stadium, even I was beginning to have doubts.
Happily, Brian McDermott’s ascension to the hot seat after the departure of Brendan Rodgers signalled a volte-face. Few players exemplified the force of Reading’s January 2010 turnaround better than Kébé – he was suddenly brillant – his pace simply too much for most defences – even providing England’s Stephen Warnock with a torrid time in that season’s FA Cup Quarter Final. That form has continued into 2011 and he has also popped up with a decent glut of goals. When he is missing, as has been the case in the Royals’ recent underwhelming draws with Leeds and Coventry and embarrassing reverse at home to Sheffield United, the team really feels it. As Reading enter into fifth play off campaign, it seems that McDermott is keeping him under wraps, possibly to break out and trouble his former gaffer Rodgers when it matters most.