Yann Kermorgant - Charlton Athletic's wild card comes good
“I think he is a bit of a wild card for us and that he will do very well in the English game” – A brilliant quote that manages to capture so much in just 23 words.
These were the words Nigel Pearson, Leicester City manager both then and now, used to describe Yann Kermorgant just over 18 months ago. Within days, the Frenchman had proven himself as a wild card and jeopardised his footballing future in this country. 18 months on, Kermorgant scored one and made one as League One leaders Charlton Athletic ended Huddersfield Town’s unbeaten run to go seven points clear at the top.
Pearson is not normally one for wild cards. He builds his teams around a strong work ethic and plays safe more than he gambles. So the signing of Kermorgant seemed out of character. Arriving on a free transfer after his contract ended at French second division side Stade Reims, Kermorgant signed a three-year deal after impressing during an initial short-term agreement. Two aspects of Kermorgant’s story cast intrigue on his arrival – the tale of his recovery from leukaemia as a child and a catalogue of incredible goals caught on video. Leicester supporters, haunted by memories of the Iranian “World Cup star” Hossein Kaebi, tried not to get excited. Which turned out to be wise.
The assumption was that Kermorgant had performed wonders on the training ground, but fans remained unconvinced by his early showings as a substitute. Over the winter period of an otherwise successful season, Pearson shuffled his pack and brought out the man who later became the joker. Kermorgant laboured though, either alongside Matty Fryatt in a 4-4-2 formation or behind a front two at the tip of a diamond midfield. He scored one goal, which fittingly came in the only meaningless game of the season – a home match against Middlesbrough just prior to the play-offs.
Ah, the play-offs. We all know what transpired in Cardiff that night. Kermorgant, essentially a reserve at Championship level who had struggled to make any sort of impression all season, suddenly found himself trending on Twitter. That penalty. The hands on hips. Team-mates and supporters standing, open-mouthed in disbelief. It was completely ludicrous – and it seemed to fit Kermorgant perfectly.
A year-long loan at newly-promoted French top flight side Arles-Avignon followed, but Kermorgant was soon back at Leicester. This time he found himself under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson. Starting, and scoring, in a pre-season game in Sweden, an improbable future with the club seemed on the cards for the wild card. And then he was released.
It appeared to be the end of Kermorgant’s time in English football. But Chris Powell, who had been on the Leicester training ground alongside the mercurial striker, took a chance on him and offered the opportunity to prove himself in League One with Charlton. Which is exactly what he is doing.
Tonight, we saw everything that we had heard was happening in between matchdays two years ago. The spring-heeled leap, the barrel-chested upper body strength, clever play to link midfield and attack, the wickedly bending free-kicks.
Kermorgant scored the first of Charlton’s two goals as Huddersfield finally fell to their first league defeat of the season at The Valley. Sure enough, it was an excellent near-post header from a Danny Green free kick. He then helped to create the second with an intelligent first-time flick to Bradley Wright-Phillips which led to Hogan Ephraim steering the ball past Ian Bennett into the Huddersfield net.
Of course, this being Kermorgant, that wasn’t the end of it. He left the field on a stretcher after suffering an injury just minutes from the end of the game. No interview for the television cameras. No Man of the Match award. No live television interview.
In labelling his signing “a calculated gamble” earlier this month in an interview which appeared in the Leicester Mercury, Powell recognises Kermorgant in the same terms as Pearson did prior to last season’s Championship play-offs. “He told me that he wanted to stay in English football, which I said was fine, but warned him that this was his last chance and he would have to change his outlook and, perhaps, look at his character around others.”
“The response has been great”, said Powell. “He is such a technically good player at League One level.”
This evening, the evidence was there for all to see.