Friday, 31 January 2014

A Valley Hero Departs

Its been a long, long time since Charlton Athletic has owned a player as skilful, passionate and well-loved as Yann Kermorgant. His footballing ability has made him a Valley legend over the course of the past two seasons, but we've seen his final appearance in the red shirt. Inexplicably, he's been sold.

The Charlton career

On a Tuesday night in September back in 2011, Charlton lost a Carling Cup match at home to Preston. Fans were greeted with the announcement on the official website after the game that a player called Yann Kermorgant had been signed on a free transfer. Despite the traditional apathy with which news of this nature is greeted with, it signalled the start of a very special relationship.

Yann made his debut for Charlton coming off the bench against Chesterfield, with the home side 2-1 up in the second half. Its a debut that many might not recall, instead remembering his first goal for the club to equalise late in the game three days later against the MK Dons, but his first intervention was hugely encouraging. The ball was played to him in the air, with his back to goal, where Yann chested the ball, controlled it, and spread it out wide to the right, where a cross was put in to the back post for Bradley Wright-Phillips to score. It was a piece of play that demonstrated Kermorgant's class for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last.

The aforementioned goal to salvage a point in Milton Keynes was a powerful header, and similarly, just a few days later, another header helped the Addicks win away at Sheffield United. After a tricky couple of matches, the team started trouncing their opponents regularly, with Kermorgant notching two goals in a demolition of Carlisle. A header against Huddersfield ended their 43-game unbeaten run, and confirmed to Charlton fans that promotion had become more than just a distant hope.

As the season progressed, Yann kept popping up with vital goals. But he was far more than just a goalscorer. His aerial ability was important in defence, and his strength and skill meant he was instrumental in creating as many goals as he scored.

At Yeovil, and later at home against Rochdale and Wycombe, he demonstrated his phenomenal set-piece skills, scoring three free-kicks. So not only was he a warrior, but a technician capable of fantastic individual brilliance.

His winning goal in the Oldham away game, helping defend with 9 men thanks to Trevor Kettle's card-happy performance, was one of his most heroic, securing a vital three points against the odds. He has a knack of putting in brave performances when the going gets tough.

At the Carlisle game, the joy on his face at promotion was clear for all to see. The whole squad was together as one, and seeing him become an integral part of that squad was wonderful. In the game that sealed the title, he scored an exquisite free-kick, and then he rounded off a perfect first season with an outrageous volleyed goal from the by-line against Hartlepool. Despite strong suggestions that it was a fluke, we weren't having any of it. The technical ability of the man was far greater than any player to have pulled on the red shirt for a number of years.

The happiness of those celebrations after lifting the trophy will stick with us for a long time. It was clear that Kermorgant owed his resurgence to the faith of Chris Powell, who himself had a huge willingness to see Yann succeed. It seemed like the perfect, unbreakable relationship between a player and a manager, and it flourished the following season during the side's first year back in the Championship.

With largely the same squad, and the addition of a couple of new faces including Ricardo Fuller, Charlton came through a tough campaign to finish an incredible 9th position, a testament to the team spirit Chris Powell had created. Kermorgant's initial role was limited due to injury, but that came after one memorable night in SE7 during the game against Leicester.

Kermorgant had been vilified, and cast into the wilderness by Leicester following a chipped penalty that went wrong in a playoff semi-final shoot-out. He unfairly became the scapegoat due to the limited role he'd been given with the side. Two years after that fateful day, following a spell abroad and a glorious renaissance with Charlton, Kermorgant buried the ghosts of the past. Pouncing on a ball into the box, he fired home a powerful shot, and turned to run towards the Leicester fans with his finger on his lips. Most were going to crazy in the crowd to notice, but it was the perfect way to silence all of those doubters.

Kermorgant ended his Charlton career (it still sounds painful saying that) with a perfect record against Leicester. Three 2-1 victories, with Yann scoring in each one. Magnifique. He chipped for a laugh.

He returned to action after injury in late November, sliding in at the back post to poke home and ensure victory over Peterborough. The team suffered a poor run of form, until Yann teamed up with Ricardo Fuller once more to tear Watford to shreds at Vicarage Road. New Year's Day of 2013 was one of the finest I've had as a Charlton fan, and it was largely down to two outstanding performances from Kermorgant and Fuller, who were dominant in the air and technically brilliant on the floor. Yann scored twice, the second of which levelled the game at 3-3 just seconds after Watford had retaken the lead. Johnnie Jackson headed home the winning goal to make it 4-3, and send the travelling Addicks wild. As with so many other games, Yann had proven instrumental in victory, and his celebrations along with the rest of the side showed once again how brilliant Powell's team spirit had become.

Kermorgant continued to endear himself even further with the Charlton faithful, heading home to win the away game at Blackburn a couple of weeks later. He celebrated with such a joyous rage that it was clear for all to see how much it meant to him.

The Birmigham home game was the greatest demonstration of why we all love Yann. With the game locked at 0-0, but with the home side knocking on the door, a ball to the back post was emphatically headed home by Kermorgant, sending the crowd into raptures. The joy of his celebration was contrasted by his despair at the full-time whistle, as the defence had leaked a goal and thus dropped two points. Kermorgant sat on the ground looking devastated. Having almost single-handedly hauled Charlton into a winning position, the win had been taken when it was agonisingly close. His passion for the side was clear. Not winning had hurt him.

Soon after, he was to enjoy another instance of revenge, scoring one and assisting the other in Charlton's second 2-1 victory against Leicester of the season, this time in front of the fans who had blamed him for their sides playoff failure. A thoroughly satisfying result. A tough run of games followed, and with the side 2-0 down at home to Bolton, a relegation battle seemed an unpleasant but real prospect, until Jackson hauled his side back into it. From a free-kick, Kermorgant hit the post, with the rebound slotted home by Dervite. Soon after, the Addicks had a penalty. To the shock of the crowd, it was Yann himself placing the ball on the spot. His first penalty since That Day. The nerves inside the ground were heightened. Up strode Yann, thumping a powerful shot into the bottom corner to put the Addicks ahead. He'd well and truly banished those demons in emphatic style.

A fantastic run of results ensued, a testament to the way Powell had kept the squad together. Yann scored the third in a six goal hammering of Barnsley at Oakwell, a result that shocked every single one of us. Arguably he hadn't scored a 'great goal' all season - he'd said so himself. That was until the final day of the campaign, when he fired a thunderous volley into the roof of the net from the edge of the area, to help round of Charlton's season in emphatic style. It would be churlish to suggest the team's success was entirely down to him, because it wasn't. Powell had built a fantastic team spirit, and the attitude of the players to keep going in adversity helped them to maintain belief and eventually achieve consistent results. You would, however, be foolish to suggest that Yann was not an integral member of the side. He may not have done it all the time, but he had an ability to score important goals, as well as put in brave, heroic performances when the team needed him. Furthermore, it was once again a pleasure to see the happiness of a man who has not always been lucky in life. We were certainly lucky to have both him and Chris Powell at our club.

This season has been more of a struggle, and once again Kermorgant suffered an autumn injury setback, but that has not meant we've not seen any of Yann's magic on the pitch. Far from it, as he's been the club's top scorer. On the opening day of the season at Bournemouth, he adjusted himself well to fire home a scissor-kick volley into the bottom corner, although it proved insufficient and couldn't prevent eventual defeat. He headed home from a corner against Leicester to complete the Triple Crown of victories against his former side, providing those at the Valley with another fantastic reason to sing the Frenchman's name. At Watford, he once again stepped up to take a penalty, showing great composure to fire the ball high into the roof of the net to put the Addicks in front. He received a knock to his leg early in the second half, and despite valiant attempts to continue playing, he was eventually withdrawn. He had to wait over a month until his return at home to Wigan, where he seemed to suffer a recurrence of the injury, further delaying his return. 

He made his return in the 2-0 win against Doncaster, but had to wait until mid-December before scoring again, this time away at Bolton early in the game. Watching from that away end, it was a majestic sight, as Wiggins skipped past two players on the left hand side before delivering a fine ball, which Yann swept home with a lovely side-footed shot. The game would be drawn, but in my view, Kermorgant had been the best player in red that day, thanks to his constant ability to win the ball in the air, control it, and spread the play. This is one aspect of his game that we'll really struggle to replace.

In what will now be regarded as his swansong in effect, Yann had one last magical day at the Valley. Brighton were the visitors on Boxing Day, and took the lead after 20 minutes. Two goals from Lawrie Wilson either side of half-time put the Addicks back in front, but it was Kermorgant stealing the hearts and minds of the crowd. Often he lays the ball for others to run on to, but this time we were greeted to the sight of Yann sprinting with the ball from half-way, only to be scythed down by a defender. Soon after, another free-kick was awarded, this time much closer to the edge of the box. Yann eyed the goal, before curling a perfect strike into the top corner, with the goalkeeper absolutely motionless. I'll never forget the hush felt in the stadium as that ball was sent on its way. Time seemed to slow before it nestled perfectly in the top corner. I've not celebrated a goal that much for a long time. It was a truly special moment.

It was not the last time Yann was to grace the Valley turf in a Charlton shirt, but he had one more goal to offer. He was once again the scorer of a scissor-kick volley, to draw Charlton level in the FA Cup against Oxford United after a nightmare first half. In the subsequent replay, he struck a magnificent free-kick into the top corner with more pace and power than he had done against Brighton. It will remain his final goal for Charlton.

The Departure

The bad team performance at Doncaster left many feeling down, but Yann was to approach the away fans following the full-time whistle in order to wave goodbye. The finality of the gesture was said to have been evident. If I'd been there, I may well have broken down in tears. That night was a horrible one, fearing the departure of an all-time favourite player. 

The situation, as I view it, was thus: following the disastrous final year of the Slater and Jimenez era, a large proportion of first-team players were coming up to the final months of their contracts. With Roland Duchatelet's takeover, there came hope that the situation would be sorted out, but only Rhoys Wiggins has signed an extension. Kermorgant had stated that he wished to know the future of Powell before deciding his own, given the manager's deal expired in the summer as well. These assurances were not given to him. Furthermore, Kermorgant was offered reduced terms, despite not being an expensive player at all by Championship standards. With bids from Bournemouth and Celtic arriving, it was decided by the hierarchy that the best financial decision would be to sell him. This would make perfect "business sense", getting around £400,000 for a 32-year-old striker coming to the end of his contract. But he was Charlton's top goalscorer, and most influential attacking player, in a season where goals had been hard to come by and the team were in the relegation zone. Offloading your best player in January, with relegation threatening, is not a wise move. How can you guarantee that the replacements will settle? Can you even afford to offload a prized striking asset? The situation facing Kermorgant was one where he was being pushed out of the door. He'd wished to stay at Charlton for the rest of his career and his family was nicely settled in the Greenwich area. And yet, he was forced to move on, thanks to the derisory terms offered by Duchatelet forcing his hand. With a limited career, footballers sometimes have to be pragmatic. As much as he wanted to stay, I cannot hold it against him for moving on to more secure terms, especially with the fate of Chris Powell still shrouded in doubt.

Accusations that he deserted us are wide of the mark. He didn't want to leave, but he was forced to. The new owners have brought in replacements unfamiliar with English football, at the expense of a man who was one of our best players, and at a time when we need his fighting spirit on the pitch more than ever. Relegation is likely to be avoided despite his departure. But that does not mean his presence would have negative connotations - far from it. His skill, fighting spirit and close relationship with Chris Powell acted as a key pillar in the tight dressing room dynamic that was built up. His performances, as well as the support he gets from the crowd, would have been hugely useful in difficult times such as these. 

Sadly, we are helpless to intervene. Despite phenomenal support for Yann on twitter, with hordes of Charlton fans begging the club not to sell him, he has moved on. A very sad day, that leaves a lot of people feeling inconsolable. 

The Man Himself

Yann Kermorgant had to beat the odds to even become a professional footballer. At the age of 14, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and told he wouldn't be able to play football in future. Despite that, he came through the disease, and rose tom prominence in France, scoring some wonderful goals in the process. The story of his career seems to have been one in which he's had to overcome obstacles. Charlton seemed like a club at which he'd finally found a home. With a fantastic friend in the form of the manager, who really trusted his abilities and gave him his chance of redemption in England, as well as a fan-base who clearly loved the man to pieces. Many will react differently to the transfer news, but its been a long, long time since there's been such an outpouring of emotion about the loss of a single player.

What made us love him? The flair. The passion. The quality. The desire. He had the lot. A true fighter, rarely ending games with a clean shirt. One of his early games saw him fight on through a head wound and a nosebleed, looking more like an Arab sheikh than a footballer by full-time. That sort of heroism doesn't go unnoticed at clubs like Charlton, where we seem to take to players who have a lot of heart and show passion for the team. Kermorgant had all of those, but above all else, it was his wonderful technique that caught the eye, and resulted in the love for him.

Yann has scored some truly wonderful goals, which will be remembered for years to come. But it wasn't always just those special goals that meant so much. Seeing him roam the pitch for 90 minutes against Birmingham before heading home what we thought was the winning goal was such a satisfying moment. His industry and build-up play won't have been recorded statistically, but won't be forgotten. His aerial strength combined with that technical brilliance on the floor made him a fantastic player to watch. The downside to his strong build-up play was that it meant he wasn't on the end of the eventual cross into the box, because he'd had to create the opportunity for it to be played in the first place.

To me, he formed one of the three key pillars of the Chris Powell era, with the manager himself being one, and Johnnie Jackson the other. The trio have such a passion for the club, and seeing them happy will have filled many Charlton fans with the same feeling. From a personal perspective, and I probably speak for others here, seeing these people doing so well for our club has helped drag me through difficult times. They truly have been inspirational individuals. One of the key pillars of our club has been lost.

The loss of Yann, and the potential departure of Chris Powell and Johnnie Jackson in the summer, means that the Powell era might be coming to a close before it had a chance to fully develop. Yann was a hero to me, and watching him perform every week for the team was joyous. Without him, and potentially the other two, I won't be able to help avoiding the thought that things just aren't quite the same without him. 'Our Charlton' was developing into something special with Powell in charge, before the financial struggles made themselves felt on the pitch this season. Watching this generation of player has been special over the past two and a half years, and hopefully this does not represent the end. That said, it will be very hard to come to terms with losing a genuine Valley legend from the club. We love Yann, and he loves us. That we are now separated will take a long time to accept.

Times change, but they don't have to do so with the urgency and lack of remorse that the board have shown. Far from being past it, we've lost a truly great man who loved this club. The fact that he's said as much himself in an interview with Bournemouth upon signing shows just how heart-broken he must have felt to call time on his Charlton career.

Kermorgant: "I'm a Charlton fan as well. I had a very, very good relationship with the fans and I love them. The club have been taken over by a new owner, and he maybe wants to do something which I'm not involved in."

That interview was incredibly difficult to listen to. This transfer has felt incredibly saddening, given the way its developed and the importance of the player in question. It'll remain hard to stomach for some time.

Kermorgant is comfortably my favourite player ever. We've enjoyed two years of heroic, outstanding performances from a man who'll always be a Charlton legend. Its cruel that we've been denied the years of 'Yann magic' to come.

Super Yann is gone, but not forgotten.


  1. Brilliant Dan, true hero, will forever hold on to something about him, shook my hand after 6-0 @ Barnsley. Still not washed it!

  2. Great write up. The Bournemouth interview caused my son to cry and I was not far behind. A very special player, with a very special rapport with fans and club and someone who epitomises all that was special about the team that Powell built.

  3. Great eulogy Dan. Just a couple of points though - We don't know the transfer fee was £700k (I have seen estimates vary between £200k - £500k, so yours may be too high?), and we also do not now that he was offered reduced terms. Officially, the offer he rejected from Charlton was an extension to his current contract, which strongly suggests the same terms, not a new contract at reduced terms. I loved Yann too, but the players change and the team remains. It was sad when we sold Killer, Walshie, Kins, Scottie, King Claus, and even Jose. New heroes emerge. The King is dead; Long live the King!