Jimmy Kebe. What a man. I adore him as much as the next Reading fan but a thought came to me whilst watching the Swansea friendly game last Saturday. What if we've seen the last of him in the blue and white hoops?
This post may be futile as Reading supposedly extended his contract for a further 12 months very recently. Although, I'd like to entertain the possibility (however much it pains me) that Jimmy doesn't have a future at Reading FC.
Here are the reasons why he could be surplus to requirements at the Madejski:
Firstly, our flanks are very pre-occupied at the moment. The left and right side of midfield are arguably where we are strongest; Royston Drenthe, captain Jobi McAnuff, Hal Robson Kanu, Jordan Obita, Garath McCleary and Nick Blackman can all play in one (or two) of these positions as we have seen at the latter stages of last season and during this pre season. Nigel Adkins likes to operate in a 4231 style so perhaps Jimmy could occupy the right side of midfield if either Hal or Royston move into the centre forward position; then again Adkins may want to dip into the transfer market one more time and (finally!) buy a centre attacking midfielder, leaving seven players to fight for the two wide positions. This scenario could also arise if Adkins decides on a change of formation - for example 442 - again leaving seven players to battle it out for two starting berths. So evidently, Jimmy may find it very difficult to cement a starting place this season.
Furthermore, the Malian Magician has been haunted by injuries ever since his arrival in Berkshire. How many times have Reading fans seen 'Kebe ruled out with injury' or similar phrases over his 5 year tenure at the club? It has become infuriating how often he is plagued by a bad knee or a pulled muscle and given that he is edging closer and closer to 30, his injury woes could become perpetual. When planning this blog post I thought up the following analogy: A Jimmy Kebe injury is like the first day you go back to school or work; no matter how hard you try and forget about it or dismiss it, eventually it will creep up on you and make your life miserable. Unless you have a good job, of course.
Then there's the financial side of things. Granted, Jimmy is a fantastic footballer, albeit a tad inconsistent, but do the number of appearances he produces warrant what he gets paid every week? And could his departure lead to Anton investing in a new striker? There's a slight worry that we may have to sell before we can buy, so why not cash in on Kebe? Surely he'd be worth upwards of £1.5million.
On the other hand, (the other hand being where Jimmy is an injury free, exuberant and effective winger who scores goals and sets them up, too) no one can deny that he is an oustanding footballer; at least at Championship level. In contrast to the aforementioned analogy, Jimmy Kebe playing injury free and effectively for Reading FC can be like a long summer holiday or a break from school or work; ultimately, you feel more free, satisfied and at peace when these things are occuring.
Despite my comments about why we may have seen the last of Jimmy in the hoops there are also reasons as to why we definitely haven't said goodbye to the tricky winger. Obviously, Jimmy was an integral part of our team when we last won the Championship, scoring three goals and assisting eleven. To complement that tally he went onto better his scoring record in the Premier League, netting 5 goals in 18 games. There was a very intriguing statistic on the Sky Sports News website that I read that I thought was worth sharing: In the Premier League Reading took 19 points from games in which he appeared. Across the whole season that would have equalled 40 points, 12 more than the club achieved and enough to ensure survival. Thus, Jimmy Kebe is undoubtedly a hugely influential player at Reading FC.
All in all, the future of Jimmy Kebe at the Madejski is quite unpredictable. There are certainly incentives to keep the fans favourite, but these are arguably outweighed by the disincentives. If he does stay then I expect he will be a bit part player giving us (a lot) of strength in depth as I imagine Hal, Jobi and Royston will be the commonly occurring widemen.
Ultimately, what happens with Kebe this season depends on how Adkins looks at the situation. Jimmy has so far played a whopping zero games for the Royals under Nigel. The manager could decide to keep it that way, as re-introducing Jimmy would perhaps be a bit of a risk and maybe unnecessary considering the number of attacking midfielders currently at the club. Or, Nigel could completely ignore that fact and treat Jimmy like a new signing, rejuvenating and reigniting his career at Reading.