Reading Football Club's captain may have blocked me on Twitter, but that doesn't stop me being a big advocate of his. The question is: in the current system employed by Clarke, does he have a place in the team?
An Academy Jem Breaks Through
Jem Karacan graduated from Reading's academy in 2007, and was swiftly sent out on loan to then-League One side Bournemouth. He made 13 appearances for the side, completing 974 minutes of action. He was again loaned out to League One Millwall during the same season. There he finished his loan spell with 7 matches, with 606 minutes of action under his belt.
It was in 2008/9 when Jem Karacan completed his first season as a first team choice for Reading FC. He finished his breakthrough season with 17 appearances in all competitions, with one goal, two assists, and four yellow cards. Since then, he's gone from strength to strength and proven himself a crucial player for whichever manager he's played under.
During his last (kinda) full season—way back in the heady heights of Premier League football—he finished the season with 21 appearances, one goal, one assist, and two yellow cards.
Karacan's injury problems are well documented, but let me remind you: since his part-season in the 2012/13, he has suffered three hefty injuries.
First, in April 2012 he was ruled out with a Malleolar injury, ruling him out for 133 days. Then he was injured in October of the same year, with a ligament injury. Out for 58 days, he missed 12 games for the Royals. Then came the big one, the one he's still recovering from: his knee injury. Out from September 19th 2013, Jem Karacan missed 181 days for the club, a massive 30 games he was unavailable for—the only bright spot during that spell, I assume, is that he was made club captain once Jobi McAnuff departed the club in the summer of 2014.
Now… He's on the verge of being back fit. Understandably, the club are hesitant to rush him back.
Just a few months ago fans were praying to the footballing gods that Jem Karacan would be back and available for the men in the blue and white hoops. An injury crisis in midfield left Nigel Adkins scrambling around for midfield players, the likes of Kuhl and Akpan getting extended runs in the team and no real leadership coming from anywhere in the side.
Now, with Steve Clarke in charge, the dearth of midfield talent isn't a problem. If anything, there's too many options for him to pick from. As well as having Williams, Guthrie and Akpan back fit, he's also still got Norwood and has brought in young Chalobah on loan from Chelsea.
This season is a season of building up fitness in time for the summer. Get Karacan back fit and ease him in if appropriate, but what you're really doing is preparing him for next season: his make or break season.
Long-Term: Key Cog Or Asset To Be Sold?
I say that it's his make or break season because if he can get back fit and firing he's an invaluable midfielder, capable of playing in multiple systems and giving a solid 7/10 most games. If not, he's an injury-prone graduate who is past his sell-by date.
Now you could argue that Karacan's contract is running out, his fitness is questionable at best and the club has a rich abundance of options for central midfield; when Chalobah's loan ends and if Guthrie and Karacan depart, the club will still be left with Norwood, Williams, Akpan, Kuhl and Tshibola as viable options for central midfield. It would be no big loss.
However, I think you'd be a fool to say Jem Karacan has no long-term future at Reading FC under Steve Clarke. He's exactly the type of midfielder the former Chelsea coach has used throughout his short managerial career: energetic, ball-winning and aggressive. Not to mention a super presence in the dressing room, an academy graduate and a midfielder that could attract the attention of Premier League clubs if able to get an extended run. The only concern is his fitness.
Speaking of fitness, one of the biggest concerns is if Clarke deems him fit enough to captain the club. Since he's taken over, Alex Pearce has been the captain of the side in absence of Karacan—a fellow academy graduate, an ever-present in the team (when he's not hilariously committing footballing suicide against Cardiff) and a (supposedly) strong personality and leader-type. Is that a long-term option for Clarke? Only time will tell.
I, for one, think Jem Karacan should be a corner piece to the midfield jigsaw for years to come (that is, the piece you start to build your masterpiece around), despite fitness concerns.
Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com and Transfermarkt.co.uk.
PS. Jem, if you're reading this, please forgive me (and unblock me). I love you.