The man, the myth, the legend: Jimmy Kebe. A great player for Reading on the pitch and a hugely popular chap off it, the Malian speedster was overwhelmingly voted into our team of the decade by you; in total, 81.5% thought he was deserving of a spot in the side. Check back in tomorrow for the player on the opposite flank.
Kebe joined Reading in 2008, back in Reading’s second ever Premier League season. In fact, he had to go on strike to make the move happen, forcing then-loan club Boulogne to allow his stay to be cut short so that parent side Lens could sell him to Reading.
Having settled in by making a handful of appearances in the top tier, he really hit his stride after the Royals dropped back down into the Championship when he became a first-team regular under Steve Coppell. But Brian McDermott’s arrival at the end of 2009 prompted Kebe to explode at the start of the current decade.
He’d only registered four assists and one goal under Brendan Rodgers, but after McDermott’s appointment Kebe scored a further nine times and set up five goals for his teammates - all in the 2009/10 season. Kebe then picked up where he left off in 2010/11 with nine goals and ten assists.
Of course, let’s not forget his contribution against West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup. Reading had got past Liverpool in the third round and, in their next match, Kebe wasted no time in giving us the lead, scoring after just seven seconds. It was one of the fastest goals ever in the competition.
7 years ago today, Jimmy Kebe netted this ⚡ goal against West Brom... the fastest goal on record in the history of Reading! pic.twitter.com/NwIGCUzC1z— Reading FC (@ReadingFC) February 13, 2017
Not solely a creator or goalscorer on the wing, Kebe had both assets in his locker. That’s not to mention a game-changing explosion of pace that few defenders in the league could deal with - in fact, he was typically quicker with the ball at his feet than most other players were without it.
My favourite example of that came in a 3-1 home win (two assists, one goal) over Leicester City in mid-April 2011 - Kebe’s last regular league appearance of the season before the playoff campaign kicked off the following month. He picked the ball up well inside his own half, tore off down the right wing and ripped through the Foxes’ defence before Noel Hunt eventually converted. Bet72 handily posted the footage on YouTube, setting it to the Benny Hill music.
After the disappointment of Wembley defeat in 2011, Reading underwent a tactical evolution the following season. Without the goals of Shane Long or creativity of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Royals became a much more defensively solid, robust side. Although that meant fewer opportunities for Kebe to get forward down the right on his marauding runs, he adjusted admirably well to his new brief, improving his own work rate to cover for rightback Shaun Cummings.
That certainly played an important role in Reading’s promotion to the Premier League - not to forget his pinpoint cross for Jason Roberts in the 3-1 win at Southampton that essentially clinched the title.
His 2012/13 campaign would end up being his last in Berkshire, and although he didn’t play as regularly as he had before, he still had time for some memorable contributions. On the pitch, a goal against West Brom (again!) played its part in the 3-2 comeback win that was eventually sealed by Pavel Pogrebnyak, and his brace saw off Sunderland not long after to earn a big win.
But he had his fair share of attention off the pitch too. In December 2012 he publicly spoke about the lack of investment in the club after a 5-2 defeat to Arsenal, and the following January he briefly scared the life out of us when he said he’d signed for Newcastle United. Luckily it was all just a joke.
Oups i thought if you're french and play football u just pop in to Newcastle and sign a contract— Jimmy Kebe (@JKebe) January 24, 2013
Not a chance of leaving
At least Reading fans had a new chant after that:
“He tweets what he wants, he tweets what he wants, he’s Jimmy, he tweets what he wants.”
In the summer, he moved onto pastures new, sold to Premier League side Crystal Palace. He would only play a handful of games for them though - as he did on loan for Leeds United under McDermott - and it was sad to see his career slide away as quickly as it did. But he did leave us with some fantastic memories in his five-year stay in Berkshire.
Memorable moment: It’s the sock incident, of course it’s the sock incident
What else could I go with but one of the most iconic moments in Mad Stad history?
The fact that it came against West Ham United only made Kebe’s sock pulling - and subsequent reaction from Jack Collison - all the sweeter. Reading of course already had a history with the Hammers after Alan Parjudas’ prior move to Upton Park, and the East London club’s pretty arrogant approach to the Championship in 2011/12 after relegation form the Premier League set them up as the big club to be taken down.
Reading certainly did that in late 2011 at the Mad Stad. A top all-round performance from the Royals, including a set-piece goal from Alex Pearce (who celebrated in a uniquely Alex Pearce way) and brace from birthday boy Simon Church, showed the league what we were capable of.
In truth, the visitors couldn’t cope with us, and their frustrations boiled over in the second half when right back Joey O’Brien was sent off for a challenge on Jobi McAnuff. When Kebe later briefly paused on the right wing, when in possession, to pull his socks up, Collison similarly lost his head and shoved the Malian over.
Kebe almost certainly didn’t mean to mock West Ham, but you can’t really blame the by-then deeply irritated Collison for seeing it that way. Nonetheless, the Hammers fans didn’t forget it, and gave Kebe a rough reception at Upton Park later in the season.