After Gylfi Sigurdsson romped home to claim his spot in our team of the decade yesterday, we now need his midfield partner in the 4-4-2, and you’ve narrowly decided on Jem Karacan. The energetic box-to-box man took 32.6% of the vote (behind Gylfi’s 84.2%), edging out Danny Williams (28.8%) and Mikele Leigertwood (27.7%) and comfortably defeating John Swift (20.7%) and Oliver Norwood (6%).
It’s a well-deserved inclusion for a real club servant and fan favourite. Karacan played 175 times for Reading after making his debut all the way back in 2008/09 under Steve Coppell, and would go on to be a key player in the club’s revival under Brian McDermott.
When I think of Karacan, I think of a terrier-like, combative player with a real never-say-die attitude that summed up Reading at its best in the first half of the decade. Commitment, passion and never shirking from challenges - all too often they’re generic platitudes but they defined what made Karacan so special to Reading, and those qualities have been badly missed in the years since his departure.
Although those traits deserve plenty of praise in their own right, focusing solely on those would be doing him a disservice. He was also capable of some moments of outrageous individual ability, not least a stunning volley at Deepdale in October 2010 that looks better every time you watch it.
Pick that one out.
Later on in that 2010/11 season, and indeed throughout the next campaign, Karacan formed an excellent partnership with powerhouse Mikele Leigertwood in the middle of the park. Their organisation, resolute defending and work rate gave Reading a strong bulwark in the middle of the pitch and allowed others to strut their stuff higher up the pitch - Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff out wide, Shane Long, Noel Hunt and later Jason Roberts up front.
Karacan was of course also at the heart of some of the more heartbreaking Reading moments in the 2010s. It was his shot at Wembley that agonisingly struck the post at 3-2 - and could have helped send Reading up if it were just that little bit more to the left - and his later seasons were ravaged by long-term injury.
First, Good Friday 2012, when he was on the receiving end of some particularly nasty challenges from Leeds United players, including a vicious one from Michael Brown that broke his ankle. Then, in another home match against Leeds, he ruptured the cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Although he did play 21 times during Reading’s Premier League campaign, he only managed 7 appearances in 2013/14 and 8 in 2014/15 before joining Galatasaray on a free transfer when his contract expired. It was a sad end for a player who would surely have contributed so much more were it not for awful luck with injuries.
Memorable moment: Watford 4-1 Reading
I’m in two minds about which of two goals to pick here: one at Craven Cottage in 2013, his first ever in the Premier League, and a consolation at Vicarage Road in 2015 to mark his return from injury. Both were deeply personal goals to Karacan who, as previously mentioned, went through some truly challenging times at the Mad Stad.
But I’ve gone for his goal against Watford in April 2015 because of what it will have meant to him personally. That match was only his second appearance since suffering the knee injury against Leeds in September 2013; he’d got a few minutes at home to Middlesbrough a few months earlier in a 0-0 draw.
And what a way to score for the first time in 574 days! A corner eventually fell to Karacan on the edge of the box, and he lashed it into the top corner.