When the bell tolled on the August 2012 transfer window, a dark shadow had been cast over Motspur Park. Like something out of a J.K.Rowling novel, Tottenham’s ‘he who shall not be named’ chaiman had left what felt like an indelible mark on the Fulham playing squad with the pillaging of Dempsey and Dembele.
Martin Jol and Alistair McIntosh have a cracker of a petronas charm* though. For the second transfer window in a row, they somehow conjured that rare species, a top line international centre midfielder, out of thin air. Unlike the previous manifestation, Mahammadou Diarra, who was available because of previous injuries, our latest knight in aging armour, was a victim of the financial crisis.
Age and the crumbling domestic economy had somehow led Hundred and 124 cap Greek captain, stalwart and modern day Zeus reincarnate, Giorgos Karagounis, available on a free transfer following his release from Panathanaikos. Well, bravo Mr Manager and Mr CEO.
You know the back-story; Karagounis is a legend in his homeland – veteran domestic stalwart with Athens’ giants Panathanaikos and, more importantly, 2004 European Championship winning talisman for Greece and captain for the important austerity era Euro 2012 campaign, where an unjust booking kept him out of the bail-out quarter final with Germany. Along with spells in Portugal, at Benfica, and Italy, with Inter Milan, there are not many more experienced players in the European game than old George.
Having released our previous captain and rightful fan favourite, Danny Murphy, at the tender age of 35, the signing of now 36 year old Karagounis was initially met with some scepticism.
Sure, he wasn’t Plan A. He probably wasn’t Plan B or even Plan C. Did that seem to bother him? Not one bit. Here was a player who, despite being one of the greats in the modern canon of European football, was simply delighted to be given his shot in the Premier League, and in our fragile state of hearts and minds, that was damn good enough.
It will be a sad day when Giorgos leaves, following the impending expiration of his one-year contract. For Kara was a tremendous asset to Fulham this season. He said it best himself in a recent thank you to the fans interview with the club, “I’m a player that gives my all to a team and to a game, I think the fans see that and appreciate it. They like their players to give their all to the cause. I gave my all to every single game.”
It is not surprising that this humble servant felt it necessary to thank the fans. I’ve never met Giorgos Karagounis, but I’d bet my every last drachma he’s a class act in person. Not since John Pantsil and his ceremonious lap of honour, have we seen a Fulham player of such exuberance and graciousness on the Craven Cottage pitch. Seeing Giorgos walk the sombre “lap of appreciation” after the Liverpool defeat, he was accompanied by his three children and looked genuinely thankful for his chance to play at Fulham, and those fans who took him to heart over the past 9 months.
Giorgos’ energy and passion were central in any success we had this season. But, to merely sideline his impact as just motivational, would be a crass understatement. For much of the season, Giorgos was the best midfielder we had. His two goals, in back-to-back fixtures against Blackpool and Wigan in January will justifiably be nominated for the FFC goal of the season. His energizer bunny–esque celebrations would certainly win celebration of the year too.
Statistically, Karagounis completed 898 passes at a 90% success rate in his 28 appearances. He won 133 duels at a 63% success rate, and 37 tackles at a 79% success rate. 31 interceptions, 16 clearances and 10 blocked shots are excellent complimentary statistics defensively, but perhaps most importantly, Giorgos was our most fouled player, suffering 64 indiscretions this season**, while committing only 29 for the cost of a total of 3 yellow cards. Steve Sidwell in comparison, suffered only 29 fouls, while committing 62, at a cost of 8 yellows and 2 reds. Ill-discipline can cost your team points, while winning fouls can win you them.***
Finally, in letting Giorgos go, I have a nagging fear that history is repeating itself, and we are letting a player and leader of importance leave for nothing on the basis of age and not a lot else.
Regardless, Giorgos Karagounis, Efkaristo (Thank You).
*If you don’t get this, read Harry Potter. There’s no football for the next three months, you may as well find something to fill the time.
**Theatricality comes somewhat naturally to a man who could easily become an actor upon retirement, as such, certain “fouls” were perhaps a tad soft.
***Had we been given a free kick for a foul on Karagounis in the build up to Southampton’s equaliser at St Mary’s, we’d have ended the season circa £700,000 better off.