#3 – Talal El Karkouri
Never has a professional footballer, not least a Premier League player with international caps, looked so uncoordinated. His legs seemingly too gangly to be properly controlled; mistakes not necessarily a regular occurrence but never too far away. Clearances were sliced, tackles mistimed and, to make matters worse, he often wore a rather ridiculous moustache.
And yet, Talal El Karkouri made himself quite a popular figure in SE7. The Covered End frequently sung their appreciation for the Moroccan centre-back during his three-year stint at The Valley, and I cheered him on as loudly as anyone else.
Nonetheless, El Karkouri was rarely appreciated for his tough tackling and aerial dominance at the back. As good as his defensive contributions often were, it says something about his character that when El Karkouri’s name is mentioned, his free-kicks and that time he unnecessary wacked the ball from close range into The Jimmy Seed Stand are recalled.
Because, as much as a traditional ‘get the job done’ centre-back El Karkouri was when it came purely to his defensive duties, his charismatic enthusiasm, opposition-frustrating behaviour and his admirable goal scoring ability meant he provided something much more entreating than some hefty punts up field.
In fact, it was his first goal for Charlton that immediately turned me into a huge admirer, rather than his already seen defensive efforts. A header, which proved to be the winner, against Blackburn Rovers on a Monday night in 2004 topped off an exceptional performance from the Moroccan.
But that goal, despite providing three points, is almost irrelevant when compared to some of the other seven he managed in 87 games for the club. The Arsenal free-kick, lashed in from 30 yards, a piece of brilliance, the over-hit set-piece against Birmingham that surprised even El Karkouri as it bounced over Maik Taylor and the winner against Blackburn two years after his first goal that gave Charlton fans misguided hope that they would survive all incredible moments.
That Blackburn winner in December 2006 was particularly special. An absolutely horrendous goal to concede for Rovers, with the wall that stood in the way of El Karkouri’s free-kick a more useless wall than Millwall (pretend that works), but that took nothing away from the celebrations that followed.
A genuine roar from the Covered End only heard to that extent once or twice since, a huge cry of ‘DA DA DA DA EL KARKOURI’ and a buzz walking away from the ground that suggested, despite the fact Les Reed didn’t have a clue what he was doing, the Addicks could and would survive.
Nonetheless, to purely focus on his goals would be misguided. They were an added bonus to a centre-back that, but for a few moments in the season Charlton suffered relegation from the Premier League, offered resilience to Alan Curbishley’s side.
His biggest strength was his ability to read the game; excellent positioning and impeccable timing meant that questionable technique rarely needed to be questioned. Winning aerial duels and putting in last-ditch tackles his specialities.
He also, despite his win-a-tackle-smack-it-clear nature, wasn’t afraid to carry the ball forward and play out from the back. Although your heart was in mouth each time he did, attacks were started by El Karkouri carrying his uncomfortable-looking frame into midfield before picking out a pass for someone more composed in possession.
The absolute peak of such a move came in Charlton’s 3-2 defeat to Manchester City in February 2006. A through ball slid into the path of Darren Bent, finished with class only second to the ball. Such a goal didn’t deserve to be part of a losing effort.
Of course, there were moments in El Karkouri’s time as an Addick that were less than pleasing. He was loaned out to Al Gharafa in 2006 having struggled for game time in the 2005/06 season, his final campaign in SE7 was filled with more errors than you would like, coming to a head at Vicarage Road where he did his upmost to single-handedly relegate us, and sometimes his play-acting was less hilarious more embarrassing and infuriating.
But that can be overlooked when his ability, his defensive contributions and the charismatic way in which he played are also considered. A combination of all the positives, and in a strange way the comedy value that the negatives brought, made El Karkouri one of my early favourites as a Charlton fan, and one that I have continued to like.
I’ve been known to burst out El Karkouri’s chant, his goal against Arsenal remains worth a watch and, of course, who doesn’t get a laugh out of remembering that time he lashed a ball into the Norwich fans?
Not the best player to ever play for Charlton, but a likable and effective performer.