Date: Wednesday 27th June 2012
I'm going to miss Ivan Klasnic.
In terms of cold numbers he was a lethal finisher. He scored 20 Premier League goals despite only starting 28 Premier League games. They could put his picture next to the word "supersub" in the dictionary. I've said in the past that when we need a goal in the 90th minute, there's nobody in the world I'd rather have take the shot than Klasnic. Contrary to popular opinion, he offered more than just goals. He could pick out and play an exquisite pass, as he did to feed Lee Chung-yong against West Ham or Mark Davies against Blackpool.
Even though he was Gary Megson's man, I think of Klasnic as an honorary Allardyce signing. Allardyce led us to the top half via a "factory seconds" transfer strategy - good players with slight defects. When other teams wrote off players because of age (Hierro), poor form (Kevin Davies), attitude (Anelka), or being El-Hadji Diouf (El-Hadji Diouf), Allardyce took a gamble and turned them into Bolton icons. Even Big Sam might have shied away from Klasnic though. It doesn't get much riskier than the only footballer who's gone through a double kidney transplant.
Maybe those health problems led to his reputation for laziness. I tend to chalk this up to the curse of playing with Kevin Davies. Some Bolton fans seem to assume a striker who can put the ball in the net must be dogging it on some other part of the pitch. Ask Jared Borgetti. No, Ivan wasn't going to chase lost causes near the flags and he wasn't much good at clearing corners. Maybe he knew that you can't score when you're camped in your own box.
People called him lazy but you can’t say he didn’t care. I knew he cared from his first goal. He came on as a sub against Everton and was knocked out cold courtesy of Lucas Neill. He managed to pick himself up in time to rifle a first-time winner past Tim Howard, later claiming he had no memory of the goal. It was the kind of gusty performance we associated with SKD. It gave me hope. If this is what Klasnic could do unconscious, imagine what he could do with his wits about him?
Not that he always had his wits about him. He once referred to himself during the Crossbar Challege as the "Jolly Joker," but sometimes he wasn't so jolly. If his unorthodox goal celebrations suggested he might be slightly mad, his other exploits confirmed it. These episodes could be epic, as when he managed to get booked, score the winner, and get sent off in a 10 minute cameo against Stoke. Sometimes they were frustrating, as when his pointless red card against Norwich ruined any chance of a comeback. And sometimes they were disturbing; check the tabloids. No, Klasnic wasn't perfect. But we don't do "perfect" at Bolton.
Should we have kept him? I don’t know. These are the decisions that make me glad I’m not a football manager. Ngog and Sordell will need more playing time if they are to develop into strikers capable of getting to the Premier League and staying there. On the other hand, letting your leading scorer leave for free is a terrible idea; let’s call that the Johan Elmander Precedent. From the gossip and Klasnic’s website it seems he wasn’t even offered a new deal on reduced terms. That’s a shame if true. Finding goal scorers is not easy. Finding goal scorers who become cult heroes is harder.
I suppose that one of my fears is that Coyle is building a team not only lacking in ability but also devoid of personality. Eagles and Ngog lack the exemplary skill of Djorkaeff but they also lack the memorable personality of Nolan or Faye. I miss Campo's theatrical falls and Jay-Jay's incomprehensible dancing and the Peacock and Klasnic's unique hands-behind-back method of berating the officials. With Gardner sure to leave, Jussi likely to follow, and Davies aging, we’re rapidly losing the remaining links to our glory days. With Klasnic gone, we've lost a man who exemplified the ragtag, in-your-face, overachieving spirit of those glory days, too. Years ago, other teams would have loved to watch us go down. Now we exit the Premier League not with a bang, but a whimper.
Fare thee well, Ivan. I can't thank you enough for reminding me what it was like to support the Wanderers when we were the team everyone loved to hate.