Date:Friday June 5 2009
It's April, and Leicester have just gained promotion to the Championship away at Southend. Max Gradel joins his team-mates at the far side of the pitch where the Leicesters fans are congregated, and performs a victory dance with a huge grin on his face.
It's Gradel all over. The cheeky character who possesses the swagger, the flamboyance and the oh-so-frustrating inconsistence. Oh, and he's never one to shy away from an argument, as demonstrated on numerous occassions, whether it be with referees or his own players. A fighter, a hard-worker and a distinctively petulant little soul, Gradel has the ability to both frustrate and devastate.
Just ask MK Dons. It's the 95th minute, and Leicester are 2-1 down to Roberto Di Matteo's men. But there's a glimmer of hope, a free-kick on the edge of the area. It's the unpredictable Gradel himself to take it. The thoughts run through the mind; this is anywhere but in. He takes his position; green-booted, Ronaldo-esque stance, and delivers. And boy does he deliver. The ball curls delightfully into the top corner to salvage an incredibly late point for the Foxes.
As you can probably tell, Max Gradel is no ordinary footballer. Born in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan, he moved to England to join Leicester's youth academy at 17, via a brief stint at Auxerre. Still only 21, Gradel has already experienced more in his life than most middle-aged human beings.
Last October, whilst on loan at Bournemouth, Max's mother was taken seriously ill back home in Africa. Despite this, the plucky little winger decided to play for the Cherries against Crewe. Incredibly, Gradel scored an unbelievable double to help Kevin Bond's side to a 4-1 victory.
A few days later, Max's mother died. As his mother and father had seperated many years before, it was left to him to look after his younger brother and sister back home in Africa.
Gradel returned just as Bournemouth were about to play non-league Barrow in the F.A Cup. With 90 minutes on the clock, the Cherries were shockingly behind, but were handed a lifeline when they were awarded a penalty. Striker Brett Pitman was the natural option to take the spot-kick, but Max was having none of that. He wrestled the ball from the hands of the forward, before scoring from the spot. Bournemouth went onto score again in extra time. Call it petulance, call it whatever you like, but that's strength of character for you.
Gradel began the season as Leicester's first choice winger, before gradually deteriorating, much to the disappointment of the Leicester fans who had expected so much of the youngster. In hindsight, maybe it was too much to expect. In and out of the side on a regular basis, Max struggled to find any real consistency. He found the net twice overall, once against Crystal Palace in the F.A Cup, and of course, that goal against MK Dons.
But it's moments of magic like that which make Max Gradel the character he is. It's also those moments of mad petulance, those moments of flamboyant skill, and that questionable mohican.
He's not the perfect player, but he's got that spark, a spark which shouldn't be extinguished just yet. He doesn't have the expectations of last season on his shoulders, but he will need to step it up for Pearson next year in the Championship.
With the right guidance, Max Gradel could well be the unpolished diamond on the wing that Leicester have craved for years.
Date:Friday June 5 2009
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