Karlan Grant went from League One bit-part player to the Premier League inside a year. Now, he’s arguably the best young striker in the Championship…
In January 2018, Karlan Grant was flitting around the fringes of the Charlton team in League One. He’d scored one goal in 22 league appearances, had an unsuccessful loan spell at Cambridge a couple of years earlier and his career had stalled. A make or break loan was arranged at Crawley.
In January 2019, Karlan Grant was playing in the Premier League. He scored nine in 15 at Crawley, helped himself to another 14 in the first half of the following season back at Charlton and Huddersfield swooped, paying a pocket change transfer fee of around £2million for the striker.
Since the day he signed, Huddersfield have scored 24 goals. Grant has 12 of them. It’s been quite a turnaround.
Earlier in the season, when his team were floundering having won only one point from their first eight games under Jan Siewert, Grant looked like Town’s only hope. Since their recovery under Danny Cowley when they’re unbeaten in the last six, he’s been the on-pitch driving force.
“I said when I joined the club he’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Callum Wilson,” said Huddersfield centre-back Tommy Elphick recently, “and that’s a big statement coming from me, because we all know what he’s gone on to do. He’s got the world at his feet but he needs to stay grounded and just keep doing what he’s doing. He really has got everything.”
Grant’s rise is a classic case of talent finally realised in the right environment, after years of promise and drift. He came to Charlton’s attention as a kid after enrolling on a coaching course run by their Community Trust, was recommended to their youth set-up and joined at around the same time as Ezri Konsa, now with Aston Villa.
He broke into the senior side as a 17-year-old playing predominantly on the wing and, while other Charlton graduates like Konsa and Ademola Lookman fitted in straight away, he initially looked out of his depth. He scored one league goal in his first three seasons, which included that ill-fated spell at Cambridge, where he was on the pitch for just over 100 minutes in three appearances.
He didn’t have much of a track record or any real prospects, but what he did have were fans, in Lee Bowyer and his assistant Johnnie Jackson. Grant had already departed for that loan with Crawley by the time Bowyer took over from Karl Robinson as Addicks manager in March 2018, but they had already worked together extensively on the training pitch.
“We always knew he could finish,” Jackson, who played with and more importantly later coached Grant at the Valley, said on the Totally Football League Show this week, “but it was just about getting him into goalscoring positions. He’s carried that on and it seems like he’s become a leader and a talisman in their side.”
Bowyer and Jackson investigated recalling him from that loan spell, but when it was over Grant was straight into the first team, playing up front with Lyle Taylor in a partnership that delivered 25 goals in 24 games.
“I would argue we have missed Karlan because someone that good is obviously going to leave a bit of a hole,” says Jackson. “We got by without him in the second half of last season, but we definitely missed him and we definitely had to adjust the way we played.
“He’s one of my first success stories as a coach, and turning him from a wide player to a forward player was one of our success stories. Someone with pace like that to burn, I always wanted him playing on the shoulder of defenders. To see his progression has been really satisfying.”
It’s not unusual to hear former coaches talk glowingly about a player’s ability or even personality, but the personal investment Bowyer and Jackson seem to have made in Grant is striking. Bowyer took great pleasure in watching Grant score on Match of the Day for Huddersfield, a move that like his initial elevation to the senior side, could have been too big a step up.
But he found the net a respectable four times in nine starts, for a team that were basically already relegated when he joined, and was one of the few bright moments in a bleak final few months in the Premier League. Those games in the big time now look like a key learning stage rather than too much, too soon.
Grant has played the last few games for Town on the left of a three-man attack, and instinctively that feels like his most dangerous position. He lurks out on the flank and, thanks in part to that work on his movement done at Charlton, times his runs infield perfectly and has a knack for losing his marker.
He’s on eight goals for the season so far, but it’s the variety that stands out more than anything, the recent strikes against Hull and Barnsley particularly. In the former, Grant received the ball just inside the area with his back to goal, his first touch spooned it up in the air so he quickly spun on his heels and volleyed into the bottom corner. One smooth motion, and he was only facing the right way for about the last ten per cent of the move. The latter, he collected on the left side of the box and swept a beautiful Thierry Henry-esque finish into the bottom corner, one of those efforts that was in from the moment it left his boot.
“The kid causes problems and scores goals,” said Bowyer last year. “That’s what he does.” And if he carries on doing it, who knows how high he could go.
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