Tuesday, June 25, 2013

From Forfar to Transylvania; the remarkable tale of Gregory Tadé

Perhaps his career is a perfect demonstration of how far the right attitude and a great work ethic can take you.

Perhaps his career is a perfect demonstration of how the standards of top level Scottish club football have deteriorated in recent years.

However you choose to view it, the career of Gregory Tadé is remarkable indeed.

The French forward today left Scottish football to join Romanian side CFR Cluj on a three year contract.  That's the same CFR Cluj who you may have seen playing in the Champions League against Manchester United last season.

Not bad for a guy who had to lie on his CV in order to get a trial with Forfar Athletic less than seven years ago; according to an interview with a French newspaper a couple of years back, "I tinkered with my CV, saying I had two caps for the Ivory Coast"!

If you've seen Tadé play, you don't forget him.  Six feet two inches tall and built like a tank, yet blessed with impressive speed for a man of his size, he starts running as soon as the match kicks off and doesn't stop until the final whistle sounds.  He is a phenomenal athlete.  On the other hand, for a modern footballer he has a technique that would be diplomatically described as 'interesting'.  Often he controls the ball further than he passes it.  With the ball at his feet, he willingly runs at opponents, but for every time he waltzes through the defence there are about ten occasions when he ends up in a cul-de-sac, or running the ball out of play.  You'll remember the "run, Forrest, run!" bit from Forrest Gump?  Yup, it's a bit like that. 

He doesn't know when he's beaten, but, to steal a Monty Python line, he doesn't know when he's winning either.  He is the sort of player who might miss a sitter from a yard out, or blast a twenty-five yard screamer in the top corner...in the same game.

In hindsight, it seems he was destined to become a cult hero at the clubs he played for - fans always a love a player that gives everything, and there is never a dull moment with him.

Yet his start in Scottish football was unauspicious.  Forfar, then in the Second Division, gave Tadé a contract, but after the club's relegation to the bottom tier of the Scottish Football League, he wasn't kept on.  It was with another Third Division club, Stranraer, that he started finding success, firing them to promotion in 2007-08, and he impressed enough the following season to attract First Division strugglers Clyde.  Tadé failed to score in his six month spell in Cumbernauld, and was let go along with the rest of the squad at the end of the season, due to the club's financial struggles, but he had attracted plenty of attention.

He spent the next two years at Raith Rovers, under the management of John McGlynn.  Anyone who watched Hearts during the first half of last season would have winced at McGlynn's direct style of play, but it was tailor-made for Tadé.  Sometimes he was used on the wing, where he invariably outmuscled opposing full-backs.  On other occasions he played up front, where, even on a bad day, he offered enough nuisance value to single-handedly occupy two centre-backs.  During Caley Thistle's First Division campaign of 2009-10, there were three forwards the fans feared facing; Michael Gardyne (then of Ross County, now at Dundee United), Leigh Griffiths (who, still a teenager, was playing for Dundee back then) and "that big French guy who runs all day for Raith".  At First Division level, his endeavour and his relentless running, coupled with his physical presence, made him a dangerous foe, even if his first touch - and his second, and his third - remained erratic.  His goal tally was hardly spectacular - 17 goals in 77 games - but he was adored by the support at Starks Park.

It wasn't only ICT fans who took note of him; so too did manager Terry Butcher, who gave Tadé his chance in the SPL in 2011.  Perhaps, as I stated at the beginning of the blog, there was a time where the quality of Scotland's top flight would have been too great for a player like him to make the step up.  But perhaps not.  Tadé brought his energy and enthusiasm to the Highlands.  There was a few dire performances, as you'd expect; there were also some terrific ones.  He contributed nine goals, including a spectacular strike on the turn into the top corner at Motherwell and a brace in a memorable 6-3 win at Rugby Park, one of which saw him gallop 60 yards unchallenged after a corner was cleared and around the keeper.

This writer was particularly impressed on one occasion at Pittodrie, where the Frenchman scored a tap in early on, then had to play up front on his own for the last 40 minutes after ICT's Josh Meekings was sent off.  His nine teammates rarely ventured more than thirty yards from their own goal.  Tadé, alone, chased everything that was punted in his general direction.  His running earned a throw-in here, forced a backpass there, and made it just that little bit more difficult for Aberdeen to build anything.  Caley Thistle hung on for the win.  I remember quite clearly that the striker could barely muster the energy to applaud the away fans at the final whistle.  He looked like he would keel over at any moment.

Inverness would have kept Tadé, if they could.  It's intriguing to think how he might have fitted into their attack this season - would his physical presence have given us just that little bit extra, or would his limitations prevented the forward line from working together as well?  Regardless, he moved to another SPL club, St. Johnstone.  We were a bit offended - the Perth side have smaller crowds than Inverness.  But the Perth Saints had finished well above Caley Thistle in 2011-12 - so far above that they were in the Europa League.  Less than six years since after he turned up at Station Park with a dodgy resumé, Tadé scored in a Europa League qualifier in Perth against Turkish side Eskisehirspor.

He only scored five more goals last season (one of which was a superb winner against Celtic), and wasn't always a regular in Steve Lomas' side, but Tadé must have done something right; St. Johnstone qualified for the Europa League once more, after finishing third in the SPL, and he was offered a new contract.  To the horror of St. Johnstone, he's ditched Perth for Transylvania.  Cluj finished only in mid-table last season in the Romanian Liga 1, but they have been Champions in three of the last six seasons.  They've given him a three year deal as well.  A bit more graft, and a bit of luck, and we might yet see Gregory Tadé playing in a future Champions League group.

Not too shabby for a guy who once couldn't convince Forfar Athletic to keep him on for a Scottish Third Division campaign.  And, whether you rate him or not, you can't deny that his seven seasons in our leagues have been pretty interesting.


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