Part four of this series looks at a player that has been referred to as “The Vincent van Gogh of Football”. Like all those who possess a real talent, self-doubt is never far from the surface. For parts one, two and three please click on the links below.
They Could Have Been One Of Football’s Greatest Part Four — Jason Koumas
Koumas began his footballing journey playing alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen at Liverpool’s academy. Steven Gerrard said this of him in his autobiography: “I always enjoyed playing against Jason because I always got the better of him. He doesn’t like the physical side. Boot Jason early and he fades.” Koumas decided against joining Liverpool, opting to sign for their neighbours Tranmere Rovers instead.
A successful start to his career at Tranmere brought a place in the PFA Division Two team of the year for 2001-02 and a succession of plaudits. He also made his international debut for Wales during this period, coming on as a substitute versus Ukraine. In the summer of 2002 West Bromwich Albion decided to take a chance on the talented youngster, paying £2.25 million to sign him. In his four years at Tranmere he made over 120 appearances, scoring 25 goals.
His first season in the Premier League proved to be a successful one. He won West Brom’s Player of the season award and scored some excellent goals along the way. His performances and goals were not enough to save Albion from relegation. The next season, Koumas inspired his team to promotion back to the Premier League and was named in the division’s team of the year. His future looked extremely bright at this point. He signed a new contract and he and the club were back in the Premier League once more.
During the following season things turned sour for Koumas. A falling out with new manager Bryan Robson saw him placed on the transfer list. Robson was apparently disappointed with his attitude. He had this to say: “Jason’s got terrific ability but it’s up to him to channel it better. I’ve got lads here that will perform in a team structure and I didn’t think Jason would do that. I allowed him to move on.” (The Guardian)
Koumas went out on loan to Cardiff City at the start of the 2005-06 season. The move proved a successful one, earning many man of the match awards, the club’s Player of the Year award and also a place in the Championships PFA team of the season. The summer proved a difficult one for him. Cardiff could not come to an agreement with West Brom over the transfer fee to sign him on a permanent basis and he decided to go on strike after refusing to return to West Brom. After training on his own he decided to make a U-turn and signed a new deal at West Bromwich Albion.
It was around this time that Koumas was also having problems with the Wales national side due to his persistent failure to turn up to training. He also pulled out of a squad get together, but vowed to improve his attendance record after the then Wales manager John Toshack accepted his reasons. He repaid his national manager’s faith in him by scoring three goals in two international matches.
West Brom were once again back in the Championship but much to Koumas’s relief they also had a new manager in Tony Mowbray. Another excellent season saw him named the Championship player of the year and also earned a place in the team of the year. His second spell at the Hawthorns lasted only one season. He wanted to return to the Premier League. There were reports of another strike if he didn’t get his wish, especially when the West Brom chairman increased his asking price for the player. In July 2007, Koumas completed a move to Wigan Athletic for a fee of £5.3 million.
Koumas’s time at Wigan wasn’t the success he had hoped. He struggled with injuries and also at times struggled for first team opportunities while playing under three different managers. He managed just 54 appearances in those three years and eventually went out on loan again to Cardiff City. Injuries and apparent other setbacks saw his appearances on his return to Cardiff restricted. He did score two late goals in a game away at Doncaster Rovers, one of them was a curling 25 yard free kick into the top corner just three minutes after coming on as a substitute.
After this loan spell Koumas was released by Wigan. He remained without a club for two years until 2013 when after a trial he signed a deal that would take him back to his first professional team, Tranmere Rovers. On 10th July 2015 he announced his retirement from football aged 35. He made over 400 club appearances and also represented Wales on over 30 occasions. Looking back after his retirement Koumas said: “I’m happy with the career I’ve had. I’ve played for some good clubs, met some great people and have plenty of memories”
Jason Koumas obviously had the talent, but did his attitude stop him from being one of football’s greats? What could have been if he had stuck it out at Anfield? A roughly similar career or the beginning of a path where fans would look at him as a Liverpool great? He definitely had the ability to be a top player at a top club but ability will only get you so far.