Jem Karacan’s unexpected arrival on the team-sheet for Wanderers in a promotion showdown with Fleetwood was one of the biggest twists of the 2016/17 season, sadly for him, they would not be his last in a Bolton shirt. 

The former Reading man was recruited as a free agent as late as mid-March to help push Phil Parkinson’s stuttering side towards the finishing line – and his goal on the last-day victory against Peterborough United to seal second spot made him appear like a canny bit of business indeed. 

Behind the scenes, getting the deal done had been anything but simple. Wanderers were effectively in special measures with the EFL and unable to add to their squad with expressed permission. 

Rival clubs voiced their objection to Wanderers being able to add to a wage bill which had entered the season at an unsustainable £12million but Karacan’s addition was eventually sanctioned, and he was involved in five victories at the back end of the season as the Whites clinched a return to the Championship ahead of Scunthorpe United – now a National League club – Fleetwood Town and Bradford City, now playing in League Two. s

Whatever the morality of his move, Karacan was glad to be at Bolton, having endured a painful two years at Galatasaray in Turkey. There, the broken promises and the delayed pay cheques could be left behind, or so he thought. 

“I think because of what happened afterwards you forget that Bolton was quite positive at the time,” he told The Bolton News. 

“Looking back, I hardly know where to begin with it, being honest. It was such a tough time for me, personally. 

“Me even coming through the door was delayed by ages – EFL issues, embargoes, and I hadn’t been told about them when I signed, so that was frustrating. 

“But the club had made me feel really welcome when I first joined, they gave me that bit of love back after what I’d gone through in Turkey, and I needed that. 

“I didn’t have long at the end of that season but I had walked straight into an incredible group of lads and that is the main reason they went up and stayed up, in my opinion, just the sheer strength of the characters inside the group who could cope with everything that was going on.” 

Karacan started the 2017/18 season in Phil Parkinson’s starting line-up and wore the captain’s armband against Sheffield Wednesday in the Carabao Cup. 

The Bolton News: Karacan wearing the captain's armband against Sheffield WednesdayKaracan wearing the captain's armband against Sheffield Wednesday

Things appeared to be running smoothly – but behind the scenes, discontent was already starting to manifest itself as unpaid bonuses from the promotion season drove a wedge between the dressing room and the boardroom. 

Parkinson brought in a procession of free transfers and would eventually have to contend with the sale of top-scorer Gary Madine to Cardiff City for £6million as the financial stability of Wanderers became the topic of widespread debate in football. 

Karacan had sampled it before at Galatasaray and says he did not take the unpredictability of payments to heart as others did. But the midfielder believes that former owner, Ken Anderson, missed out on his big chance to leave the club with head held high in the summer of 2017.

“There was a lot to deal with on and off the pitch for the lads,” he said. “Even in my time there, which was before it went really bad, I saw a lot of things and for a lot of the lads it was something they were not used to at all. I’d played in Turkey, don’t forget. 

“No-one in England is used to a situation where you walk into the training ground and ask: ‘Are we doing anything today because we haven’t been paid?’ 

“I always tried to take some middle ground with it all, because I always hoped we would get paid eventually, but if you are not used to getting your wages on time or whatever bonuses you are due, people live a certain way of life and need money when they need it. Unfortunately, they found it tough, and I understand that. 

“Ken and Lee (Anderson) came in at a very difficult time and, yes, a lot of the stuff that was going on was very odd. But you wonder what might have happened if they had sold the club when it got promoted? 

“They might have walked away having achieved something but they are stubborn these people, aren’t they?"

The 2017/18 campaign was a grind. The first league win arrived in mid-October against Sheffield Wednesday, which sparked a revival of sorts, including five draws and a win against Norwich City. 

The ever-pragmatic Parkinson struggled to keep fans onside with his style of football but inside the camp, relationships with some players were also starting to fray. 

Karacan still feels a pang of regret at being dropped so unceremoniously at the end of September, having started 11 of the first 13 games. 

“It was always going to be a difficult season for Bolton because the club didn’t really invest anything,” he said.  

“We were looking for free agents and loans, and there is nothing wrong with that, but to stay in that league is practically impossible. Fortunately, we had an incredible spirit which did somehow get us over the line but when you look back, achieving what we did was incredible. 

“But for me, personally, it was frustration. I’d played regularly at the start and even had the armband at times, and then all of a sudden it was a case of not being involved. 

“I have never really spoken about it but it was tough to take, mentally difficult. Not a lot of lads open up about that kind of thing but I was finding it very hard at times. 

“I’d come out of the team, as captain, and suddenly wasn’t involved at all. I didn’t understand why then and to be honest, I still don’t. 

“Then I was back in – I think it was Sunderland at home and then Norwich, so we picked up four points in a week – and then the Brentford game I was gone again.” 

The signing of experienced midfielder Karl Henry pushed Karacan further out of the reckoning as the season entered into its final third and when Adam Le Fondre scored a memorable winner against Aston Villa in a televised game on St Patrick’s Day, Wanderers looked like they had just about done enough to stave off relegation. 

But then another desperate run of poor form plunged them back into trouble, a 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Burton Albion taking the matter out of Bolton’s hands as they went into a final day game against Nottingham Forest. 

“You couldn’t have scripted how it went in the end,” said Karacan, preparing to give his take on his final few weeks at the club. “Now that was something truly phenomenal.”