Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Hands off our academy!

I've started to see a number of views from different sources about the benefits a 'feeder club' kind of system can bring us, but I personally cannot see any benefit for us in this particular case. The point that seems to be missed over and over is that Standard Liege are not a big club.

We aren't talking about Barca or Madrid, or Juve or Milan even Chelsea, Manchester United or City where an arrangement of this type could have obvious advantages. Aligning ourselves with one of the major teams in Europe might well be an intelligent thing to do, but that is not what is happening here.

In this instance, we are talking about Standard Liege. We are talking about a team that finished bottom of their Europa Cup group. Guess who else were in that group - Salzburg, Esbjerg and Elfborg. Hardly big hitters in terms of European football. Liege managed ONE point in their group.

A single point out of six games. Both Wigan and Swansea picked up more points in their respective groups than Liege could manage. I mean no disrespect to any of these clubs, I am merely trying to demonstrate that by accepting this arrangement we are selling ourselves short.

It's not even as if Liege has an embarrassment of quality youth players that are knocking on the door of the team but can't get in. We've seen what 'riches' Liege can offer and they have thus far come up short in terms of quality. Why would we want to be a feeder club to a second rate European team?

They might be the best team in Belgium, but what does that count for? Not a lot because the majority of the sides in the Jupila Pro League would be hard pushed in our Championship.

I also think about what might happen if one of our young players refuses to go to Liege? What if they don't want to move away from their families for long periods? You can hardly blame them at such a young age. Will that then see them frozen out at Charlton? Will their own development become stifled because they aren't willing to play ball with the regime?

What happens when heads are turned and one of our prospects becomes much sought after, will Duchatelet sell them to a team outside his network for their true value or is he more likely to sell them on the cheap to Liege or another one of his clubs? I think we know the answer to this as he is doing his best to keep his own money circulating around his network.

We need to keep investing in our own academy system and use the players that come through for our own development as a club. This is something that we have been doing to good effect, we have blooded some very good youngsters over the past couple of seasons. Our hot prospects should be ours and ours alone.

We do not need to swap players with Liege because their fringe players are no better than ours, I would go as far to say that the ones we have currently are worse than our own. We have a good academy, that is why Duchatelet has acquired us. He wants to siphon off our biggest asset in the hope of improving Liege on the cheap, thus making him even more money.

This entire thing is a disgrace and I find it incredulous that the Football League can allow such things to happen. They should be protecting the clubs in their divisions from this type of behaviour. It's not going to benefit English football as a whole if this kind of model catches on as all the best home-grown players are farmed out around Europe and are replaced with second rate understudies.

We should not accept this arrangement, it will be at the detriment to the development and ambition of Charlton Athletic, not to mention the damage it could do to our own domestic game.  But what can we do to stop it?  I really have no idea.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sincerely thanks, Chris

As I write this post, I have a terrible knot in my stomach, as I'm sure do thousands of other Charlton fans. Chris Powell, to me, epitomised everything that is great in our club, dedication, motivation, hard work, and a good understanding of who we are and where we have come from.  As a result Powell was able to inject these things into his squad, and for the vast majority of the time, despite a serious lack of quality, they responded with a spirit and fight that has been a feature of our play during our most successful periods.

Powell's departure has been inevitable since the day Roland Duchatelet purchased the Club.  Most new owners like to bring in their own men, people who they can mould to run things in a specific way.  Let us remember that Phil Parkinson was moved on by Slater and Co. and Powell was brought in as his replacement.  I think though, that many of us were hoping that Chris could endear himself to the new regime and somehow earn himself a deserved new contract.

It looks like the break down of contract talks were the major factor in his departure.  Powell himself stated that he had agreed the financial side of the deal but it was other issues that were outstanding, most importantly player transfer affairs.

Here's what Duchatelet had to say on the issue:

'We have been working with Chris Powell and his representatives for a couple of weeks to try and agree a contract extensions which would have seen us continue to work together.  There was good progress, but we could not reach an agreement over the club's football strategy going forward.'

So there we have it, it's a case of my way or the highway. It's abundantly clear that Powell has had little or no input in transfer activity since Duchatelet's take-over.  He has had players forced upon him and it was expected that things would improve.  Unfortunately the quality of players given to us were no better than what we already have.

Unsurprising really.  The Belgian league is hardly part of the elite when it comes to European football. Whilst the Belgium national side might be improving, the Pro League itself, for the most part, is no better than the Championship.  So we should expect that a bunch of players that cannot succeed in the Pro League, will probably fare little better in the Championship.

Of course, it could be a bit unfair to judge our newest recruits so quickly as they haven't had much time to adapt, but this is what makes the entire business even more frustrating.  We were relegation threatened in January, so instead of shoving a host of 'maybe men' on to Powell and insisting he makes it work, we should have invested in players that were less of a gamble and given him a real opportunity to turn things around.

Duchatelet of course will not be worried about fans reactions, he already has previous form in this.  When he took over Standard Liege the manager was sacked and their top players were sold.  Fans of Liege were extremely vocal, yet he stood firm and now they are sitting in pole position in the Pro League with the chance of a Champions League spot a distinct possibility.  In fact three of his five clubs are all in the top four of their respective leagues.  This will be enough for Duchatelet to convince himself that he is doing the right thing.

If rumours are anything to go by, Duchatelet is lining up a manager for the job that he sacked only a couple of years ago. José Riga was Standard Liege boss between July 2011 and May 2012, but Ducatelet decided that he wasn't up to the task.  So why appoint him as Charlton boss?  Probably because he will do as he is told and do the job the way Roland wants him to.  It's speculation at this point of course, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a puppet appointed.  He already has one running the club in the UK in the form of Katrien Meire, so may as well get one to run to team too right?  (CORRECTION: Apparently Riga left of his own accord, he was not sacked.  Apologies for that.  I stand by my statement that he was appointed to be a puppet however).

Powell deserves better.  We have seen what the man can do when he is given proper investment money. The League One title was not a gimme.  There were some tough teams in the division when we walked away with it.  It took a record points tally to ensure that we secured the silverware and we were pushed hard all the way by Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.  Powell showed that he had an eye for a transfer and that he had what it took to be a winner in his first full season as a football manager.  It's also worth mentioning that he led us to a 9th place finish in our first year back in the Championship, this was despite having the rug pulled from under him in terms of finance and investment.

I started this blog around the time Chris Powell was appointed manager.  It wasn't a conscious choice, just a coincidence.  Unfortunately the blog has suffered over the past 9 months or so as I've been away from matches due to a serious illness, I can't find much to write about when I'm not attending matches, so there seemed little point in writing for the sake of it.

This latest development was enough to get me back at the PC again, and it seems fitting that as I started writing at the beginning of Powell's tenure, I should also be writing at the end of it.  That's not to say that it's the end of this blog, in fact with my health improving, it's likely there will be more posts in the not too distant future (sorry!).

Thank you Chris, from the bottom of my heart, not only did you give us hope again, you gave us something more positive to sing about. You gave us new meaning. You brought us silverware. You injected life back into a team and a club that was on a downward turn and brought 'Our Charlton' back. You always had a special relationship with us fans, and that continued during your tenure as manager. Despite a minority calling for your head, you can rest assured that the vast majority of us always supported you and were willing you to do well for us.

You will be sorely missed, and this will always be a dark day for the club.  I wish you every success for the future, but secretly hope there may be a day when you return and bring us the success that I know you wanted to bring us.  Thank you, two words that will never express the gratitude I feel, no matter how many times I say them.

Friday, 31 May 2013

That's All Folks...

So after the traditional end of the season Play Off match, the curtain finally closes on the Championship season.  Wasn't a bad one for the Addicks was it? Unfortunately we didn't manage to reach the lofty heights of the Premier League as did our neighbours, but overall I am satisfied that it was a very successful season for Charlton given the squad that we had available.

For me, the close season can be a frustrating time, in particular when it's an 'off-year' for the European Championships and the World Cup.  When there is a tournament on there is some level of distraction which makes the couple of months without football a bit more bearable.  It also stops me from trawling news sites multiple times a day looking for some scrap of Addicks news.  So far the news hasn't been exactly positive.

If early signs are anything to go by, we could be in for another tough season when the campaign kicks off again in August.  It's great news that Andy Hughes has signed a contract extension, but Cedric Evina has joined the long line of Charlton players that are heading away from The Valley.  Evina becomes the eighth person to be released by the club, though that number could actually be nine if we include Bradley Wright-Phillips, though I have no idea if he has officially been released, I've read nothing that would confirm this.

I think the trimming down of the squad was inevitable with the financial fair play rules beginning to take effect,  but we do need to add some new faces if we are to move forward.  Chris Powell did brilliantly to manage the team to a top ten finish, especially as we were on such a tight budget.  To finish above the likes of Wolves, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and Leeds is a good achievement.  These teams would definitely be looked at as the heavyweights of the division pre-season, so congratulations have to go to Powell and the squad for their hard work and commitment.

For some time our fate was hanging in the balance as the season unfolded into one of the closest league campaigns that I can remember.  I have to admit, there were times when I was getting a little uncomfortable with our league position as I was mindful of the fact that we have suffered a number of end of season slumps over the years.  With our final ten games approaching, we were languishing a little bit too close to the relegation zone for my liking and I was trying not to think of the prospect of another relegation.

But, in fact, it was the end of season run that was to cement our place in this division.  In those final ten games, we managed to pick up 6 wins, 3 draws, and spectacularly, only a single defeat.  Unfortunately that loss was to that noisy lot from SE16, but there were some great wins in there to be proud of.  The Bolton result was a memorable one after going two goals down before scoring three of our own to seal the points.  The six goal thrashing of Barnsley will long be remembered by those who made the trip, and the win over Leeds was an important one as not only did the late goals show the character in the team, it also gave us the belief that a top ten finish was entirely possible.

I've often heard it said that you cannot stand still in football, and it's the truth.  If we don't improve the team, we could face another season of uncertainty.  Powell has done everything that has been expected of him so far, and a bit more besides.  We are currently in the ascendancy as a club, and we need to keep that going.  Slater and Co. have always insisted that their goal was to get us back to the Premier League, and as hard as Powell is trying, that cannot be done without some investment.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Wright-Phillips off, Di Canio out

Bradley Wright-Phillips has moved to Brentford on loan for the rest of the season.  With the proposed move to Swindon falling through at the 11th hour, it was only a matter of time before a deal was done with somebody, and I'm not wholly surprised that Brentford are the club that will benefit.

BWP made no secret of the fact that his preferred strike partner during our promotion winning campaign, was Paul Hayes.  With Hayes also playing for Brentford, Uwe Rosler must be hoping that the two of them will link up as successfully as the pair did for us during the first part of last season.

I'm actually disappointed that the club has opted to loan Bradley out.  Although I realise he has found life in the Championship far more difficult than League One, I'm not totally convinced that he has been given enough of an opportunity.  Of late, we have been struggling to find the back of the net with any regularity, and it has to be said, we have lost games as a direct result of this.

With Wright-Phillips gone, it limits our attacking options.  Both Danny Haynes and Ricardo Fuller have had spells out with injury, and as much as we all love Yann, he is not the type of player that will be prolific enough to score us all the goals we need to ensure we consolidate in this league.

According to the stats, Bradley has made 21 appearances for the club this season (all competitions) with a return of just one goal, which I admit, doesn't make great reading.  But, he has mostly been limited to cameo appearances, only being called upon very late in the game, often when there was little time to make an impact.  I would like to have seen him get another chance to see if he can cut it in this division, but it seems we may never find out.

It's a distinct possibility that we have seen his last game in a Charlton shirt. Bradley's contract expires at the end of the season and it's likely that it will not be renewed.  It is a shame, as he was instrumental last season and provided the lions share of the goals for us and it was great to have a striker that we expected to score, rather than hoped to score.  Darren Bent was probably the last player that we had this kind of feeling with, and that seemed like an age ago.

I wish BWP all the luck in the world and I really think that his move to Brentford will not only be great for himself and for Brentford, I think that it might help bring out the best in Paul Hayes as well.

In other news, Paolo Di Canio has confirmed his resignation from Swindon Town.  Clearly Paolo was upset at the sale of Matt Richie without his consent, and although it seemed that there was agreement reached with the Club's new owners, Paolo has decided it's time to move on.

I doubt we'll see him out of the game for too long.  Paolo did an excellent job with Swindon getting them promoted on limited resources, but the real achievement has been that they have managed to keep pace with some of the best teams in League One this season.  They are currently sitting in 6th position, though if they win their game in hand, they would be up to 2nd place.  An amazing feat for a club on such a shoestring.

It have wondered if our owners would be interested in replacing Powell with Di Canio, and even if Paolo would consider such a position.  I'm personally happy with the current setup, but the people behind our club have a certain unpredictability and nothing would surprise me.  If they are looking to get rid of Powell, it might soften the blow with the fans to have someone come in that also is held in high regard.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

An Emotional Return

December 5th 1992 was a day of mixed emotions for me.  As a Charlton fan, the elation I felt making the walk along Floyd Road, was immense.  Particularly as for a good few years it was uncertain as to whether this moment would even be possible.  The day was also tinged with more than just a little bit of sadness.

I was quite a sickly child.  For the first ten years of my life I was constantly in and out of hospital with severe bouts of respiratory difficulties.  My parents were in a constant state of worry and took the decision to have me tutored at home rather than send me to school.  My father was exceptionally good friends with a former school master from East Ham who agreed to take on the role as my tutor.

Now, despite being from West Ham, Michael King, my tutor, was a huge fan of Charlton Athletic.  The first memory I have of The Valley was when we took a break from lessons and we went for a walk.  We strolled past the station and into Floyd Road and came upon this huge structure that to me, looked so out of place.  But I was awestruck.  I remember walking up to the gates and pressing my face between the bars, just trying to get a look at as much as I could.  Michael said that he would be willing to take me to a game if my parents agreed.

So Michael fulfilled his promise and he became the first person to take me to watch a football match.  I remember little of it.  As a child it was often hard to see what was going on when surrounded by hundreds of men on a football terrace.  I do remember being more interested in the atmosphere than the game itself. The singing of songs, the shouts and cheers, and having a snigger to myself when hearing the odd swear word.

My relationship with Charlton had begun, and there were many more trips to The Valley with Michael, who often brought along his own son, and occasionally would convince my father to come along with us too. As I grew older and started to understand the game more and more, I wanted to talk about football with Michael all the time.  He was very disciplined however, and would always ensure that my academic education came first, and my football education second.

My parents moved us away from Charlton in 1983.  By this time I was a regular at The Valley for the majority of home games.  Getting to Charlton from Eden Park in Beckenham was a fairly straight-forward journey yet my parents, still worrying over my health, point black refused to let me make the trip without an adult to accompany me.  Luckily Michael came to my rescue, on match days he drove from his home in East Ham, took me on the 54 bus to Charlton Village where we made the short walk down the hill to The Valley.

By the time the club had moved to Selhurst Park, I was going to a mainstream secondary school.  It seemed I had outgrown many of my childhood health issues, yet Michael was still a huge part of my life.  Despite declaring he would never visit Selhurst Park, Michael continued to escort me to matches.  Standing in the Arthur Waite was never the same.  The football on the pitch was of a higher quality than we'd seen for some time, but the surroundings were all wrong.  We watched a number of matches at Selhurst Park, attending most home games, yet we longed, as other fans did, for a return to The Valley.

Unfortunately Michael became ill in 1990 and eventually passed away after being diagnosed with cancer.  We had talked much about the return home. Roger Alwen's declaration of our return probably had most Charlton fans fired up and desperate to go home.  Eventually it became a reality, but Michael was not there to share that amazing day with me.  It's something I regret a great deal. We should have walked side by side through those gates in 1992, yet it wasn't to be.

My father offered to take me to the match on that day.  Of course I accepted, and in fact other than Michael, there isn't a single person that I would rather have been with.  The entire day was a roller-coaster of emotion.  It was amazing to see the work that had been done on the stadium.  The smell of the food vendors brought back great memories, and bumping into a few friends that I had not seen in years all helped to make a fantastic day. Colin Walsh helped cap a perfect return for Charlton and the majority of it's fans.  For me it wasn't quite perfect, but I know Michael would have approved of the homecoming had he been there to experience it with me.

I want to close by giving my thanks to everybody who worked so tirelessly to bring about our return to The Valley.  It's amazing what a group of dedicated people can do.  Not only did they give us hope during the wilderness years, they turned our dream of going home into a reality.

But most of all I'd like to say thanks to Michael King, if it wasn't for him, I would probably be another West Ham fan!