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.