I have never been a professional footballer (this is clearly no surprise) but I did go to school many years ago. I remember (fondly now that it is way behind me) the start of the new school year. At the time I clearly didn't want to go back to school although as I got older and went off to University I found the end of the summer less and less disappointing.
I can only imagine that this is what goes through the mind of a Professional Footballer in July when pre-season training begins. Having read Garry Nelson's book it is clearly not a pleasant time for a player the wrong side of thirty, as it is a real physical challenge, but for the younger ones I guess it must be kind of exciting. Or maybe not.
Everything we have seen of Professional Footballers in the last few years has been focused on their huge incomes, lavish lifestyles and glamorous WAGs. Just this week a camera crew has been following Frank Lampard about on his family holiday. I have to confess I didn't notice where he was (not really all that interested) but he didn't look like he was missing 'work' too much. So what are we to make of all the claims, promises or even pledges (a really popular word in sales management) of the players and staff about the season ahead? Is Luke Varney really glad to be back and determined to lead the club back to the Premier League, or did he just not think that saying he wished he was still on a beach was suitable?
I, for one, have never been glad to be back at work after a holiday. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, and I have what I think is a great lifestyle bearing in mind my abilities (or lack of them), but I wouldn't trade an extra week's holiday for the chance to go into the office.
So the holidays are over. The hard work begins here, and now. It is up to Pardew and his team to mould this squad (which the manager can claim to be his own now) into genuine challengers. Man for man our squad should be as good as any in this division. Clearly Reading and Birmingham are going to have some very good footballers, but it is entirely possible that they will be forced to sell them all. Not only would it raise some cash and reduce the wage bill, but if the players (and their agents) demand a move they normally get one in the end.
There is little point in going over and over the failings from last season. As long as we learn from them I am happy to put them all behind us. I think that a stable first eleven with all the players playing in their best position is the way to get out of this division. My preference is for a 4-4-2, which may well mean that the players better suited to a five man midfield should be on their way to be replaced with players than can operate in a middle four. Alternatively if we are going to play 4-5-1 then we probably don't need as many forwards and may well have to get used to Big Chris upfront looking to get on the end of lumps up the park. To be honest I don't really care how we play, or how attractive it is as long as we are winning, but I think last season showed that the teams that try to pass the ball about are more likely to be successful in the end. Watford's style (the only real option available to them) saw them fall away when other teams worked them out. If we are not going to win with ugly football then I would rather lose with pretty football.
What I don't want to see is players playing out of position and the tactics and formations chopping and changing each week. The Championship winning team of 1999-2000 played the same style in just about every game, and the players all knew their jobs and played in their best positions. I think we need a style of play and a formation and then we pick the players to fit it. We also need to hold our nerve if things don't fall into place immediately. I'm all for admitting mistakes and making changes if things don't work out, but I think Pardew needs to show more faith in his original decisions and needs to give the players a real chance to show what they can do. Frankly I'm glad it's not my responsibility, but there can be no excuses this season. We need to win promotion or look like we are very good candidates for 2009-10 by the end of this season or there will have to be major surgery to the squad, and could well be a change of management.
Before we get carried away with all that doom and gloom I am going to publicly give Pardew all my unconditional support here and now. I will continue to do this until at least Christmas, and probably for the whole season. What we need now, more than ever, is that 'Charlton Spirit' that the club used to be famous for before we became an established Premier League team. The Premier League is gone for now, and possibly for the foreseeable future, but the club will go on and will ultimately be more successful with the fans behind it than at odds with it.
Up the Addicks!