Monday, 23 July 2012

¡Viva España!

The title of this blog is probably a little inaccurate. I know we have just come home from Spain, but I wasn't there, and I haven't read much in the way of reports of the game we played.

I have been to Spain before, of course, and my wife and I made the trip to Valencia a few years ago to see our friendly in the Mestalla Stadium. This was, of course, back in the day when we often played in stadia as impressive as that one - not for a few years since though.

Anyway the title of this post was merely the most topical. I don't have a specific subject in mind, but thought I should share my thoughts with what's happened so far.

The only real signings so far have been a little underwhelming. I say real as I'm not including the two new one year contracts to Bover Izquierdo and Mambo, nor am I including the extension of Jackson's contract. The two now signings might yet turn out to be very special. I saw enough of Cook at Welling to be suitably impressed - I know the opposition were not Championship quality, but he looked as good as many of the other players in a black shirt. He has pace and I read that he has two good feet and an eye for goal.

Wilson, on the other hand, I haven't seen play and, unlike many others, I don't tend to notice players on the other side during the normal course of a season, so I can't say I remember him from playing Stevenage at The Valley in February. This doesn't, however, mean that I am worried about him, nor am I not pleased that we've signed him. I have absolute trust in the club's ability to select the best players (based on our objectives and our budget). I do wonder what his involvement will be, however, as Solly is clearly our first choice right back; Powell thinks of Wilson as cover for right back; and both the club and the player are stating that Solly will not be leaving this summer. In the event of a long injury or several suspensions Wilson might play a few games this season, but as it stands it does look like we have been signing players as cover, rather than to slot right into the first team to improve the side.

There were many suggestions that Powell wanted his signings in place when the squad went off to Spain, and I have to conclude that we have failed in that department. I don't believe that the club's total aspirations this summer were to sign a back up right back and a promising striker for the future. Unless the club's aspirations are well short of the fans, and their initial suggestions, we have signed less that we had hoped to.

There have been some names bounded about in the last few weeks, but none of them have come off and, in fact, there are suggestions that we had been interested in players that have subsequently signed for teams that we might well consider our competition for the season to come. This suggests that we have been trying to get some players in but with little success.

I do realise that it is going to be harder to sign players that can make an impression in this division than it was last summer. The players that we signed in 2011 may well go on to make a real impact next season, but they, their agents and their clubs had less expectations at the time and that made it easier to sign them.

I also suspect that I might be being a little unfair on the club with my suggestion of being underwhelmed. I was not, exactly, overjoyed with last summer's signings. I was pleased and I did trust those running the club, but I never imagined that we would have gone on to have such a fantastic season. It may well be that what we have, coupled with the two we have already signed, plus another couple of players, will be enough for us to win promotion next season. It might, however, be insufficient to avoid a relegation battle. The truth is that we don't know if last summer's squad building was truly inspired or a little bit lucky!

The next couple of weeks are going to be very important. We have three weeks (tomorrow) until we play Orient in the League Cup and the first league game of the season is less than four weeks away.

Birmingham away is, potentially, a promotion six pointer. Birmingham are probably going to be weaker next season that they were last, but they must have aspirations of a top six finish, and I think we should have also. A draw may well be the best we are going to get there, but until we have finished team building we won't know, and that match is definitely a discussion for another day.

So we haven't replicated last summer in terms of early signings, but we did have more to do then than we have now, so two in with more to follow leaves me with sufficient optimism. The next two or three signings are going to tell us a lot more, probably.

One hint that we have had however, is that Paul Hayes and Leon Clarke are not considered the future. This is, of course, assuming that the rumours about them being left home when the squad went off to Spain are true. My best guess would be that they are not going to be in Powell's plans. If they were neither of them would have been loaned out for the run in last season. It is a step up in the Championship, and they were considered surplus to requirements in an outstanding team in the third division - that doesn't bode well for their chances.

In Paul Hayes case I feel a little sorry for the player. He was signed as a proven third division forward that might not score a lot of goals but who would make a contribution and had played in promotion winning teams in the past. I think the opportunist signing of Kermorgant finished off his Charlton career. The Frenchman has been outstanding for us, and he has performed well in the Championship before, so I can't see him losing his pace in the side. Hayes has also had trouble keeping his place in the side at this level before, so it stands to reason that he would be moved on for the benefit of both club and player (I'm assuming that he'd rather be playing at a lower level than sitting on the bench for us). I wish him all the best where ever he goes. His contribution at the start of last season mustn't be forgotten, and I think there is no shame for him to have lost his place in the side to Kermorgant.

Leon Clarke is a different matter. I have nothing against the player, but he arrived at The Valley with a reputation (and a scoring record for Carlisle) that suggested that he would be a significant contributor to our promotion campaign, and would score a few goals along the way. In the end he failed to impress me at all - in fairness he wasn't given much time on the field. It might just be one of those things. He might have been not quite fully fit. What ever the reason(s), however, I don't think that the deal to swap him for Benson has worked out in our favour, and I worry that it might have been a consequence of our owners being determined to get something for Benson, following reported transfer fees being agreed and the deals falling through. Despite this I wish him well, but I can't say that I'd be too worried about the outcome of us losing his services.

So, two strikers that we seem keen to let go. I am going to assume that we have already replaced at least one of them with Haynes (signed in January) and Cook. This is, of course, on top of the autumn signing of Kermorgant. With the Frenchman, BWP and Haynes it is arguable that we only need one more striker. If either Smith (who looked competent at Welling) or Cook are going to considered first team squad players then we might already have the four that we intend to run with for the season. There is, always, the January transfer window, and loans, should we discover that the four needs too be added to.

I do still think that another striker will be brought in if we can find a good enough one available and within our budget. The other area(s) that I would think we would be looking are centre half and defensive midfielder. I think we were rather fortunate last season to get by with just three central defenders, and four is the normal squad requirement. Of course, this depends if Mambo is considered good enough to be forth choice in the Championship, but I'd like to think that we would be looking for a new first eleven player, rather than cover. We have some very creative midfielders, but other than Hughes (who seems to be nowhere near the first team) we don't have an ideal player to sit in front of the back four to give the added protection that I'm confident we will need this season - that we didn't really need during our Championship winning campaign. So that would suggest three more signings, and hopefully good enough to go straight into the first team.

Time will tell.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 2 July 2012

What next?

After three seasons in the third division of English football we can, probably, claim to be back where we belong.

There are those that would call the Premier League 'where we belong' but for me it is the second division. Charlton have spent more time in this division in the 31 years I've been watching them them than they have spent in either of those just above or below it. For those of you that love the stats it includes 12 seasons in the top flight, 15 plus 1 in the second division and 4 in the third division. the plus 1 is next season (my 32nd), which is going to be in the second division.

It is close between the top flight and the second division, but fifteen is more than twelve. In fact, of those twelve seasons in the top flight I would suggest that as three of them resulted in relegation and at least another three we 'survived' a relegation battle we can hardly claim to have been an established top flight side - not during my lifetime. None of the ten years between me being born and starting going to Charlton were we in the top flight (7 in the 2nd div and 3 in the 3rd div).

Anyway, as I was saying we are now back were I believe we belong. I have hopes that we will be able to win promotion to the Premier League again one day, but after we came so dangerously close to going out of business (administration at the very least) in the last five years I am happy with second division football where the club can survive financially.

On that note it would seem that there have been a couple of developments (sorry for the use of that word) in the last month or so.

Firstly (and this is why I apologised) it would seem that planning permission for houses and flats has been approved on the plot that is 2 Landsdown Mews. I won't go into this in great detail, for that you can visit Charlton Life, but what it seems to have done is turn that plot of land from being worth a few hundred thousand pounds (which is approximately what the club sold it for a couple of years ago) to being worth nearer to £2m.

On the face of it this seems like a bad decision at the time. I have no interest in that discussion, nor apportioning blame for it - who ever sold it has, literally, lost a couple of million pounds, so they don't need me to tell them it was a mistake. However, from the limited information I have it would seem that this plot of land would have been required to develop the East Stand, and the South-East corner, and without that development it is now impossible for the club to make The Valley a big enough stadium for Charlton to compete at the top of the English game. Personally, I'm not sure that was ever possible. I seriously doubt that we would have been able to attract enough fans to fill a 40,000 stadium and, in fact, just trying to stay in the Premier League (without finding the development) we ran up so much debt that we faced administration and were forced to endure three seasons in the third division.

Despite me not being worried that we are now unlikely to ever see a 40,000 capacity Valley, it is still a development in the clubs history, and future, that needed to be mentioned. The other development, which is, at the present time, just rumours (all be it from people that have proven, in the past, to have good sources), is that the board and/or the investors have a disagreement that is causing us to have funding issues.

I was delighted with the player acquisitions last summer, and even more delighted with the results on the field from the start of the season, right up to the end. I was most pleased that we seemed to be doing our business early in the summer which meant that by the start of the season we would have given all the players time to gel. This was opposed to previous seasons when we were still bringing in players in the week before the season started, and one or two were not even signed before the first game.

This season we have seen no transfer activity. There has been a few comings and goings in the youth set-up. We have heard a lot about the club's intentions to develop it's own talent in house, so to speak. I have no problems with that, and we currently have two players in the first team that came from our youth side, and there are a couple more getting close. This on top of Carl Jenkinson who we sold last summer to Arsenal for enough to pay for most of the rebuilding that went on.

As I have no real information of this rumoured boardroom disagreement I do not intend to discuss it in any great detail save to say that I, like many others, wish Peter Varney all the best with what ever he chooses to do. He has been associated with Charlton for many years, but it would seem that it is time for him to move on (again). I have no idea what led to his departure, nor will I speculate, but I think, despite his time with us in the Premier League, he will look back on this last season as a great success and a real high point for him and Charlton.

The only significance of the boards actions is that they might be responsible for the lack of player acquisitions so far this summer. I know it is only just July, and the team haven't reported back for training yet, but by this time last season we had made a real statement about signing players. Having said that I recognise that we had more to do last summer, and that few of the other teams plying their trade in our division have made much of an impact on the transfer front yet.

There is also the question of just how many new faces we need, and in which areas. These discussions have been covered elsewhere, and there is also some doubt as to how good some of our players will be in a higher division. It is, of course, possible that our squad is good enough to win the Championship as it is. I know it is not likely, but when you finish on 101 points there is not much more you could have done. The players might be able to raise themselves; the younger players (and I'm including any of those 25 and under) might have developed into better players; the performances that enabled us to keep clean sheets and grab a goal might be enough to do the same against the perceived better opposition we will face this season.

The big thing that I think changes the further up the league you go is the pace of the players. Some of our players might just not be fast enough for the Championship. I have no evidence on this as often players that seem slow always look slow irrespective as to the speed of the opposition, and can adjust their game to combat there lack of pace.

I would like to see a couple (or three or four) new faces in the squad to increase the overall strength as well as certain areas. The promising thing, however, is that we haven't sold any players yet. There are a few that are still under contract that I believe are not going to get many games in this division. As they haven't moved on I can only assume that discussions are on going, both for players we want to move on and players we want to bring in.

If we change three or four of our weaker players for better (possibly younger) alternatives I can see this being a very good season. However, if we keep most of our better players I can see us avoiding relegation, and that has to be the first target. We have offloaded all the seriously high earners from the Premier League seasons and from Pardew's spending, so we should be able to make a decent stab at not loosing too much money each season in this division.

Clearly a decent run on the pitch will help this, but as long as we are not written off as relegation no hopers by Christmas we should be able to keep our average attendances above last seasons, and I suspect that the ticket revenue will increase in some way in line with out higher divisional status. I know that players' contracts will have gone up, but even so, the TV money is much more so that should help.

At this point I have no idea what sort of season we will have. Much of it depends on just how good our players are - this is especially true of those that have never played in this division before. It will depend on who we manage to bring in. It will, also, depend on the start that we get. A few early wins and the confidence can take a team on - a few early defeats and it can be very different.

Despite the unknown I am confident that this season will not be a complete disaster, and anything better than that will be something of a bonus. Either way I'm really looking forward to it.

Up the Addicks!