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!

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