Thursday 26 May 2022

Cut The Guy Some Slack

Just as the frustration was rising over the clock ticking down to a new season and no manager in place to follow JJ, seems we have the news. Nothing official yet, but no reason to think that the reports saying Swindon’s Ben Garner is about to be appointed will prove wide of the mark (barring some last-minute failure to agree terms). That the guy didn’t even feature in the odds might be considered strange, but that reflected the fact that nobody had a clue what TS was thinking; having his son quoted at one point at 12-1 was truly surreal and only serves to underline the point.

No, we haven’t managed to attract Mourinho, Guardiola or the like. No, no manager or assistant from a higher division will be coming to impress us. Yes, the jury will be out for some time to come over whether disposing of Jackson was the right move, especially as we have replaced him with someone equally unproven as a manager, one still learning the craft. And yes, for most of us Garner is an unknown quantity, so the immediate reaction is no doubt for many that this is an underwhelming choice. It is after all a selection which points more towards a desire for gradual progress than an all-out drive for promotion next season (although that still has to be the objective).

Fair enough, but that’s surely where it ends. I want Garner to succeed, just as I wanted Adkins to succeed. We’ll no doubt discuss shortcomings, disagreements over new signings, tactics and team selection, but criticism has to be positive and Garner deserves our backing in principle.

There are obvious reasons why Sandgaard has gone for him: his background in youth development, a different approach, and it would seem a preference for a style of play which TS favours (on that front I’m in the camp which would prioritise results and promotion over style but would welcome results in style).

I don’t mind admitting I harbour reservations about Sandgaard’s style of management and it’s not surprising that he’s come in for criticism of late, even if a chunk of it appears well over the top. My personal view is that he is a million miles away from Duchatelet (and the wasters he was ready to pass us on to) and we are fortunate to have him in charge. And as I’ve commented before, if we’ve had a bad year we haven’t seen (I imagine) our net wealth drop from a estimated £400m to less than £100m. But nobody’s perfect and IMHO the management structure he seems to prefer is deficient, being suited to a small company – or one in an industry which the owner knows inside-out – rather than disparate nature of a football club.  

I could of course be wrong, but from a distance it seems that everyone in a meaningful position at the club reports directly to him, no chain of command. That means two things. First, it undermines trust. Nobody (except TS) knows exactly what anyone else is telling TS, what TS is thinking etc. Where each person stands in the pecking order can end up depending not on areas of responsibility but on who is in favour/out of favour at any particular point. It’s a reassuring set-up for the man at the top but a poor one for everyone else. IMO it does not help to create an efficient and well-motivated operation. Second, and related, when you are not an expert in a particular field it is very easy to be impressed by, convinced by, good presentations. Until the next good and equally convincing presentation which contradicts the previous one comes along. So there is vacillation, apparently random decision-making. In our context we have to hope he gets most of the decisions right, but the process is I’d suggest far less than a science. I remember Richard Murray once commenting that Iain Dowie delivered a good presentation.

If this all comes across as idle thoughts from afar (and for sure there’s an element of that) it’s because I’d acknowledge that I ran a (small) company in a similar fashion. That worked (I think) as there were effectively no other stakeholders and no need for a management structure or team. I’d encourage staff and others to tell me what they thought, take it all on board, then decide and implement. It was OK not least because it was my area of expertise and I was, in that sense and in that limited area, an expert. I don’t think it works well for a more involved structure.

That said, if it’s the case that Garner will be bringing with him his assistants from Swindon it would indicate he will be less isolated/more influential than if it was just him. Tough on Jason Euell if he as a result moves out, but it was tough on JJ too. It goes without saying that we all hope JJ proves a blinding success at Wimbledon – and if Euell goes we would hope he reappears somewhere else quickly.

The basic upside is that the choice is made, hopefully now everyone can get on with agreement over what players we need. The decisions over players released included the obvious surprise of Washington not being retained, good luck to him. Who knows? Perhaps Garner will be in favour of offering him a new deal. The focus has shifted and we can at least move on to the preparations for next season. 

Tuesday 3 May 2022

JJ Reign Over Before It Could Begin

So, the JJ regime comes to an end, before many will say – perhaps he himself will say - he had the chance to really put his own mark on the team and be judged accordingly. The parallels with Sir Chris are pretty plain (ie he got the nod and backing after a mixed performance when he first took over and won us promotion). Everyone, without exception, will be saddened by the news of Jackson’s sacking and we all wish him every success and happiness for the future. He has earned a special place at the club. But there’s going to be no consensus on whether it was the right move by Sandgaard; and whatever our opinions right now only time will tell on that front.

With the news being so recent, with many factors involved being unclear (including whether or not others will be following JJ out of the door), is there much useful to be said from a position outside the club? TS has enough goodwill in the bag to ensure that the decision will be accepted (what else can we do?), albeit with a heavy heart. But the decision exposes him in the sense that if we underperform next season it will now be laid directly at his door, especially now his son occupies an important position at the club. That might also have been said about the choice of Adkins, but we are all further down the line now and one choice that didn’t work out is acceptable. Get it wrong this time around and deeper questions will be asked.

For what it’s worth personally it is not a decision I would have made. I think Jackson has qualities we will need next season to mount a promotion challenge, to group together a new squad and have them energised and determined. Will anyone else coming in have the level of backing from the fans that JJ enjoys? That said, the guy was still learning the trade and we have too often of late looked tactically na├»ve and appeared to have the wrong mindset going into games. A manager has to take some of the responsibility for that, although at the end of a season with nothing but pride to play for and a number of those on the pitch unsure of whether they would be staying for the next campaign the latter at least was perhaps unavoidable.

No question TS will have to move fast on a replacement, given the emphasis he has been putting on getting transfer dealings done as quickly as possible before pre-season – which given a 30 July start to the season is not far off. We can have no idea if there is someone in mind, but recent comments from Sandgaard about Jackson suggest that this was a decision taken late in the day, not planned for some time. We were embarrassed by Ipswich on Saturday and it’s hard to imagine that performance not having been a factor in tilting the balance.

There are of course unanswered questions. How important does Sandgaard see the role of manager, or just how much input does the ‘manager’ have when it comes to new signings and how we play? Was the addiction to a back three/five and wing-backs down to Jackson or was he following instructions (in interviews Sandgaard said he expected we would continue to play with wing-backs but left open whose decision that was)? I’m not in the know but someone who is, Richard Crawley, has tweeted about indications of differences of opinion between TS and JJ over how we need to go about winning promotion. Some greater clarity from the two involved would be good (ie which of the two leans towards players and tactics which can grind out results and which backs pretty football), but I doubt we’ll get that.

Almost everyone at the club, including it would seem the new appointments, report to TS, there seems to be no chain of command. That seems to be the way he likes it, whatever the drawbacks. But if JJ departed because of a disagreement with TS over how to play the game, successfully, the new manager is going to have to toe the line and do what TS says on that front. I imagine a lot of good candidates would not accept such a state of affairs, which if true would be far too close to the Duchatelet debacle for comfort.

If we go up next season, TS made a brave and good call – and vice versa. Sandgaard is quoted on the club site as saying “I have big ambitions for Charlton and it will be important for us to find the right individual that can build on the foundations in place and help us progress on our journey”. There was such a person in place, we wait to see just who might prove to be a better option.

Sunday 1 May 2022

Horrible End To A Lousy Season

At least we can say our Charlton team has in the final couple of games of the season been sending the majority of fans in the stadium home happy. For the final outing at The Valley we managed a rather laboured but ultimately OK 2-0 victory against Shrewsbury, curtesy of two powerful headers from set pieces, Charlton fans were able to at least see a win to round off home games, even eye a 12th-place finish. Yesterday we sent most Ipswich fans home with a smile on their face by delivering an abject display against a decent team, which put four past us and should have had more. The only good news for us on the day was Cheltenham’s late equaliser at Cambridge, which deprived the latter of two points and meant we finished the season in 13th spot rather than 14th (which would have equalled our post-war low).

There’s not much point going over the bare bones of yesterday, other than to underline that Ipswich provided clear evidence that if we want to be in the running for promotion next season we have to improve a great deal. Sure, we had little to really play for and they wanted to put on a show for their fans, who like us will have been hoping for much better at the start of the campaign. Perhaps some players were already mentally on their holidays, some are still in the dark over whether they are going to be offered new contracts (I’ve no idea what goes on behind the scenes but if players such as Pearce and Washington still don’t know it is a poor reward for their efforts and reflects badly on the club; if a new contract is to be offered for crying out loud tell them and play them, if not accept that there’s no point in them being selected – a state of limbo suits nobody). Still no excuse.

If as JJ said after the game that “a lot of lessons will be learnt”, hopefully he has learnt his. What mindset did the players start the game with? Who decided that from the start our midfield and defence would say goodbye to each other? And if we wish to play relentlessly with the 3/5 at the back with wing-backs, which we have done since Jackson took over why are we still so bad at it? With the midfield pressing high up the pitch all Ipswich had to do was pass the ball forward and run in support. Suddenly they were up against a flat line of five and simply exploited the gaps between them, especially on our left side as Famewo and Blackett-Taylor played pass the buck.

Ipswich’s first goal was outstanding for sure. Perhaps they could have been closed down better as they moved the ball square, but their guy stroked an absolute belter past Harness, brought in to replace an ill MacGillivray. Their second was embarrassing as a couple of passes were all that were needed to send their guy through for a one-on-one with Harness, and he scored. With just over 10 minutes gone they could afford to take their foot off the gas for the rest of the first half. The stats at the break showed they had 70% possession, 12 attempts on goal (albeit only two on target), against two from us (one apparently on target).

Obviously when you’re 2-0 down at the break you know you need to score the next goal to get back into it. Instead within a few minutes of the restart we were 3-0 down. After CBT lost possession they simply cut us apart. That was pretty much game over, although after that at least the chances created were more even. Ipswich should (in my view) have had a penalty for a poor Inniss tackle and they missed a string of sitters. For us both Washington and Stockley should have got on the scoresheet, especially the latter, who managed to hit the bar from about a yard out. But it was all rather academic. In the event Ipswich’s fourth just served to round things off.

A fellow Addick asked me after the game how I thought Harness had played. Not easy to say. Ipswich after all only had four attempts on target and none of them he could do anything about. He did make a couple of good blocks, coming off his line, but basically he didn’t make a save as all the other times they missed. The defeat was nothing to do with him.

Anyway, it’s all done. Now we wait for the serious news regarding first who is and who is not being offered new deals. Get Dobson his PoTY award and let us as quickly as possible forget what has been a disappointing failure of a season. No question that nine points in the first 13 games meant that a top-six finish was probably already out of reach before JJ took over. His tremendous run of results at the start suggested otherwise but then injuries and suspensions sent us into reverse and killed off any thoughts of a late challenge. Take away the first 13 games and we took 50 points from 33 games, which extended over a full season would have given us 69/70, alongside Ipswich, who yesterday demonstrated that were not in their class.

Enough, it is all done. The season is over. Hope everyone has a good break from it all and comes back for the next campaign refreshed, relaxed, but determined and optimistic. Of course we the supporters will be. Please TS, JJ, ensure that everyone else it too.

Very Welcome Point And Performance

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