Thursday 30 June 2022

Cause For Concern Off The Pitch?

For sure we welcome Conor McGrandles to The Valley, along with Eoghan O’Connell, Mandela Egbo and Joe Wollacott. We hope they all go on to become Charlton legends, while wishing all the best to Jason Euell, who earnt that accolade. Still gaps on the pitch to be filled for sure, along with the potential for some more to depart, but the spate of arrivals does help to focus attention on the new campaign and a fresh approach, as will watching a pre-season kickabout in Spain tomorrow.

On another front, should we, the supporters, feel justified in having concerns over the latest off the pitch developments – the sacking of Brian Jokat at COO after only around six weeks and the apparent dismissal of a number of club staff, including supporters liaison officer Dan Burke - or should we be shrugging our shoulders and concluding how the club is run from day to day is none of our business?

I guess the simple answer is if you believe fans are stakeholders, it has to be the former, at least ahead of any further information from the club. We are supporters because we care and that emotion can’t be switched on or off at random, either by ourselves or by the club. So these matters do concern us. Alternatively, if our role is to turn up and sing and dance, as Duchatelet wanted, go for the latter.

I think there’s sometimes a temptation to think that when a company is both owned and run by the same person this means that person can do pretty much what he/she likes. Not true. Being a director of a company carries with it defined responsibilities – and in addition to being the shareholder/owner TS is a director. The two roles are separate even if occupied by the same person and entail different duties.

General responsibilities of a director include that you must act “in the company’s best interests to promote its success” and in doing so take into consideration (among other things) the “interests of its (the company’s) employees” along with the “impact of its operations on the community and environment”, the company’s “reputation for high standards of business conduct”, and the “need to act fairly to all members of the company”. Perhaps pertinently, a director’s responsibilities also include avoiding conflicts of interest. The guidelines state that “you must avoid situations where your loyalties might be divided. You should consider the positions and interests of your family, to avoid possible conflicts”. The IoD adds that directors are also responsible for “accounting for the company’s activities to relevant parties, eg shareholders”.

Now I’ve no idea what was behind Jokat’s departure. But his arrival (first announced on 23 April with him to start in May) was hailed on the club website by TS as “a really important addition to the club”, someone who would “lead on all our business activity” and “help drive us to becoming Premier League-ready on the business side”. Fair enough. But silence as regards his departure after a few weeks and the reasons behind it is at best not good enough.

Same applies to the staff more recently let go. Whether or not correct procedures were followed, regulations adhered to, the absence of any official information will only serve to fuel discussion and rumours over whether or not the club is being run in an appropriate manner.

And my main point is that it would appear that the Charlton board – not TS as owner of the club - is not meetings its responsibilities if these extend to keeping stakeholders (and not just shareholders) informed and if supporters are considered to be stakeholders. And it’s all rather counter-productive as supporters groups meetings are coming up and questions will be asked. There will need to be responses then, which will be made public.

We’ve been through the worst of regimes, years when Duchatelet and Meire showed nothing but contempt for communication with the fans (it took place but did not extend to any material issues, let alone amount to supporters having any valued input). TS has made himself open and accessible to fans, makes appearances which are appreciated. But that openness cannot be turned on and off at his own discretion. We want our club to succeed in every area (especially as not succeeding in an important one kind of works against success in others).

Thursday 23 June 2022

RIP Graham Tutt

Just a few reminders of better times. Deepest sympathies to his family and friends, RIP Graham Tutt.

Monday 20 June 2022

More Musings On Incomings/Outgoings

There’s no point whinging (yet) about the absence of players coming in, although if we were seriously in for Tucker and he opted for MK Dons it is obviously disappointing as presumably his choice was based on perceptions of ambitions/expectations as well as just money. Equally I’m not entirely clear if Purrington’s departure was down to a failure to agree terms on a new contract or Garner not fancying him – or both. And if the speculation that Gilbey is deemed surplus to requirements and the possibility that Kirk will still end up back at Blackpool, at the moment the squad is still contracting, creating more spots in need of filling.

For the record, a quick check on the club site and the first team squad now numbers 14, of which just three are defenders. Gilbey is still pictured – but Kirk is not, neither is Davison. Eight are midfielders (including Clare), with a goalkeeper and two forwards. And in case you think this paves the way for the U23s to step up, their squad as per the club site currently numbers six, including two goalkeepers.

On Tucker, with Inniss and Lavelle the only two current clear options – hopefully Elerewe can be considered a third (Barker doesn’t seem to be on the verge of first-team consideration), while it remains to be seen whether Clare will revert to midfield – we do need another for central defence, whatever formation we adopt. One problem here is that no doubt both Inniss and Lavelle will consider themselves first-choice (as and when they are fit) but we have yet to see whether they can play together as a pair. We’ve lost Pearce (from the playing staff, great to see him staying on in another capacity) and Famewo (presumably, can’t see the logic in him spending a third season with us and he seemed to have become a little disenchanted towards the end), plus Clare if he’s back to midfield and Gunter and Purrington as options in a back three/five.

With Purrington gone, following Mathews and Gunter out of the door, plus Soare and Castillo, pretty much the entire defence is basically to be assembled. That could be a plus for a new manager, enabling him to get in the guys he wants, but on balance right now it has to be a concern. When Sir Chris put together a new team which ran away with this league, we were able to cherry-pick. That’s not possible now. Compete yes, cherry-pick no, as we are not the relative attraction for the third flight that we were back then, even if talk that having Garner in is helping attract players.

Midfield for us is less a case of a blank page, more a question of whether the ones are what Garner wants (and by implication are able and willing to fit his style of play). In the centre of midfield we have two players we know would be an asset to any team in this division: Dobson and Forster-Caskey. We also have Fraser, on whom the jury has to still be out as we’ve just not yet seen enough of him. And then there are Gilbey and Morgan. Neither can be considered as cornerstones of a team, but I’d say if the system suited Gilbey could easily be in a promotion-winning team (especially if he could score more goals) while Morgan still has the potential to develop (and would be more valuable if he could add more goals).

So depending on the formation I’d say that losing Arter, Watson, Lee (assuming he does not return) still leaves us reasonably well covered in midfield in terms of bodies, but probably lacking some real sparkle in terms of goals contribution. Scope for a signature signing here.

As regards the wide positions, Blackett-Taylor, if fit, surely has to play. He can terrorise the opposition. Jaiyesimi and Kirk have yet to show they can really cut the mustard, while Leko will presumably not be returning. Depending on Garner’s views on these two, there would seem to be a space for another wide man.

Up front you have to say it’s down to the formation. My suspicion, from what has been said, tends towards a 4-5-1. I don’t think you can play a high line and a pressing game, and pass out from the back, with a 3 or 5. The obvious danger in that regard is that the units become separated and disjointed, as demonstrated by the first 20 minutes of the final game against Ipswich. It wasn’t even difficult for them. With a back four you have a line which can (IMO) move more easily up and down the pitch, especially if we have five in midfield in front of them, hopefully dominating possession.

That would suggest Stockley and Aneke often being asked to play pretty much on their own, although with support from two wider attacking players and central midfielders getting into the box. I hope there’s room for flexibility and a complementary forward, to enable us to change things at times. Can’t see that being Davison but would love him to prove us wrong.

The absence to date of incoming players does at least offer the opportunity to say thanks and good luck to those who are leaving. First and foremost JJ, for obvious reasons, but also Washington, Matthews and Purrington. Washington played as he talked, intelligently and thoughtfully, in patches very effectively. These would seem to be players released less because of their outright abilities – Purrington was/is a perfectly capable full-back and adapted very well to playing wing-back, especially with his reading of the opportunity to get on the end of balls across the box (and there will of course always be that goal, not many players have scored for Charlton at Wembley, at least excluding penalties) - but doubts about whether they will fit for Garner. The same would be said of Gilbey if he goes.

What these departures also do is set the bar pretty high when it comes to replacements. The only reason for letting them go (and I hope the business over the leak regarding JJ did not influence the decision over Washington) is to bring in replacements who will prove to be better. TS has said he has high ambitions for Charlton. This is a point in time for that to be demonstrated. And a little good news in the near future would not go amiss, before our hearts sink once more with the release of Papa John’s and Carabao Cup fixtures.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Let's Hope Attacking Football Does Mean Winning

So, following the strange and as yet unexplained interregnum between the strong rumour (from a reliable ITK source) and confirmation of appointment, we can indeed now move on to the preparations for next season under a new gaffer, the said Ben Garner. Not everything’s settled yet as there’s no news on whether any of his team at Swindon will be coming with him, but it’s quite possible that talks are ongoing. Pointedly, there was no question on the subject put to either Garner, Thomas Sandgaard or Steve Gallen in the interviews posted on the club site, which suggests this remains a sensitive issue, but with the manager role settled this should not be any barrier to transfer activity.

What comes across strongly (to me) in the three interviews is the real depth of the ‘singing from the same hymnsheet’ mantra, beyond what might reasonably be predicted. While TS and SG talked about the selection process, what comes across as the key factor is the style of football he wants to play. That obviously struck a chord with TS, while SG talked in terms of it having become clear early on that BG was the first-choice candidate (from a ‘serious shortlist’ of around six, a shortlist of perhaps 10, perhaps 40 seriously considered applicants, and according to BG hundreds of actual applicants). So all three talked in terms of a style of play to be adopted at all levels, one followed by Swindon last season (which resulted in them topping the table on a number of measures – although those stats do tend to overlook that they conceded the most number of goals in the top 10).

So whatever the rights and wrongs, we do have an agreed starting point, one which will extend to the targeting of new players (and it was welcome on that front that SG in particular emphasised that the final word on a player would always be with the manager). If it all goes pear-shaped there can be no pointing of fingers, although success or failure in this respect does for sure depend on who is brought in to bolster the team.

This all leaves open the questions of what constitutes success (or failure) as regards next season, what playing ‘attacking football’ will mean in practise, what will be BG’s preferred formation, what are the key areas we need to strengthen, and who will be brought in.

TS was not surprisingly more circumspect than he has been in the past when it comes to objectives and success/failure. There is still the implied bottom line from what he said regarding wanting automatic promotion, while viewing a top-six finish as probably acceptable. But ‘progress’ and playing attractive football were also cited as objectives, which are rather less tangible.

On this front personally I have no hesitation in saying every season in this division which ends without promotion is a failure. Not because we have some divine right, not because of any harking back to a past era, but because of some facts. First, however it is tweaked the revenue base in the third flight is not going to be sufficient – unless supplemented by regular, significant player sales. This does of course beg the question whether we could be financially sound in the Championship, but the stadium would be full. Second, whatever style of football we play we will still face opposition which cares nothing for such niceties – and it is far easier on the pitch to drag an opponent down to a level than to raise one up. In this division we will still end up watching lousy football.

There are probably personal interests/prejudices involved here. I grew up with us playing through the Sixties in the Second Division. It’s where we belonged. Relegation changed all that, but first time around I could see it as a blip, second time I was away from London for most of that season etc. Promotion to the top flight was wonderful under Lennie and we enjoyed it all, but in our heart of hearts we didn’t expect it to last. Next time around under Curbs it was different again as we did establish ourselves – but we were still only ever one bad season away from that era ending. More recently we’ve been pulled more in the opposite direction and I loathe the idea that we might become accustomed to being a third-flight outfit.

So for me, in this division, attractive football is very much secondary to succeeding, which means promotion. If all goes well, there is no dichotomy. TS when questioned about the style of football (pressing, attacking) justified it by saying that in his opinion it gives the best chance of winning. I hope that proves to be the case. But drawing some supposed line between ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘modern’ football – the former involving hoofing it forward to a big lump, the latter passing from the back, keeping possession, and pressing hard as soon as the ball is lost – is simplistic. Fads in football come and go. The beauty of the game is that there is no optimum formation, no style of play which guarantees success. Every game is a contest and, whether you like it or not, the other side has its own agenda and plans, including one framed around how to beat us. The best strategy is knowing your team’s strengths and playing to them. One downside of our ‘new approach’ is that every other team in our division will know perfectly well our style of play. 

After all, when Barcelona has a genius in the form of Messi they adopted a style which suited him. It was wonderful to watch, because the guy could just do what seemed impossible. When Spain played in a similar style but had nobody to truly weave the magic in the final third, it was very, very boring to watch (even if it produced results).

Try another case. I remember watching Scottish Ladies play Hong Kong Ladies in a Commonwealth Games bowls match. The former, all middle-aged in prime, knitted outfits, spent ages setting up ends with considered precision. And then having been outplayed to a point the latter would launch a rocket down the middle and smash the end to pieces. Hong Kong Ladies won the game.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I’d rather see us win 4-2 than a ground-out 1-0. And much of what we saw last season was indeed painful. But I can’t remember the last time I went home depressed after a win – or vice versa. I suspect that back in the Championship I would be more inclined to be less focused on the result but can we please first get there, by whatever means.

As for players to suit the system, whether or not management likes it our main attacking threats right now are a guy who will score the bulk of his goals with his head and one whose main asset is power. In Stockley and Aneka we have players which, if fit, would get into any team in this division. And if Blackett-Taylor is freed from defensive duties (ie 3-5-2 is ditched) to just terrorise opposition defences we have potency in attack, especially if another forward is brought in (I hope I’m surprised by Davison and perhaps Kanu will progress quickly enough). But will these three work best if told to chase around and close down?

Behind them I’d say we currently have Forster-Caskey and Fraser, plus Dobson (Gilbey, Morgan, Jaiyesimi and Kirk may have roles to play but don’t appear to me at least to be core to the team). We’ve not seen enough of Fraser yet to draw any conclusions, but hope that he doesn’t prove to be a player liked by JJ but unable to fit into a new mode of play.

Let’s just not forget that, while Swindon had an impressive season, especially considering where they started from, they didn’t get into an automatic promotion spot, and lost in the play-offs, because they conceded too many goals. We obviously need to bring in new defenders (try telling Inniss his job is to press high and chase hard). Unless we get this area of the pitch functioning well, which means having players who are good at stopping the other team scoring goals, we are not going to win anything.

So let’s welcome BG, give him the support he deserves, and hope none of these differences in emphasis ends up mattering a damn as we storm our way to the title.


Very Welcome Point And Performance

It may be a reflection on us, our inflated view of our club, but there are few fixtures in this league where going into it we feel very much...