Monday, September 27, 2004

Critical to Stable Condition

It's probably a sign of how far we have come that we sit comfortably in the top half of the table with 11 points from 7 games, yet most of Charlton fans would agree that we've looked less than convincing throughout. However, a hard fought three points against Blackburn was perhaps deserved (at least on the second half performance) and now we approach three treacherous fixtures with a reasonable tally on the board.

I watched the game with a fellow Addick in New York, proudly sporting the 1970s Bukta shirt. Both of us agreed that Lisbie looked the part, and whilst he can look deceptively lazy, tonight few could argue he gave less than 100%. Elsewhere, it was hard to pick out many outstanding performances, though Murphy looked more comfortable in midfield and Young put in a solid evening's work. Plus at least those of us who thought Curbs had a secret soft spot for Kishishev were proved wrong, for 70 mins at least.

It's disappointing to think that one of the fastest players in Europe can't find a place in the starting line-up at home, and it begs the question whether Rommedahl will ever play a major part in the side (a worrying one too given the money we splashed out for him). As much as I rate Graham Stuart's workrate and desire, I surely can't be alone in wanting to hear Rommedahl's name announced in the eleven, in much the same way as I wanted to hear Di Canio's last season.

However, it's comforting to know that three points are in the bag and we move onto Highbury, with at least one displaced Charlton fan wondering, just wondering, whether we might be the team to bring their majestic run to an end. 25/1 anyone?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Looking for positives....

It sounded like another very average performance and it is hard not to be deflated having led against ten men with three-quarters of the game gone. However let's try to take some positives from the game:

- 1 defeat in 5 games;
- 9th in the Premiership;
- same points total after 6 games as last season.

My biggest concern this season is the lack of conviction that I have when I look at the teams we have put out this season. A combination of our poor form over the past 25 league games or so, difficult starts for most of the new players, plus continued doubts over the efficancy of many key players (Lisbie, Kishishev, Fish, Euell...) lead me to look at our team before each game and think, "..we'll do well to get a point today." If this lack of conviction spreads from the fans to the players themselves then we have a problem.

I wonder whether Curbs should be more aggressive with regard to pushing through some of the youngsters. Seeing a promising player that the fans have heard about (but not seen) can give the crowd a lift. Few youngsters that have made it through to the first team have let anyone down - from memory, Jon Fortune was brought through quicker than desired due to injuries and he swiftly became a first choice player. This issue is especially important in my view as we have a number of key squad players in their 30s and with their best years behind them (Kiely, Stuart, Powell, Holland, Hreidarsson, Perry, Fish, Kishishev).

Thursday, September 16, 2004

"Favourite team sacks manager"

Oh well, it's just the New York Mets this time and a highly understandable decision. For the first half of the season, the Mets were competing for the top spot in their division with the Braves, Marlins and Phillies but their record over the past two months has been atrocious. Indeed it is not inconceivable that they could end up being overtaken by perennial whipping boys the Expos, whose payroll is a mere fraction of the Mets'. Art Howe has taken the blame, and rightly so, though he has not been helped by an error-strewn season most notably from Japanese 'wonder kid' Kaz Matsui.

The Mets remind me of Charlton during the 1970s and early 1980s - constantly underachieving yet occasionally capable of outstanding performances. The fact that we now genuinely compete at the top level provides hope for my adopted baseball team.

Will Curbs ever leave?

In my opinion, Alan Curbishley has proved he is one of the country's best football managers. However, I would argue that he may as well sign a 10-year contract with Charlton because he will clearly never be offered a job which offers the security and upward potential of his current one. What Curbs has achieved at Charlton is fantastic.....period. However you have to seriously ask, "Is there any likelihood of Curbs being offered a 'top five' job?" In my opinion, the simple answer is, "..of course not." Can you imagine him becoming manager of Arsenal or Chelsea? The concept is absurd.

Unfortunately for Curbs (and fortunately for all genuine Charlton fans), he has kept a low profile ever since he came on board in 1991. Perhaps, unlike perennial self-publicists like Graeme Souness, he has become 'typecast' as a Charlton man through and through.

In recent months, job openings have appeared at Spurs, Chelsea, Blackburn, Newcastle, and Liverpool. Yet it seems Curbs has not been seriously considered for any of these positions. Given that he will never get offered the Arsenal or Man Utd job, it begs the question, has he become too comfortable at Charlton?

However, when Charlton play as poorly as they have for the majority of this season, it is reasonable to ask at what point does the Board question Curbs' long-term abilities. However when one puts his genuine alternative prospects in perspective, it is clear that there is a risk that he may become 'part of the furniture' in absence of better opportunities elsewhere.

I was in a boring meeting today, and in order to kill some time, I tried to write down my best current wasn't easy, especially at center-back. I haven't seen El Karkouri play, but try picking two from Perry, Fortune, Fish and Turner, with any confidence. Move into midfield and the situation seems no better - playing Rommedahl is exciting, but the thought of Euell and Kishishev alongside him feels me with fear.

We knew Scott Parker was special, but perhaps we didn't appreciate fully the impact that one outstanding player can make, and moreover the extent to which money cannot replace genuine talent.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The definition of midfield....

"Players who line up in front of defenders and behind strikers; creative members of the team whose role is to link the forwards and defense. "

Perhaps the seven players that comprised the 'midfield' at various points this evening could be persuaded to learn this definition. We were simply awful, and if ever a point was 'gained' as opposed to two points lost, this was that point. Jon Fortune is perhaps the only player who can come out of the game with his head held high, though Deano made a great save from Delap at a vital juncture to be fair to him. Robbie Earle on Sky made several comments concerning Kiely's failure to leave his goalline at set pieces and whilst I had never noticed this tendency before, we looked highly vulnerable every time they had a corner or Delap delivered a long throw, a fact not helped perhaps by Perry's lack of height.

Curbs experimented with about six different midfield fours during the game and they all looked equally disjointed. Murphy was poor but his frustration was probably enhanced by the inadequacy he witnessed around him - this is the guy who partnered Steven Gerrard last season after all! Because we lacked a midfielder with the pace and drive to take players out of the game (surely that's Euell's job??), we were constantly going backwards relying on pointless long balls from defence delivered towards two small strikers. It's not exactly an original comment but every game makes the hole that Parker left seem that much deeper. The strikers were ineffective obviously though I found myself feeling unusually sorry for Lisbie given the lack of balls he was given to feet or in front of him to use his pace.

It's hard to take many positives whatsoever from the game other than the likelihood that there are at least three teams worse than us this season. One more general observation though is that Curbs' obsession with 'flexible' players is perhaps no longer serving us well - he is well-known for preferring players who can play in more than one position (El Karkouri, Hughes, and Murphy all fit the bill from this summer alone) but the result is mediocrity across the team, mattering little how many different ways he is able to change the formation. I don't think it is a coincidence that our most effective outfield players in recent years were specialists in their position and wholly unable to play elsewhere - Mendonca, Rufus, Kinsella, Parker, Hunt, Mills....
Frankly I don't care that Kishishev can play at right-back, right-midfield or central midfield because he is simply not good enough in any of them.

Curbs has five days to sort out this malaise - any repeat of the Man City or Bolton performances on Saturday would see even the most level-headed fan becoming increasingly concerned. After all, since Parker left, our Premiership record is P22 W7 D5 L10 - not quite relegation form but not too far off, and our impressive seventh finish should not hide the obvious deterioration in our performances.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Thank goodness for Curbs and Murray....

During a week when the enlightened Freddy Shepherd shamefully sacks a fine manager woefully let down by a group of arrogant young players, and then recruits an average manager who thinks nothing of resigning in the blink of an eye, it makes you thankful for Curbs and Richard Murray whom we could easily take for granted.

I had secretly hoped that Newcastle would take on Terry would have led me to conclude that a divine being was serving to punish the club for their treatment of Robson. How this man's name continues to crop up on managerial shortlists amazes me. He had a modicum of success at Barcelona (where failure is near impossible such is the size of the club), then won the FA Cup with Spurs but then proceeded to embark on a series of failed ventures (and I don't exclude his Euro 1996 record where we won just two games out of five [excluding penalties] and frankly a semi-final berth was the least one should expect as the home team of just sixteen, playing all games at Wembley).

As for Graeme Souness, he seems to have managed to turn himself into a serious candidate despite being a laughing stock at Liverpool and achieving virtually nothing at Blackburn, flirting infact with relegation and leaving them in a tidy 19th position. Somehow his 'hardman' status seems to be strangely attractive to club Chairmen as if throwing a few teacups can override tactical deficiencies and a lack of man management skills (just ask Andy Cole).

In the meantime, genuinely high quality loyal managers such as Curbs go about their business without pomp or undue publicity, backed by supportive Chairmen, allowing the likes of Souness (and Bruce, McGhee, Venables, Reid etc. etc.) to climb onboard the managerial merry-go-round.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Away games and tourist restaurants....

There has been keen debate about the issue of our disappointing away support, and I firmly come down on the side of the 'who cares?' brigade, arguing even that it reflects positively on our supporters. I would compare the typical away day experience as the same feeling you get when you eat in a restaurant clearly aimed at tourists (whether it be Times Square or Leicester Square). The comparision goes as follows:


"provide minimal comfort and quality":"provide minimal comfort and quality"
"customer tired from the journey":"customer tired from the journey"
"overcharge the customer":"overcharge the customer"
"provide photos of the food":"provide photos of the visiting team"
"zero chance of repeat business":"zero chance of repeat business"
"customer referrals irrelevant":"customer referrals irrelevant"

I would argue that unlike the hungry tourist who MUST eat, today's away fan has a choice.....simply refuse any longer to put up with the cr*p that goes with the away game experience. There are not many businesses where the provider knows that however good its service and experience, the customer will simply not return (tourist restaurants are one of the few I can come up with). It is highly unlikely that I will attend say Man City's fine new stadium and think, "yeah, this is better than the Valley....I'm coming back in a fortnight." And of course all clubs (including Charlton) know this very well and thus make no effort to accomodate the visiting fan in comfort. I suspect many of our 'missing' away fans have thought along the same lines as myself - ie. I don't HAVE to go to the game, and I'm unwilling to pay over the odds for a third-rate experience. Occasionally the sheer importance of the game (eg. Man Utd 6th Round FA Cup, Newcastle first Premiership away game etc..) overrides all of the above, but as these stadia becomes the norm for us, this begins to become a rarity. I should add that I say all of this as a fan who lived through the dark days of the 1980s (I was mascot twice), paid £1 as a Junior Red to stand below the Arthur Wait Stand, and who stood on the North Bank at Upton Park with barely 3,000 other fans so I am not one of the 'new fans' who are often the target for vitriol.

Then again maybe I'm just getting old.....even the thought of going to a pub these days without being able to sit down is a trauma in itself....

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The problem with goalkeepers....

I note that Simon Royce, Chris Powell and Graham Stuart want the opportunity to go out on loan, and in the case of the latter two it is hard to see what there is to lose by allowing them to play first-team football somewhere, allowing them to remain match fit in case Curbs needs them. But Royce is a different situation and an unfortunate one from his point of view, particularly with Paul Rachubka already out on loan.

Virtually every team will go into games with two goalkeepers in the squad and in the highly competitive world of the Premiership, you can't risk having a second rate replacement. Moreover, given that one of the keepers may take a knock in training or eat something dodgy the night before a game, it is virtually required these days to have three 'Premiership quality' goalkeepers (arguably we now have four) available match-to-match. But how do you keep four goalkeepers happy? Royce for example has never let Charlton down and by all accounts did a good job at Leicester when called upon, but he played just 19 times for the latter and has played just 5 times for us. Admittedly he had a lengthy spell on loan at QPR but it seems, particularly given he will be 33 this week, that the majority of the last six years of his career (probably the peak of his abilities too) will have been spent on the bench and in the 'stiffs'. And this for a keeper that most would people would rate pretty highly.....

This probably takes us back to the question of higher wages vs. personal sporting pride and reminds me of Darren Huckerby's decision to take a paycut for first team football at Norwich. Does there come a point where at 33, someone in Royce's situation decides to move to the lower divisions so that his memories of the last few years of his career are prouder, but at the cost of a less secure financial future? After all it's not that he doesn't have value to Charlton and deserve the wages he earns - merely being available and fit is his current responsibility but barring injuries to both Kiely and Andersen, it is almost inconceivable that he will start a Premiership game again in a Charlton shirt. In the case of Powell or Stuart (an underrated player in my opinion), a mere tactical change or slight loss of form would see them called back into the first team but unlike Royce (because of the specialist nature of goalkeeping), it isn't essential to have them available at a moment's notice. Maybe it would be fairest to call back Rachubka and send Royce out for a couple of months?

This situation is not unique to Simon Royce of course. There are dozens of goalkeepers in the same situation all around the Premiership. Few managers rotate their goalkeeper with the same regularity as the outfield players. It is not inconceivable that a goalkeeper could earn a small fortune out of the game without ever making a first team appearance.

Is David Beckham any good? Discuss.

David Beckham is hardly beyond criticism (he took a hammering in the press after the Portugal game) but I'm really starting to question if he is any good these days...period. He has become a marketing phenomenon, the great untouchable in the English game. If he looked like Paul Scholes, would he have been dropped by now? Against Austria (watched with just a handful of fellow Brits thanks to the ridiculous $20 entry fee charged by the pubs, apparently something insisted upon by Setanta and out of their hands), he seemed limited to firing 50 yard passes every time he received the ball, 3 out of 4 of which failed to find their target and simply resulted in handing back possession cheaply. He has never had much pace to be fair, but we are let down by having a wide midfielder that is singularly unable to beat a defender with a quick dash to the byline. Whilst he has unrivalled ability to whip in crosses, (not that he showed it yesterday) this skill is wasted when England's key striker stands at barely 5 feet 7 inches. I get the impression that people who don't follow the game closely think Beckham is the greatest player that ever lived, and those that do watch him regularly are very aware of his failings.

And don't even get me started on Frank Lampard....

Friday, September 03, 2004

Away Support

I note from the Netaddicks site that the issue of lack of away support was discussed at the City Addicks meeting. I have always been a bit embarrassed by the rows of empty seats at games which would hardly be described as long-distance, but frankly does it matter and does it honestly reflect the depth of our support? It is clear that some clubs have better away support than others (West Ham always seem to be well-followed) but should we be surprised that we struggle to get into four-figure support away from home when we were struggling to get five-figures at HOME? And after all despite our history (75,000 crowds in the old days), our traumatic period in the late-1980s/early-1990s saw a generation of fans disappear FOREVER. Let's face it we're not a big club (in an attendances sense) and it's noticeable that at non-season ticket home games that our crowds are highly disappointing. It is hard to imagine say Chelsea (or even Spurs) getting 15,000 or less for an FA Cup game. But surely it only matters that we are genuinely competing with the best clubs on the pitch - who cares that West Ham can get 30,000 for some games in the 'Championship'?

More importantly perhaps, I'm quite proud that our fans have the balance in their lives to acknowledge that in a period when most people have less leisure time than they would like, the possibility of spending the best part of six hours travelling to watch 90mins of football is perhaps not a great use of that time. Throw in the possibility of a Man City or Bolton calamity, and the cost/reward ratio becomes even less attractive. I took an away season ticket during the 1998/9 season and would guess from memory that I saw us win barely 3-4 times, which probably works out at about £400 per win when you consider the costs of tickets, travel, food/drink etc.. I barely went to half that number of games when we returned in 2000/1 and did not regret it one bit. I found myself gaining as much pleasure from a win that I listened to on the internet/radio and satisfied myself that I was far better off after a defeat in the comfort of my own home than in the depths of some awful Northern city. Sure if you have a bunch of mates with whom you can travel it can be a fun day out, but as I get older it is strangely unappealing. Somehow the routine of a home game, the ease of travel and the certainty about the quality of the seating etc.. is incredibly more attractive (and it seems we're finally winning some home games too).

Talking of away games, I went to a New York Mets vs New York Yankees game last month, and the stadium was probably split 70/30 between the two sets of fans yet the concept of segregation was anathema to both. The atmosphere was strangely muted as a result (I quite like the idea of segregation since it allows for far more spontaneous and co-ordinated singing) but it got me thinking why it would be unheard of to have the same concept at football in the UK? I think I'm level-headed enough to enjoy chatting to a fan from the opposition about their team, hopes for the season, favourite players etc.. Surely the fact that many fans enjoy visiting the message boards of other clubs to get a gauge for their feelings about their club and players, implies that the vast majority of fans could countenance the idea. When I've argued about this issue with Americans, I tend to explain that UK football fans are more passionate about their clubs than say baseball fans and hence the tendency for normally sensible fans to see red mist. However they usually claim this is nonsense that we have a problem perculiar to football and need to grow up and realise it's not the be-all and end-all. Personally I think the fact that no-one bats an eyelid that say the LA Dodgers began in New York, or that the Atlanta Braves used to be in Boston suggests that my argument has some basis in fact, but still it's an interesting issue.