Sunday, October 31, 2004

A wasted summer?

Most of Curbishley's successful signings in previous years have fallen into clear categories:

1. Promising youngsters not getting first team football (eg. Luke Young, Jerome Thomas, Danny Mills etc..)
2. Established players with requisite experience and purchased from clubs with a similar or lesser status (eg. Clive Mendonca, Mark Fish, Andy Hunt, Claus Jensen, John Robinson, Graham Stuart, Jason Euell, etc..)
3. Bargains (eg. Matt Holland, Hermann Hreidarsson, Keith Jones, Chris Perry etc..)
4. Promising players from lower division clubs (eg. Mark Kinsella, Dean Kiely etc..)
5. Players with something to prove generally (eg. Paolo di Canio)

I believe the club's record when purchasing from foreign clubs is poor generally. It's not clear to me yet whether, of the current squad, that it could be argued that Bartlett or Kishishev represented 'value for money', and it remains to be seen whether Rommedahl, El Karkouri and Andersen do.

It is too early to assess the signings in full but I am concerned that they do not obviously fit into the categories above, which have served us so well. Two players in particular have not seemed especially hungry and their body language has suggested this (Rommedahl and Murphy), whilst Jeffers has had his problems and does not strike me as a 'Charlton-type' player. The fact that every single one of the new signings has been dropped at some point suggests something is not right.

The summer represented a once-in-a-generation chance to improve the squad and instead most fans would argue it is clearly weaker, the club unable to prevent key departures as well as unable (perhaps) to sign key players. Most fans, if asked in early summer, would been aghast at the thought of seeing the likes of Lisbie, Kishishev, Stuart, Fortune, and Bartlett appearing, not just as occasional squad players, but as regulars. It is this failure to progress during the summer which concerns me the most.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

It's becoming Crystal clear...

...that Curbishley is under serious pressure for the first time in several seasons. Losing in the League Cup is par for the course; losing to Palace reserves in front of an impressive 19,000 crowd is unacceptable. Infact, the most disappointing thing for me was the attendance.....I was expecting it to be 10-12,000 - the fact that many of those extra fans are unlikely to make the effort again is disappointing to say the least.

To criticise the team's recent performances is to genuinely take nothing whatsoever away from what Curbs has acheived. Indeed, however he ends up leaving this club, I would always offer him a standing ovation. However the team this season has lacked passion, desire, shape and tactical nous....there is something wrong and everyone who loves this club knows it, even those like myself that are living thousands of miles away. The players we have brought in are not Charlton-type players.....Curbs has commented in the press that the players he likes are ones that are 'hungry' and have something to prove. This was why he surprised many of us by bringing in Di Canio. But what does Murphy have to prove? And Rommedahl? I genuinely feel sorry for both since last season they played alongside the likes of Gerrard, Owen, Kezman and Van Bommel, and now it's Lisbie, Kishishev and Stuart. We had a once in a generation chance during the summer to take the club onto the next level but instead we've taken a huge step backwards.

The league table flatters us but the goal difference column tells the real story. We are in a relegation battle and anyone who denies it is fooling themselves. Where is the next away point coming from? Who do we fancy three points against at home? I'm not suggesting Curbs resigns or the Board takes drastic action....the situation isn't that dire (yet). But the club is not moving forward, and it's the first time in ten years that this has been true. Loyalty is a rarity in football and it has served the club well. However the stakes are too high to use loyalty as an excuse not to make a brave decision. Let's not be rash, but let's not deny what is obvious to most of us.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Is it time to think the unthinkable?

As would be reasonably expected, there is some anti-Curbishley sentiment on the various Addick message boards. In light of the achievements of the past twelve years, such criticism can sound disrespectful yet the club owes it to itself to consider the state of the team now and not merely in the context of the near-miracle that got us here. Many fans get bored of the 'plucky Charlton' tag and getting reminded of the weeds that once grew from where the East Stand now rises, and yet whilst those dark days in part define the club their memory shouldn't prevent the club from making tough decisions if progress is stalling.

In my opinion, a manager should be judged on whether the team progresses and improves over time in the context of whatever transfer budget, injury list and other constraints he has to confront. Since 1991/2 when Curbishley and Gritt took the helm, it would be hard to argue that the club did not make a reasonable progression season-by-season, perhaps only with the exception of 1994/5 when the club finished 15th and 2001/2 when we finished 14th after a creditable 9th place finish in 2000/1 (though the latter was probably the outlier, not the former). In my opinion, the greatest miracles performed by Curbs were 1991/2 (when we narrowly missed the play-offs) and 1995/6 (when we made them), given that the teams he put out regularly included such luminaries as Alex Dyer, Steve Gatting, Paul Bacon and Carl Leaburn. Indeed, in the warm glow of the 1998 play-off win, it was easy to forget that whilst it was driven by modern-day Charlton greats like Kinsella and Mendonca, the team that season was also built around the likes of Chapple, Mortimer, Balmer, Petterson, and Bowen. Somehow Kevin Lisbie remains a part of the current set-up but that is another story....

However, after four years of consolidation in the Premiership during which time crowds have increased to 27,000, and the overall profile of the club has increased greatly, is it acceptable to say the team is continuing to progress at a reasonable rate? Fans are entitled (since they pay their money to watch) to ask whether the Parker funds have been well-spent? They are entitled to ask why average players like Kishishev regularly get picked over more capable ones, and why the team overall seems stale, defensive and short of inspiration? We have received questionable value-for-money from some of the bigger signings (it is worth remembering we paid £4.75m for Jason Euell and £4m for Luke Young), though overall Curbs' transfer record is a good one (for every Euell, there's a Holland).

We owe it to Curbs in light of his loyalty, and the genuine miracles above, to assess the current progress of the club over a statistically significant period of time. Since Parker left, we have played 27 league games with a record as follows: P 27, W8, D4, L15, F30 A45 Pts 28. A record of barely a point per game would have represented relegation form during many recent seasons, but perhaps more worringly a goal difference of -15 over just 27 games suggests Curbs' defensiveness is actually not working. I am not suggesting a quick-fire decision on his position is warranted, but the truth is out there.

Some fans have rightly pointed out that there is no obvious replacement even if the club thought the unthinkable. Yet there was no obvious replacement for Lennie Lawrence in 1991 yet look where we are now. As Curbs has proved, it is only by being thrown into the deep end do you find out if managers can swim. By New Year we will have a full 38 games to assess the post-Parker record and there are currently few signs that the relegation form outlined above will have improved. And if, as this fan expects, we find ourselves uncomfortably close to the bottom three, that will be the time to either consider Curbs' position or to test his motivational and tactical qualities in the heat of a relegation battle.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Just in case anyone thought the Newcastle performance was a sign of better times ahead, it was an unwelcome return to the usual garbage at Anfield. From winning at Anfield and nearly grabbing a 2-2 draw at Highbury last season, we are now reduced to wondering how long it will take the opposition to score since there is no chance of us creating anything meaningful. Fans all across the country must be eagerly scanning the fixture list to find out when the Addicks are coming to town. Maybe we can start a poll on the CAFC website: "Which was the most abject away performance so far?"

During the summer some fans (including this one) were quietly optimistic that the Parker funds had been wisely spent. Now one has to hope the club kept the receipt for Rommedahl, Murphy's body language is suggesting he is harbouring a few regrets already, whilst Jeffers must wonder how on earth he can break into the side ahead of the other free-scoring strikers. Frankly I'm bored with this Charlton side - we're predictable, overly defensive and seemingly lacking some of the basic technical ability that one expects from highly-paid sportsmen. I'd like to see some youngsters given a was only by throwing the likes of Parker, Bowyer and Konchesky into the fray that we realised we had a real talent on our hands.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

More like the old Charlton

A cracking end-to-end game full of chances and good football, and more importantly a clear return to the old Charlton virtues of passion and desire. Question marks still remain over certain players eg. Rommedahl, but overall it was a much more promising performance against a Newcastle side that looked nervous defensively but dangerous going forward. On more than one occasion (including the goal as it happens), we failed to make a proper connection with gilt-edged chances, the most agonising being Holland's bobbled shot against the post in the dying moments, though Bartlett's initial effort was a great chance that should also have been buried. It was pleasing to see Danny Murphy finally show what he is capable of, putting in a great shot as well as making several telling forays forward.

All-in-all we can head to Anfield confident that a repeat of last season's win is not out of the question, and knowing that in a mediocre league we are able to compete with all but the top two (which frankly is proof of the mediocrity, rather than any great compliment to us).

Sunday, October 03, 2004

No accounting for genius

The Arsenal team that destroyed us today has quite literally taken football to a new level. Frankly I'm wondering why we're bothering to pay good money to watch a hard-working but utterly average Charlton side, when the game can be played with such stunning fluency and beauty. It was humiliating and yet I knew deep down that we had actually performed as well as one could expect given the enormous skills gap. For most of the first half we did not look like threatening the Arsenal goal, but we had harried them enough to suggest that a 0-0 result was not out of the question until Euell and Kiely's errors of judgment confirmed our fate.

What exactly is it that they have that Charlton (and let's face it, most of the Premiership) lacks? Their players look supremely confident on the ball; agile, pacy and balanced. It sometimes seemed like we required three touches just to bring the ball under control whilst Henry (for example) would control and move the ball in one graceful motion.

Arsenal have achieved greatness thanks to the brilliance of their manager, and thanks to discipline and team spirit throughout the club. With Charlton now seen (rightly) as an established Premiership club, it is clear that the gap between mid-table mediocrity and the best is much larger than that between the lower leagues and the Premiership. It almost makes you think back fondly to the Nationwide when we were the Arsenal-equivalent and winning game after game.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Scott Free to Move?

There have been rumors about the return of Scott Parker but this seems the first time that there may be some meat on the bone. It has been debated at length elsewhere whether he'd be welcomed back, but I would certainly love to see him in a Charlton shirt again regardless of his behaviour upon departure. Perhaps I'm naive but I suspect his young mind was turned by agents and I recall he was visibly upset at the press conference about leaving us. More importantly however he is a quite exceptional footballer, perhaps the best I have ever seen at the club. As a fan of football as well as Charlton, it is not good to know that one of England's best midfielders is languishing in the reserves at Chelsea and out of view. He was a pleasure to watch and in some matches he shone like a beacon amidst the mediocrity of some of his teammates and opponents. I think everyone deserves a second chance, particularly when still relatively young.