"I told you they were cr*p without me"
What is Danny Murphy saying to Tord Grip in the attached photo? Answers on a postcard please. The winner gets a pair of tickets to Charlton's next home game. All losing entries receive two pairs of tickets to Charlton's next home game.
I promised myself that I wouldn't imbibe any alcohol whilst watching this game, despite the fact that I was in a pub. It was 8.30am after all. But after watching the first-half, I'm not sure even the Dalai Lama could have resisted a pint if he supported Charlton (he's a Millwall fan).
I'm desperately trying to avoid hyperbole, and am writing a good few hours after the game ended in the hope of being more rational. It certainly wasn't the worst performance I'd seen and let's be honest, they only created a handful of chances (but they happened to score with most of them) whilst we did hit the bar and forced Robinson into a great save at the death. However, what obviously concerns me is that they exhibited far more quality in their passing and movement, and frankly we only came back into the game when they naturally took their foot off the gas. We lacked ideas in the final third, gave away the ball as often as usual (their third goal was 'vintage Kishishev') and our defending was dire on all three goals.
Spurs have clearly taken a big step forward this season, and to be fair they've done it in a sensible way, buying English talent and mixing it with more experienced foreigners. By my reckoning, they have spent approx net £22m since the start of 2004/5 which is more than we can afford, but frankly it's not that extravagant. Their wage bill is higher of course, but you might call it 'sensible ambition' and it is paying off currently, as much as it pains me to admit it.
Moreover, they seem to have been able to offload some of their surplus players at very generous prices, not least Simon Davies (£3.5m), Pedro Mendes (£3m), Frederic Kanoute (£4.4m) and most notably Timothee Atouba (£1.7m). Given the prices received for Paul Konchesky (England international) and Danny Murphy (England international), I do have to wonder whether Richard Murray should be renting 'The Negotiator' from the video store.
In prior seasons, we have competed with (and outperformed) the likes of Spurs by pursuing an alternative path, blending hard work and solid teamwork with a little quality, to produce a team that is more than the sum of its parts. However Charlton fans are concerned not because we are failing to win many matches (realistically just winning 2 in 5 is a reasonable return), but because those valuable attributes are often notable by their absence. We simply don't have enough quality within the squad to succeed without them.
When the new fans' director addresses the problem of our poor away support, perhaps he should just play the other board members a re-run of today's game. In recent seasons, we would turn up at away grounds knowing the fans thought it was just 'little old Charlton' and thus probably three points, whilst we all knew we'd likely get in their faces, rile the crowd and often leave with a point or three. Instead, those hardy few hundred who made the trip north of the river, knew they'd be watching defensive tactics, their team under pressure and a notable lack of self-belief.
To sum it up, in just the 12th minute of the game, Marcus Bent produced a fine sliding tackle on his own byline to deny Stephen Kelly a cross. I'm sure Curbs and Merv were saying, "great work Benty" when I suspect most fans were thinking, "what the f*ck have we spent £2.5m on a 'striker' for?" Just a few minutes later, we won two free-kicks in quick succession on the edge of their box - lo and behold, both were hammered straight into the wall. Where were the ideas? For goodness sake, just show the fans that you've actually been working on things in training instead of standing there seemingly clueless about who is even meant to be taking it. I'd rather see an original free-kick routine end up in Row Z than watch this garbage.
If there is one thing we have become the best at this season in the Premiership, it is 'providing out-of-form teams with the chance to get back on track.' First there was Wigan, and then Arsenal and now Spurs. You can almost imagine Martin Jol telling them at Fulham, "..heads up lads, it's Charlton on Sunday." It never used to be like this you know. I know we can't compete with the likes of Spurs financially in the long-term, but I believe we set our expectations too low with respect to the rest of the Premier League and we are now getting found out.
I fully respect the opinion of Curbs-backers that getting rid of him is not the best solution. However any fan denying the existence of a problem is being overly-optimistic, and no longer realistic. When dealing with inherently subjective topics, I like to draw upon statistics to flesh out an argument.
Over the course of the last 38 games (equivalent to a full season), we have taken just 42 points - not quite relegation form (though West Ham fans might disagree) but not far off. If one wants to go back 76 games (two seasons), we have accumulated a slightly healthier 93 points (46.5 points for a full season) but this is still below the 48.8 points we have averaged for the five seasons since we returned to the Premiership. Hence the concern is that a) our form is in decline, and b) it has occurred despite having a stronger squad (on paper). Curbs-backers may argue that this doesn't matter and perhaps represents a reversion to the mean, and whilst I agree to a point, I don't see much near-term prospect for improvement.
Perhaps more worryingly, and related to my argument about us previously being harder to beat, is that of the 27 games we have lost in the past two seasons, only 10 have been by a single goal. To put this in a little perspective, in our 30 total defeats in 2002/3 and 2003/4, fully half were by a single goal only. Again, the statistics don't lie and it is occurring when one would reasonably expect improvement not deterioration.
As well as drawing upon statistics, the world of investment also provides useful lessons for football. If you have owned a profitable stock for a long time, you should still ask yourself every day, "..would I buy it today at these levels?" If the answer is "no", then tax-considerations aside, it should be sold immediately. Despite the success that Curbs has brought us, I'm not sure I'm a 'buyer' of his today. Again Curbs-doubters will argue, "...if it wasn't for Curbs, we wouldn't be here now," and this is of course a truism, but it also not the point. If he is beyond criticism, then the board will never know when the right time to part company might be, unless he makes the decision for them.
Without wishing to get too technical or involved, there is another investment-related concept called 'anchoring'. It relates to the human tendency to rely too heavily on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. In Charlton's case, it is the tendency to use the 'small club' argument to defend certain decisions. Now, Charlton are certainly not a 'big club' but neither are we a 'small club' either any longer. However, perhaps more importantly, we have not only grown in an absolute sense, but a relative one also. The Premier League today looks far different to the one we first joined in 1998. That season we faced amongst others, Leeds, Derby, Leicester, Sheff Wed, Wimbledon, Notts Forest, Southampton and Coventry, all of whom we are now way ahead of in terms of finances.
And that is precisely my point....we are not 'little old Charlton' any more, we are infact one of the richest 12 or 14 clubs in the country and expectations are higher as a result, which may in part explain why our away support has disappeared (the novelty has worn off). The 'size' of a club is now mainly a function of the number of consecutive seasons spent in the Premier League (due to the Sky money), and not crowds and certainly not history. Believe it or not, of the 20 current Premier League teams, we have been promoted less recently than ten of them - it needs to be put in bold because it's a remarkable statistic.
Of course, much of this is down to Curbs, Richard Murray et al, but we need to start looking forward instead of back, and stop drawing on those tired 'David vs Goliath' analogies. The game has moved on - we successfully navigated the 'bubble years' which tore the heart out of the likes of Leeds, Forest and Derby, and we should now be well-positioned to move onto the next level.
I'm not suggesting we blow up our wage structure, but surely we can start to play more expansive football, expand our transfer market horizons (not least from abroad where we trail our peers), bring through some talented youngsters and begin to play with ambition instead of fear? By pursuing their low-risk policy, the club threatens to drive away the less-committed fans at precisely the same time it is seeking to expand the stadium.
I don't believe a big stadium is a pre-requisite for competing anyhow, particularly with fully 12 teams averaging less than 35,000 and Sky providing the bulk of revenues. It's hard not to draw upon the example of Bolton in this regard, another club surrounded by bigger rivals, yet able to carve out a forward-looking strategy which never had 'small club' at its core, from which it is now receiving dividends.
So then we return to the Curbs issue again. Is he the right man to grasp the opportunity that I believe exists? Given that our League season is effectively already over, one could argue that changing the guard now makes some sense. Then again, Curbs now has 15 games (and a vital FA Cup game) to prove that he is able to improve things and stick it to us doubters.
Next season's Premier League is likely to include Reading, Sheff Utd, Fulham, WBA, Wigan, West Ham, Bolton, Blackburn, Villa, Everton, 'Boro plus another via the play-offs - what is 'little old Charlton' so frightened of?