Wednesday, March 08, 2006

To Russia With Love

The latest midfielder to be leaving the Valley for pastures new appears to be Alexei Smertin. Admittedly the thought of playing alongside Bryan Hughes for the remainder of the season probably makes a frozen Moscow feel like paradise, but seriously it's just another disappointing development in a disappointing season.

My first sight of Smertin in a Charlton shirt occurred at Loftus Road in a pre-season friendly, and at half-time I had the audacity to text my Dad to say, "Smertin - Player of the Year." I may have been a little premature with hindsight (though frankly, Darren Bent is unlikely to be overwhelmed by challengers), but in general I've been impressed with the Russian's contribution and we will clearly be worse off if he goes.

It seems the club has decided to use the loan rules to their fullest in the last few seasons. Given the board's conservative outlook, it makes a lot of sense: save on the cash outlay from a transfer fee, and utilise the services of a player with the possible option to sign them at the end of the season. Last summer, they recruited the services of Smertin and Jonathan Spector from high-quality Premiership opposition, and then cheekily stole away Gonzalo Sorondo from Inter Milan (via Palace). Unfortunately however, as we are rapidly finding out, the loan concept tends to favour the club who retains the player's registration, and perhaps also the player himself in Smertin's case.

Ironically, I believe the loans are likely to work best for Charlton when they involve experienced players like Smertin. Similarly, the loan deal for Jorge Costa was undeniably a success for both club and player. In these cases, there at least exists the possibility of the club buying the player at the end of the loan because the club they were loaned from can clearly happily exist without them, and moreover age is not on their side.

In the case of the more youthful Spector and Carlton Cole, the very best that Charlton could hope for was a single superb season from each - after all, if their youngsters fulfil their potential, Man Utd and Chelsea are hardly going to let them go to Charlton on the cheap. As it transpired, we acquired a lazy moody (but talented) forward in Cole, and an honest but naive defender in Spector, and hence likely no desire to sign either for the long-run. The case of Sorondo has been blighted by injury of course, but again at just 26 years old, Inter were unlikely to let him go on the cheap if he had been able to put up a solid full season with us.

It's hard to blame Smertin for this particular episode, assuming it plays out as rumoured. He clearly does not figure in Mourinho's plans and at 30 years old, it may be a chance to fulfil a dream of finishing his career in his home country. The loan system gives Charlton very little bargaining power and as Curbs admitted himself, "He's a Chelsea player."

The manipulation of the loan system, when set in the context of Richard Murray's comments about our lack of signings in the transfer window all adds to the overwhelming evidence that 'safety first' remains the mantra at the Valley. Time will tell whether those clubs that have splashed the cash (eg. West Ham) will prosper or not, but if the Board is wondering why ticket sales seem slow or the atmosphere at home seems sterile, then they needn't look much further than their own minutes.


At 9:50 AM, Blogger Kappacino Kid said...

With the departures of Murphy and Smertin, loan out and hopefully sale of JJ and Lisbie (I suspect Lisbie will be back), the loss of the loanees Spector and Sorondo, retirement or simply departure of over the hill Bartlett, the genral lack of depth in the squad... we have problems, that will be difficult to rectify in the summer. Whether we want him or not, Bowyer may not come because Souness has gone, and do we have any youth players coming through that could fit the bill.... no one really comes to mind because none of them have been given a chance.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

With regard to young players, given that our League season is essentially over, what do we have to lose by blooding some of them during the run-in? At least people like me would stop harping on about the issue if we could see with our own eyes that the youngsters are not good enough (though that would beg further questions of course).


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