Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Sign of The Times

British expats (or at least the 100,000 or so that allegedly live in the New York area) will no doubt be rejoicing at the news that The Times intends to begin printing a US edition from next week onwards. Never one to miss an opportunity, Rupert Murdoch's proposal coincides nicely with the start of the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world yet generally overlooked by the US media. Cue pages upon pages of excellent coverage, interlaced with copious amounts of cross-publicising of Sky, 20th Century Fox and the like.

If there was one thing that I miss most about the UK (football aside of course) then it would be the best aspects of the media back home. It's not clear if News Corp are planning to produce a US edition of the Sunday Times also, but if so, do not be surprised to see a British expat doing a merry dance down Fifth Avenue.

There has been a version of the Financial Times produced in the US for some time, and whilst impressive (especially at weekends), it does not as its name implies, provide information on a wide variety of topics. The weekly versions (amongst others) of the Guardian and the Telegraph meanwhile lost their relevance with the advent of the Internet for me.

With perhaps the notable exceptions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, US newspapers are diverse, lightly-circulated and locally-oriented. Americans are renowned for their lack of interest and knowledge in global affairs, and unfortunately the media do little to remove their blinkers. To put it into perspective, the most widely circulated US newspaper (the ghastly USA Today) sells fewer copies than the aforementioned The Sun despite the obvious population differences between the countries.

Despite their obvious journalistic and intellectual depth, both the aforementioned 'quality' US newspapers have an awful habit of cramming so many stories onto their front pages, that it requires usually one, and often more page-turns to reach their conclusions. This would be annoying enough if they used the hugely popular tabloid sized pages of their UK counterparts, but they persist with a broadsheet. Clearly they didn't have their core urban commuter readership in mind.

Both also use a tiresome style of writing which tries to bring a personal touch to every story, when the mere facts would suffice. An article about say job losses in the Midwest would begin, "Hank Pirelli gazes longingly out of his Detroit apartment window, the GM car plant that used to employ him and promised his family security, just visible in the distance. Hank, like countless others, never expected this day to come..."

The use of random members of the public (often portrayed by actors) is also prevalent in US television commercials, which perhaps makes you wonder if Americans simply don't trust or believe what they hear or see if the message comes direct from a faceless company, or via a factual story in the media. Viewers of English football on the Fox Soccer Channel (also owned by Murdoch) are bombarded at half-time by testimonially-based commercials, demanding that you buy a 'risk-free' sample of products for hair growth, erectile dysfunction or weight loss (which suggests that at least they've done their research on their core audience).

Even BBC America is sadly not commerical-free, but at least it provides a warm British-style sanctuary even if they insist on showing back-to-back episodes during the day of Changing Rooms, What Not To Wear and Cash in the Attic. The Fox Soccer Channel meanwhile shows a couple of hours of Sky Sports News every day, and has very recently begun to show a recorded hour of Sky News.

Most vitally however, every single World Cup game will be available in high-definition (on either ABC or ESPN). Worryingly of course this probably means we will either be subjected to a Soccer AM-style 'Boston Goals' production from American commentators, or worse a commentary from ESPN's very own Derek Rae, a Scottish expat who can only be described as an absolute idiot.

Freed Perry

Surprisingly perhaps, pint-sized defender Chris Perry (affectionately known as 'the rash') has not been offered a new contract. Although he is indeed in the twilight of his career, he has been one of our most consistent players in recent seasons and surely worthy of a one-year extension even in the context of the Sorondo/Gibbs signings.

As I write this, it seems Jay Bothroyd is also departing the Valley for pastures new, a decision (given his younger age) which is driven by his lack of true Premiership quality. Unfortunately this does now leave Kevin Lisbie as our third choice striker, though perhaps if there is one manager who can perhaps give him the kick up the backside he so desperately needs, it might just be Dowie.

It would be interesting to know exactly what role Iain Dowie played, if any, in the decisions to release Perry (as well as the four strikers). When Richard Murray mentioned that Dowie had 'done his homework', perhaps it was with these types of decisions in mind. Similarly the decision to offer Jonathan Fortune an extension seems a smart move - an under-rated player if ever there was one.

By my reckoning, since January the following senior players have left the squad: Kiely, Murphy, Smertin, El Karkouri, Jeffers, Bartlett, Johansson, Perry, Bothroyd to be replaced only by Gibbs and Marcus Bent. Given some of the dross that still remains, it only goes to emphasise the huge rebuilding job that Dowie has on his hands - I suspect his relationship with his wife and kids is going to get even more distant in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jordan's Case

An old pal from university is a top employment lawyer in London, so I asked for his view on Jordan's case (and surprisingly for a lawyer, he didn't charge me for the privilege). In short he believes that Jordan only has a case if a) the alleged misrepresentation was indeed made (about wishing to return up North), and b) if Jordan then relied on the misrepresentation when foregoing the entitlement to compensation. Somewhat surprisingly, he goes on to add that so long as Dowie could persuade a court that at the time he made the alleged misrepresentation he genuinely meant it (about wanting to move up North), but Charlton then moved for him, he'll probably be in the clear.

In short, Jordan probably does have a case of sorts though whether he chooses to pursue it to its conclusion is another matter. Proving that Dowie even made a misrepresentation, and that Dowie meant it until Charlton moved in will be difficult of course. However if one was to wear a Palace hat for a second, the timing of his departure and Charlton's subsequent interest certainly seems curious. It is possible of course that Jordan wanted rid of Dowie anyhow after the Watford debacle, but if Dowie's departure genuinely was mutual, then he could hardly complain if another club took a different view of Dowie's qualities than he did. But then if this is the case, why make a fool of yourself on live television issuing writs unless your ego really is as deep as your tan?

Given that Murray claims to have followed Dowie's career with great interest, it would be surprising if he had not approached Jordan for permission to speak with Dowie whilst he was still their manager. Assuming that Jordan gave Murray short shrift, is it not possible that Dowie upon learning of this spun a story about wanting to move up North in order to free himself from his prohibitive contract? Which of course would give Jordan a pretty good case.

Either way, I'm going to be a contrarian and express a little sympathy for Jordan - he is only trying to do what is best for Crystal Palace; it's his means rather than his desired ends that rankle. I admire his admittedly fruitless attempts to banish agents from transfer dealings - these rogues have done far more damage to the game than an egocentric Chairman like Jordan ever could. And honest Charlton fans should ask themselves this as they gloat this evening - if Dowie performs well for Charlton, and in two years time a bigger Northern club is seeking a new manager (Man City perhaps), what chance the boot will be on the other foot?

Writ Large

So it is Iain Dowie after all - not sure why the club made us wait over the long weekend to tell us but anyhow, I think it's a good appointment. He will be part of a four-man management team with Les Reed and Mark Robson assisting with coaching, and Andrew Mills ensuring the club goes head-for-head when dealing with football agents.

Although I will have to wait until Sky Sports News is shown recorded here later today, it sounds like the highlight of the press conference was Simon Jordan's cackhanded attempt to issue Dowie with a writ for 'misrepresentation.' I may be out on a limb here, but the perma-tanned one may have a point. I noted in my last post that there was no reason for Dowie to have mentioned his desire to move up North to Jordan, Palace fans or the media at all. He knew the Charlton job was available and it can't have been an enormous surprise when we contacted him (indeed, a cynic would argue the timing was not a pure coincidence). Admittedly Jordan is difficult to like, but we have to ask how we'd feel if Curbs had say left for West Ham in similar circumstances some years ago.

Unlike most Charlton fans it seems, I don't go in for this Palace-hating malarky. Prior to ground-sharing with them, then unless I'm mistaken they were never considered an obvious rival. It's not surprising really given they are in an entirely different part of London altogether (as Charlton fans who attended home games at Selhurst will attest). Moreover, although the club's very future was in jeopardy at the time, those seasons at Selhurst are actually full of great memories for me partly because they coincided with my teenage years, which usually represent the peak in any fan's interest. Indeed Charlton in my view are unique perhaps in not having a natural rival; Millwall may be closest geographically but they have spent most of their history in divisions below us. We're a nice club anyway, we don't do rivalry - some of the Palace-hating stuff sounds contrived to me.

Indeed the whole episode does make you wonder why clubs bother with managerial contracts at all. In the US generally it's quite normal to work without an explicit employment contract - you are employed until one day you turn up and you're not. It sounds brutal (and to some extents it is) but it is ultra-efficient and ensures employers have the best people they deserve, and people have the best employers they deserve. In essence, this is all the football management merry-go-round represents. The contracts don't protect clubs because they always lose their man anyhow whenever a better club comes calling, whilst on the other hand they risk agreeing long-term expensive contracts with underperforming managers (ask the FA about that one).

Anyhow, all that is for the lawyers to sort out. For now, we have a manager in place, it's time to get behind him, get the small matter of the World Cup out of the way, and let the transfer tittle-tattle begin.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Positive ID?

The media have made their mind up, the punters have made their mind up and the vast majority of the fans have made their mind up. But what if we are all being strung along by a clever ruse designed to put us all off the scent? Given Charlton's tight-lipped approach to the whole recruitment process, and as a natural contrarian, I can't help recommending opposing Dowie on Betfair at a tasty 1/10.

A couple of things don't add up. Firstly, given that Dowie didn't resign from Palace until last Monday, then Charlton will have had to have been pretty sure that Dowie was 'their man' in order to have tied up the (positive) interviews, contract and offer in the space of just four days. Moreover, if true that Dowie was keen to return up North, then one of the following must have occurred: a) he lied to Simon Jordan and the Palace fans (unlikely given he seems an honest man, and not necessary either), b) he has persuaded his family to move down South (possible I suppose, albeit unlikely to have occurred so quickly) or c) Charlton have accepted his wish to commute back and forth on a regular basis and are comfortable with it (unusual if true, given the club's natural conservatism). I may be clutching at straws slightly but at odds of 1/10, a straw can be enough to break a punter's back, as well as a camel's.

Also if the media have indeed grasped hold of a genuine leak of information, then it's surprising that some still talk about the possibility of Sammy Lee being invited into the fray. Obviously it's possible that Lee will be the new first-team coach under Dowie, but why would he leave a far stronger squad at Bolton to join a club that will likely be the 4th favourite for relegation next season? Or perhaps the media don't have the information to hand and are putting two and two together and possibly making five?

However given that an appointment has been made, then if not Dowie then who? Given that both Preston and Hull were not shy about telling the press (and their fans) about Charlton's approach, it is unlikely that the new manager (Dowie aside) is gainfully employed currently. Of the possible candidates in this position, Mick McCarthy stands out (and would be a hugely unpopular choice), whilst long-shot options would include Alberto Zaccheroni (he must be good with a name like that), Martin O'Neill (yes please) and Alex McLeish.

Assuming straw-clutching is however a mug's game, then what should be made of Iain Dowie? In the interests of full disclosure, I wrote on April 29 that: "...the most realistic and appropriate candidate may be plying his trade just a few miles down the road at Crystal Palace..." I've been surprised that a number of fans are negatively-inclined towards him, and have accused him of being a 'relegation manager' (Curbs in 1998/99 anyone?). A closer examination of his albeit short managerial record shows some solid early work at Oldham, an incredible first season at Palace followed by last-day relegation, and then last season he stabilised the team's fortunes reaching the play-offs. It is worth bearing in mind that the two other relegated sides from 2004/5 (Norwich and Southampton) fared far worse.

I've always been attracted to intelligent managers, and with a degree in rocket science (literally) Dowie is not lacking in that department. He is also renowned for producing super-fit and motivated teams, and in my view we lacked the latter last season. He is also clearly a passionate man and it'll be nice to have a manager who might just clench a fist towards the fans after a vital result. If he gets the job, he'll have my backing, and he should have the backing of all true Charlton fans too. We can only appoint managers that are available, affordable and willing to do the job. Other than perhaps Billy Davies, who else fitted the bill?

And finally, I can already see at least one advantage of having Dowie as manager. Ever since I took my now wife on our first weekend away to Bath (via Swindon away in March 1997), she has referred to Curbs as 'a very nice-looking older man.' I am relatively confident that she will be referring to Dowie in less glowing terms.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

If not Billy, then who?

The club have apparently decided to 'move on' in their search for a new manager, and sent poor Billy Davies back to Preston with his tail between his legs after some misguided comments that suggested the ball was actually in his court. Obviously the big question the fans are asking this morning is, "if not Billy, then who?". It is certainly making for a lively betting market.

It does create the possibility of a rather worrying potential scenario playing out....Dowie indeed chooses to head back up North, whilst Colchester persist (as is their right) to prevent Parkinson from talking to us, which pretty much leaves us back at square one. Based on everything I've read and heard about Adrian Boothroyd, we should be constructing a complex swap deal involving 8-10 of our squad players (Jeffers, Johansson, Fortune etc..), but somehow I don't think the Hornets board will play ball.

All of this (again) leaves me surprised that one of the most qualified candidates remains a rank outsider, on Betfair at least namely George Burley. With all the boardroom shenanigans going on at Southampton, the Scot would surely be chomping at the bit if Charlton approached.

Worryingly both Sammy Lee (untested, uninspiring) and Mick McCarthy (tested, uninspiring) remain solid 3rd and 4th favourites right now, and I'm confident that the club will not be offering jobs to either which suggests that if they can't get (or choose not to get) any of the Dowie/Parkinson/Burley triumvirate then they might just infact be about to spring an almighty surprise on us. Whisper it quietly, but Martin O'Neill anyone?

It sounds outlandish, but thousands of pounds have been gambled on him becoming the next Sunderland (!) manager at odds of less than 2-1. Come on Martin, you know it makes sense.....the Cutty Sark, the Thames Barrier, Millennium Dome, Wing Shing Chinese are probably salivating as we speak.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stayaway Fans

According to an industry-wide survey conducted by Virgin Money, a disturbingly high percentage of fans are not proposing to renew their season tickets for next season. Most blamed the rising costs of attendance or the poor quality of football on display.

Perhaps their most surprising conclusion is that 19% of Man Utd fans are not renewing (apparently because of costs). Now given that United fans have been the target of perhaps the industry's most concerted merchandising and branding campaign ever, it would seem to be highly surprising if they suddenly took fright now, despite last season's disappointment. However if true, it suggests that Chelsea's sudden stranglehold on the Premier League title is beginning to bore even the fans of the one club able to realistically challenge them right now, which should send alarm bells ringing from Sky to Soho Square.

My suspicions are that Virgin Money should probably stick to financial services and leave polling to Gallup, Mori and the like because 19% of Man Utd non-renewers sounds way too high. However in fairness, their estimates of non-renewers for some lesser clubs such as Villa (31%), Wolves (28%), Southampton (27%) and Birmingham (18%) are likely very realistic. The Chairmen of some underperforming clubs will begin to urgently realise that they may have killed the goose (ie. fans) that laid the golden egg (ie. bought season tickets) by continually over-charging for an inferior product. Many will be praying that some rousing performances by the national team in Germany will deliver the type of post-Euro 1996 mania that would temporarily boost fan interest again.

It's a shame they did not seem to poll any Charlton fans because the results would have been interesting. Charlton's situation is a little different because many fans are awaiting confirmation of the new manager before deciding whether to renew following last season's frustrations. I firmly believe that had Curbs stayed, we could have seen similar 25-30% type reductions in renewals. As it stands, if the club makes a progressive appointment then 5-10% is more likely in my view.

Anecdotally however, of the group of ten seats that myself, my Dad and some friends occupy in the West Lower, it seems as if less than half will be renewed at this stage. We have typically shared a few spare tickets in order to invite various friends and clients, but interestingly it is getting harder to persuade people to watch Premiership football for free let alone persuade them to part with hard-earned cash, unless the opposition happens to be one of the Big Four.

Peter Varney is clearly aware of the problem of Premiership competitiveness (or lack thereof), and its concurrent effect on season ticket sales and TV viewing figures, because he has talked about it in the past. Hence I am surprised that the club continues to press ahead with plans to expand The Valley particularly in light of the team's current failings and the uncertainty over the ability of the new manager to turn them around. The very existence of thousands of new seats could paradoxically reduce attendances as current season-ticket holders choose not to renew, confident in their ability to procure tickets for any match on an individual basis. Indeed, I wonder if there is any evidence that the expansion of Old Trafford to 76,000 has caused the same effect?

It would seem to make more sense to put The Valley plans firmly on hold and to re-assess the club's position in two years' time when the new manager (assuming he lasted that long) will have left his mark, for better or worse. Admittedly the building of new capacity has a long lead time but pressing head with new supply just as demand is falling spells potential disaster. Varney should brush up on his knowledge of 1990s golf courses in Japan or (dare I predict) today's Florida condominiums before assuming supply will create its own demand.

Talking of economics, I recently met with a investment manager who owns a hefty chunk of the shares of Celtic, a contrarian view for sure given that most rational returns-oriented investors have steered well clear of the sector recently. In his view, football tickets are the ultimate 'Giffen good', a rare example of something for which demand rises as the price rises, which are strangely perhaps often prevalent in a slowing economy. The Virgin Money survey would suggest otherwise of course, but in his view fans would sooner give up on virtually all non-essential consumption before giving up their precious season tickets. In the case of Charlton however, perhaps he didn't bargain on the so-called 'Bryan Hughes phenomenon' which makes an afternoon's window shopping with the wife positively appealing in comparison.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wee Billy?

A letter arrived in my mailbox this morning confirming my worst fears: I'm not going to be Charlton's new boss. The letter from Peter Varney was short and to the point and made it very clear that my lack of appropriate UEFA licences required by the Premier League prevented them from taking my application further (not that it stopped Glenn Roeder).

Reading between the lines however, I got the very firm impression that if I did have the appropriate licence, then I would very likely have been warming Curbs' old seat quite literally as I write. Now I don't know how long it would take me to get the Pro Licence but in light of their procrastination, I have put eleven young Mexican lads on standby to be tactical guinea pigs, should the club decide to fast-track me for the qualification. Reassuringly I was rejected after Peter Taylor, the current England U21 coach, which suggests they took my application very seriously and are now exploring all possible legal loopholes.

Amongst those applicants who do hold the licence, Billy Davies has been catapulted to the hot favourite for the post. He has a fairly short but impressive managerial track record at Motherwell and Preston North End, and further would certainly appear to have the requisite passion and desire to be a success at Charlton. Last season Preston lost just 6 games and conceded a paltry 30 goals in 46 matches, accumulating an 80-point total which ordinarily might have seen them promoted - clearly their 20 draws led to their relative downfall. From my standpoint he is very much on the realistic 'wanted list' alongside Burley, Dowie, Boothroyd, and Parkinson.

Clearly my most desired candidates are all currently employed and hence require formal agreement from their club to proceed further. It would be totally inappropriate obviously to approach Boothroyd until Sunday's play-off final is complete, and hence I would be surprised if any appointment is confirmed until the end of next week. It appears meanwhile that Phil Parkinson has been prevented from speaking to Charlton for the timebeing, but it wouldn't be in Colchester's interest to be so steadfast if their manager becomes unsettled.

I've been surprised at the lack of rumours surrounding George Burley given his proven record at budget-constrained clubs and the board's alleged admiration for him. Initially I thought he would lack the hunger for the role given his unfortunate departures from Derby and Hearts, but I've been swayed by the glowing reports of his style from some Derby fans on our message boards. Moreover as a betting man, it is hard not to recommend nibbling at the seemingly highly generous 45-1 currently offered on Betfair, and frankly who would you rather work for, Rupert Lowe or Richard Murray?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Tenterhooks

Six days have now passed since the official deadline set by Varney and co., and I must admit the quality and quantity of rumours emanating from the Valley has been rather disappointing. One might have hoped that the residents of Harvey Gardens would have had their cameras poised to bring us definitive evidence regarding the candidates. Then again perhaps the interviews themselves are taking place in some shady service station on the M25; or maybe Bill Curbishley's hospitality extends beyond the FA.

Indeed other than the ongoing and highly worrying Peter Taylor rumours, there has been very little to grab hold of and the usually efficient Betfair market has been strangely quiet. Having said that, Bolton coach Sammy Lee has mysteriously appeared as 3rd favourite, although the limited amount of money staked hardly suggests his house is for sale and Mrs Lee has borrowed the 'Rough Guide to London' from the library.

Call me old-fashioned when it comes to assessing Peter Taylor's credentials, but in a highly-paid role like football management, I'm inclined to think that if you've already decimated one medium-sized Premiership club, you should be denied a second opportunity. His apologists may argue that the Leicester board was to blame for his mysterious purchases, but to do so would relegate the role of manager to mere puppet status which his salary would hardly have suggested.

I trust that yesterday's confirmation that Glenn Roeder will take on the manager's role on a permanent basis at Newcastle doesn't suggest that boards across the country are taking collective leave of their senses. Given that bad things tend to happen in threes, what price Taylor to Charlton and Venables to 'Boro? Then again, we've also had McLaren to England so maybe we'll be spared at 'Boro's expense.

I read a book a couple of years ago called Fooled by Randomness which changed my life. I suspect Freddy Shepherd hasn't read it. It examines the way that people tend to mistake luck for skill, and to more importantly to make poor decisions as a result. Is it any wonder that those clubs that remain loyal to their manager reap the benefits when the likes of Glenn Roeder are suddenly feted as managerial geniuses when their longer track record suggests anything but (not to mention his lack of qualifications)? So long as the richer competition act in this irrational fashion, Charlton will continue to be able to punch above its weight (provided our own board are not doomed to their own Taylor-induced bout of ill logic).

Most importantly perhaps, putting aside Freddie Shepherd et al's cognitive biases for a second, Roeder, and for that matter Peter Taylor, just sound a bit thick. It's possible I'm afflicted by my own bias here, but it's never been one that's let me down in the past.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Modern Romance

Watching Charlton this season, it was easy to forget what attracted one to the sport of football in the first place. Luckily the drama that unfolded in Cardiff this afternoon 'hammered' it home to me.

It was pure theatre. Surely one of the best finals ever - it was like the good old days.... Ricky Villa, Tommy Hutchinson, Norman Whiteside. The fact that neither team had any subs left just added to the drama - the FA Cup needed some romance back after some of the garbage that has been served up in recent years. It is reassuring to know that the big clubs haven't completely ruined the aura of the FA Cup despite their best attempts at killing it off.

West Ham played with great fervour and spirit but sadly lost their bottle during penalties. It reminded me so much of our play-off final in 1998 and it was nearly as exhausting to watch. Am I envious? Of course I am.

I've always had a soft spot for West Ham, partly because we usually do pretty well against them. Moreover my Mum was brought up in East Ham (how come there is an East Ham and a West Ham, but no 'Ham'?). Anyhow, they've had a fabulous season and deserve the plaudits that their brave efforts will bring them today.

Frustratingly for me, and as mentioned in an earlier post, they are not a team that has been built with money, but are a mere collection of misfits, wannabees and value signings whose manager has them playing with ambition and not fear. They beat four Premiership teams to reach the final, more than we have beaten in over a decade of FA Cup football.

What a player that Benayoun is; how can the likes of Bryan Hughes call themselves 'midfielders' when they watch performances like his? And frighteningly, he cost the same as Marcus Bent.

And more importantly, how on earth can England be heading to the World Cup with their hopes potentially resting on Peter Crouch's lofty shoulders? Thankfully for those of you who still care about England's chances, we do however have the best midfielder in the world.

ps - By the way, Alan Wiley is a terrific referee. He set the tone by not booking Konch in the first minute, a decision that allowed him to keep his cards in his pocket until the second half and thus ensure 22 players remained on the park. Mike Riley, Rob Styles....were you watching?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Predictions Review

Back in August 2005, I got out my crystal ball, put my neck on the line, and made my predictions for Premier League finishing positions. It was with a sense of great trepidation that I returned to those predictions to see how accurate or otherwise I was.

For Charlton, I predicted the following and am busy patting myself on the back for having such foresight: "...our preseason signings have given us cause for optimism.......a fully-fit squad is arguably the strongest we have ever assembled, but this is clearly a big season for not only certain players (Jeffers, Rommedahl, Murphy etc.), but Curbs himself as we begin our sixth consecutive Premiership campaign. Relegation shouldn't be a concern, but I'm not convinced we will be good enough to mount a serious top six campaign."

I predicted an 11th placed finish for the Addicks which proved a little optimistic though just one more win would have secured us that spot ahead of Everton and Fulham. More interestingly perhaps a comparison of my predictions for the remaining 19 club with their actual finishing positions shows the following:

ARSENAL: Predicted: 3rd/Actual: 4th
ASTON VILLA: 12th/ 16th
BIRMINGHAM: 8th/18th
BLACKBURN: 13th/6th
BOLTON: 9th/8th
CHARLTON: 11th/13th
CHELSEA: 1st/1st
EVERTON: 10th/11th
FULHAM: 18th/12th
LIVERPOOL: 4th/3rd
MAN CITY: 14th/15th
MAN UTD: 2nd/2nd
NEWCASTLE: 6th/7th
PORTSMOUTH: 16th/17th
SUNDERLAND: 20th/20th
TOTTENHAM: 5th/5th
WEST BROM: 15th/19th
WEST HAM: 17th/9th
WIGAN: 19th/10th

So if I had to award myself a mark for soothsaying it would be a 'B' overall. I got four teams completely right (Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs, Sunderland) and six teams within one place of their actual finishing position. Of the latter, perhaps a disappointing season for Man City (after their strong finish to 04/05) was the only prediction that was a little contrarian and which was subsequently proved right.

In common with many other pundits, I was caught out by the excellent seasons for Wigan, Blackburn and West Ham, and notably over-estimated the finishing positions of the Midlands trio of Birmingham, WBA and Villa. Middlesbrough's disappointing season can in part be attributed to their strong showing in Europe I guess, whilst Fulham's fairly lofty final position was only a last-minute phenomenon thanks to four wins in their final five games.

As someone who enjoys taking a pre-season 'view' of a team's chances via a spread bet, I'm looking at my predictions to see if there are any lessons to be learned. Certainly the three 'surprise' teams have excellent young managers in Jewell, Hughes and Pardew, though this was probably only confirmed with hindsight. The disappointing Midlands teams conversely are all run by top-class players who in my view are trading on the back of their reputation, and not their managerial prowess or track record. In short, managers make a difference; a valuable lesson for Charlton perhaps too?

Perhaps however the most obvious and frankly frustrating lesson is simply that money ultimately talks and although the 'Big Four' can have their ups and downs, eventually class shines through (even if it requires a dodgy lasagne to confirm it).

Thursday, May 11, 2006

No Thanks

Taylor-Made? Not for me thanks. Come on Charlton, we can do better than this surely? Maybe it's just a rumour but there seems to be some considerable momentum behind this one with Hull's chairman describing Charlton as a 'definite threat' with regard to snaring their boss.

Putting to one side his England experience (at full level and U-21) which frankly is hardly relevant, his only success has been achieved at the lowest levels (Gillingham, Brighton, Hull) and his only experience in the top flight was a disaster, the implications of which are still being felt.

As a reminder, after a promising start to 2000/01 (Leicester briefly topped the table in Oct 2000), they rapidly went into freefall losing 9 out of their last 10 games and capitulating to Wycombe in that famous Cup quarter-final. Their start to 2001/02 was bad enough to see him sacked and replaced by Dave Bassett who was unable to recover their season. Indeed the club's subsequent spell in administration can at least in part be attributed to some crazy Taylor signings, not least Adi Akinbiyi for £5m.

Indeed, Leicester's situation post-Martin O'Neill could reasonably be compared to ours right now (several seasons of punching above our weight), and the club has since experienced fully five first-team managers, a period of instability brought about by a disastrous first appointment. Charlton can't afford to make the same mistake.

If the club wants to opt for a 'safe pair of hands' then there are far safer ones out there than Taylor, and if the club wants to opt for a successful lower league manager, there are several hungrier, better and vastly more intelligent. He even makes Glenn Hoddle (another with Spurs and England links) positively appealing by comparison.

I won't say too much more at this stage, suffice to say we should all be afraid, very afraid. In the words of a good friend who rarely misses a Leicester game upon hearing of our potential interest, "..oh dear."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Forza Iran

I am not patriotic at the best of times, but after today's England squad announcement I will be purchasing Paraguay, Trinidad and Swedish replica shirts this afternoon, whilst I will be quietly rooting for the Iranians whose country is led by a leader only slightly crazier and more irrational than Sven Goran Eriksson.

The fact that both Charlton players were overlooked is not a huge surprise as I felt both were 50/50 at best particularly in light of Young's injury. However it is of course the manner in particular of Bent's omission that frankly is an insult to him, his club and indeed anyone rooting for the national side in Germany.

Bent's cause has not been helped by him being obliged to plough an often lone furrow for a pretty dire Charlton side in recent weeks. I dare say Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry might look pretty average if forced to play in front of Holland, Hughes and Kishishev. Nonetheless he has managed 18 Premiership goals despite this obvious handicap.

But given that Andrew Johnson was not selected for any of the recent internationals (competitive or otherwise) then Sven's rationale must be that Johnson's form since the Uruguay game has got him the standby nod over Bent! And as for Walcott, I'm willing to accept he's an exciting talent but if Arsene Wenger didn't see fit to play him despite an ominpresent injury crisis then what exactly is he doing in an England World Cup squad? And don't get me started on Peter Crouch.

Spurs have an eloquent blogger by the name of Jim Duggan at the TopSpurs site. Speaking about the food poisoning incident on Sunday, he stated, "...perhaps we could look more objectively at the use of force by the FA if it were not for the fact it's run by David Dein, an Arsenal board member. I have called foul on this over the years and it is a most obvious conflict of interest but no-one from football clubs to football journos dare bring it up."

Now call me a conspiracy theorist, but wouldn't it be handy for Arsenal to have their prized teenager ride an ultra-steep learning curve at a World Cup before returning to the Premiership more mature and raring to go? After all they daren't risk the lad in a vital Premiership game nor the Champions League final.

My conspiracy theory is speculative of course, but England are paying the price for having fawned for too long over Eriksson, a man promoted above his abilities if ever there was one, and whose private life proved beyond the pale even for the less than moral bigwigs at the FA. His record prior to joining England was questionable (a Swedish Terry Venables if you like), and he has hardly delivered the results since which his ridiculous salary warrants. In short, he is a chancer and a con-merchant who non-patriots like myself will be hoping is finally found out in Germany.

Footnote: Charlton have signed US defender Cory Gibbs on a free transfer from Feyenoord. So he's American, plays centre-back but can also play at left-back? Sound familiar.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


The nice thing about supporting Charlton this season is the improvement it makes to your vocabulary. Each weekend you are forced to find new ways to express just how bad we are. An online thesaurus suggests abominable, alarming, appalling, atrocious, bad, deplorable, depressing, dire, disgusting, distressing, dreadful, fearful, frightful..... yep, we are all of those.

I was a little early in calling on Curbs to leave after the Wigan away game with one anonymous reader telling me, "I'm sorry but to think that getting rid of Curbs is the answer is madness." This was before Murphy and Smertin had left, and of course he indeed stayed to try to turn it around. We however limped to the end of the season, and now I think I'm in the vast majority who realised the time had come. Risky perhaps, but it certainly wasn't madness.

Whatever persuaded Sky to screen the Man Utd-Charlton game is beyond me. I don't tend to feel much sympathy for Spurs fans but this was a ridiculous example of outright pandering to the Man Utd hordes from Basingstoke to Brighton. Thankfully we are spared the sight of a slighly above-average Spurs side in 'Champions' League competition as opposed to an Arsenal side that oozes class, but I think even I'd have preferred to have watched the drama unfold at Upton Park.

I'm looking at the league table and wondering how we accumulated 47 points to finish 13th. The only explanation I can come up with (other than a fixture list that allowed us to build some early momentum) is pure unadulterated luck. I've seen enough live and on TV to tell me this and the post-match comments of some opposition managers after losing to us backs it up....Steve Bruce: "We created chance after chance and can not really do any more than that"; Harry Redknapp: "We deserved to win. There was no doubt about that, we were by far the better team."

Unfortunately not only will Curbs have failed to have beaten Man Utd whilst Charlton manager, he'll also have failed to arrest our usual end-of-season slump. We took just 9 points from our final 9 games and won just 4 of our final 17. I've been 'fortunate' enough to have seen four of our final seven games on TV, and I'm going to have to reach for the thesaurus again because they've represented some of the most repugnant performances I think I have ever seen from the club, with no goals scored in the process. We seem completely unable to complete the most basic passes or undertake simple defensive tasks. United could have won by any score they liked today but the four goals they did score were avoidable.

If the rumours about Luke Young moving to West Ham are true (and frankly who could blame him?) then how long before Darren Bent concludes he is bored of chasing lost causes? The best pass our best player received all day was from a United player. I don't have any easy solutions to this mess but the only realistic one I can find is to clear out the deadwood (at least five players on the pitch today should have played their final game for the club) and focus on signing a dozen of the best young prospects in the lower leagues.

It's important for Charlton fans when appraising the new manager to appreciate just how little he has been left to work with. Whilst genuinely excited about having a new man at the helm, I am equally terrified about our prospects for next year. If we continue to rely on good fortune, which in my opinion we have during this campaign, then it will eventually come back to bite us. 'Thanks Curbs' indeed but you stayed a year too long.

Friday, May 05, 2006

And Now, The End is Near

The decision to give Charlton fans the chance to say 'thanks' more formally to Curbs was a nice touch in keeping with the way the club likes to do things.

Perhaps the ovation awarded him at the Valley was a little muted given the surprise factor. Now that we've all had a week to let the news set in, I'm sure the hardy travelling fans at Old Trafford will let him know how grateful we are for fifteen years of loyal service.

There has been some consternation on the message boards about the number of fans who left early last Saturday and thus failed to stay behind to give Curbs a fitting tribute. I think they should save their ire for the Premier League who decided that 5.15pm kick-offs on a Saturday were appropriate. It's only by leaving banks of empty seats (as fans no doubt rush back to fulfil social engagements) that they might begin to stop pandering to their satellite deity. However in light of today's announcement of the new TV deal, there is little hope for optimism.

Setanta is probably known best for its coverage of obscure Irish sport, but now it has to be taken seriously as a big-time player. However the company is certainly well-known on this side of the Atlantic, and probably not too fondly by pub landlords. Anyone who has tried to watch a Saturday 3pm game or a Sunday game in a US pub has probably had some choice words to say to the doorman collecting $20 per person for the priviledge. However the pub keeps little if any of the entry fee - the remainder goes straight into the hands of Setanta who claim they need the extra income in light of the lack of advertising interest in English soccer. It sounds like a racket and to some extents it is - one landlord used the word 'mafia' to describe the company.

Enough about Setanta, Curbs will lead his team out for the final time on Sunday against a team he has failed to register a win against. Given we have beaten each of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea on more than one occasion, it's an unfortunate statistic and there can be no better time to put it to rest.

This week has seen an outpouring of gratitude and affection towards Curbs, whose relationship with the fans has been more one of cold admiration rather than passionate love. I suppose in many ways we've taken him for granted and only time will tell if we'll regret his departure.

The search for a new manager has begun in earnest, and although my own application is making its way across the Atlantic, I'm realistic enough to know the club will probably look elsewhere. Some of the names we have been linked with have been realistic (Coppell, Parkinson, Burley), others have been terrifying (Hoddle) and some have been plain preposterous, much to my chagrin (O'Neill).

The decision is mainly art not science, and hence laying down some simple rules would aid the process. In my view, the new manager must be an intelligent thoughtful man and not simply a former player trading on his reputation. He should view a move to Charlton as a dream move not a stepping stone to a better role. And most importantly he should have the ability to shake up the club with new ideas from the bottom up, beginning at youth level.

There are risks of course in appointing a manager unproven at Premier League level, but how can they prove themselves if smaller clubs like us don't take a chance on them? All four of the managers contesting the Championship play-offs have plenty of attractive qualities and the three losers will surely have one eye on the Charlton post.

It is worth remembering that most of those managers touted for the England job served their apprenticeships at lower-league clubs, most notably Martin O'Neill at Grantham Town and Sam Allardyce at Limerick. The key surely is to ensure candidates are interviewed intensely and referenced properly.

The search begins on Monday - in the meantime let's give Curbs a memorable send-off and put our most disappointing season for years behind us.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Search Ends Here

New York, NY

4 May 2006

Dear Mr Varney

I am writing to apply for the post of First Team Manager as advertised in the Daily Mail. I am confident that you will agree that I am uniquely qualified to fill this role and have attached my CV for your kind perusal.

Having been mascot for the club twice in the late 1970s, I am very comfortable leading the team onto the pitch. Indeed the club captains on those occasions (Lawrie Madden and Leighton Philips) will pay testament to my powers of good fortune (we lost both times).

My first step upon being appointed would be to ensure the club attracts some of the ‘biggest names’ in football. At the top of my transfer shortlist would be the likes of Yves Makaba-Makalamby, Florent Sinama Pongolle, and Stylianos Giannakopoulos. I am also confident that the club’s good contacts at PSV Eindhoven could be enough to persuade Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink that his future too lies at the Valley.

My mantra as a manager in Sunday League football has always been ‘inclusivity and flexibility’ and I intend to encourage this at Charlton too. Those players not selected for the first team will not simply be left to rot away in the reserves; instead they will be expected to lend a hand to other areas of the club. For example, it seems profligate not to use Francis Jeffers’ pace to chase those pesky foxes away from the hallowed turf, whilst it seems a terrible waste not to use Chris Powell’s pleasant demeanour and friendly manner in a customer-facing role on the concourses.

I would also seek to introduce performance-related pay to a greater degree. Under my stewardship the days of million-pound per year salaries are over unless the players deliver. I find players generally perform better when not only hungry to win trophies, but hungry in general. Under my proprietary performance-related pay scales, I estimate the club's wage bill would have been 97% lower in 2005/06 with only Darren Bent earning above the minimum wage.

Motivation is also central to my plans for the club. Having watched Charlton on several scouting missions last season, I was surprised that Thomas Myhre’s heroic performances notably at Liverpool was not rewarded by a chance to play up front the following game. Under my leadership, goalkeepers will be permitted to interchange regularly with the strikers, often during the same game and particularly after making good saves.

I have many more progressive ideas for the team, but I will save them for my first interview. I appreciate the importance of confidentiality in the selection process and will not leak my application to the expectant media hordes currently camped outside my apartment.

Finally, I am willing to consider relocation back to the UK subject to an appropriate package though am confident in my ability to manage the team remotely, and intend initially to deliver my teamtalks via a video conference facility.

Yours sincerely, New York Addick

Referees: Alan Wiley, Graham Poll

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

West Ham the new Charlton?

I couldn't help noticing that with one difficult game left, our neighbours West Ham have 52 points and are sitting in 9th place, the exact same points and position that we held at the end of our first season back in the Premiership in 2000/01. And as if to rub salt into our wounds, they have reached a Cup final after beating four Premiership teams (more than we have beaten in over fifteen FA Cup seasons).

West Ham are managed by Alan Pardew who in my view would almost certainly have been our manager if Curbs had stood down say two years ago, though now he is out of reach. That is unfair on Curbs of course, but it's hard not to reach the conclusion that the clubs are moving in different directions right now.

Although he seems generally disliked, David Pleat is a regular summariser here in the US and for me at least, speaks an awful lot of sense (and would be another interesting mentor should Charlton opt for the young manager route). He pointed out that the core of the current West Ham squad saw a move to West Ham, and more pertinently their recent promotion, as an opportunity to rejuvenate either flagging careers or careers previously spent at smaller clubs. When he then ran off a few names, you could see his point: Konchesky, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Harewood, Zamora, Etherington, Ashton, Collins, Gabbidon, Carroll etc..

And then I started thinking about 'Where do it go wrong for Curbs?' (enough material for another post of course), and I began to reel off our major signings after that fantastic 2003/04 season when we finished 7th......Murphy, Smertin, Ambrose, El Karkouri, Jeffers, Bent M, Bent D, Rommedahl etc.. And what did they all have in common with the exception of Darren Bent, other than having failed to live up to expectations? They all saw a move to Charlton as a step down not a step up. And if I had to pinpoint where it began to go wrong I don't think I would need to look much further.

Whoever the new manager is, he could do a lot worse than to go back-to-basics and return to the model of prior years that served us so well, namely signing hungry players with something to prove. (It's also notable that West Ham play some flowing football whilst ours has been the worst that I can recall but let's not run before we can walk.)

People worry about whether players from the Championship can make the step up to the Premiership, but whilst this is a valid concern for older players, in the case of younger players it is often merely an accident of birth which dictates which club they begin their career with. I have to question if the likes of Kevin Lisbie would have had Premiership 'careers' if they had happened to been born in Hull instead of Hackney.