Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Illusions of Control

Despite a dire season in which we accumulated fewer points than we did in 1998/99, and despite the shock realisation that our signings will now come from the likes of Crewe and Colchester, I feel like I have taken relegation in my stride. It is thus with a clear head that I can begin to assess where it went wrong for Charlton.

As a starting point, it might be reasonable to question whether it went wrong at all, or whether relegation after seven consecutive Premiership seasons actually represented success when viewed in the context of the whole period. After all, when we kicked off the 2006/07 season, only ten of the Premiership clubs had been in the division longer than we had.

There's a tendency to seek answers or explanations to events that were purely random. Witness the media's insatiable demand for public inquiries or resignations, in the wake of events which were supposedly foreseeable, but probably weren't. Seen in this way, perhaps as Charlton fans we had unrealistically raised expectations following our relative success (some of which was itself random), and then have been unreasonably critical of decisions made subsequently as our form dipped.

There's also a tendency to have an 'illusion of control', or a belief that individuals can have influence over outcomes they demonstrably cannot. In its purest form, it's evidenced by casino players having 'lucky numbers' at the roulette wheel, or giving the dice a lucky rub at the craps table. Perhaps as Charlton fans this season, we might reasonably be accused of assuming the Board could have avoided the fate of relegation, if only they had seized control and stopped the rot in time. Maybe instead, they were merely rearranging the proverbial deckchairs aboard the Titanic, unaware perhaps that they'd already hit an iceberg.

Most of us knew the team and the club had gone stale, long before Curbs had left. The poor quality of the football, and an increasingly erratic transfer policy would surely have come to the attention of the Board, as much as it did the fans. His purchase of Marcus Bent for £2.3m (just 18 months after Everton paid £450k) was a parting gift from Curbs which his successors were largely left to unwrap. But even if the Board knew things were heading in the wrong direction, what reasonably could they have done? They would have been vilified if they had sacked Curbs, so understandbly concluded it was better the devil you know (most of the time at least).

Those keen to identify a 'tipping point' tend to focus upon the departures of Scott Parker and Danny Murphy, perhaps the two outstanding central midfielders of our Premiership sojourn. Each clearly felt they could not fulfil their ambitions at Charlton, and it was a double two-fingered salute to the Board who must have wondered if we could ever lose our 'small club' tag. The saddest part of the episodes however is that we were right, and Parker/Murphy were wrong. Their careers have drifted (Parker) or gone into freefall (Murphy), and Charlton have been relegated. It's like the unhappy former lovers that meet several years later, and dare to whisper, "We could have been good together, you know?"

If randomness plays a vital role in sport, then the best we could have hoped for from our Board post-Curbs, was that they consistently made sensible decisions diligently, and without bias. For example, we all now know that Djimi Traore was a terrible signing for £2m, but could they reasonably have known it at the time? I don't recall a groundswell of surprise or indignation when announced, which probably suggested they couldn't.

And likewise with the appointment of Iain Dowie. As soon as Curbishley left, I immediately signalled him as the outstanding realistic candidate, and it seems the Board felt the same way. If what ultimately transpired could not reasonably have been foreseen, and if his signings could not have been criticised (either in terms of who, or how much) at the time, then specifically his appointment should not be blamed for our subsequent fate. It would now appear that Billy Davies would have been a better manager, but the additional evidence of his outstanding season at Derby was not available to us in the summer.

Unfortunately the decision to appoint Les Reed, not merely as a caretaker manager (which would have been perfectly understandable), but in a 'permanent' capacity remains as ludicrous today as it did at the time. As early as immediately after Reed's first game at Reading, I wrote "...the Board have put their credibility on the line with their initial appointment of Dowie, his subsequent premature dismissal and the appointment of a rookie manager with all the badges but little of the fiery presence that we so desperately need..." If all we asked for from the Board was unbiased and diligent decision-making, we were let down on that occasion.

If Dowie's appointment was understandable, Reed's smacked of the 'easy way out' for the Board, perhaps nervous about dealing with a devil they didn't know again. It was the single biggest (and more importantly somewhat foreseeable) mistake they made, and the only positive outcome was that it bought us some time, whilst West Ham also pressed the panic button and sent Pardew our way.

The damage done by Reed's seven games in charge went further than merely accumulating just four points, and is perhaps best evidenced by the dire FA Cup performance at Forest which would have been almost inconceivable now, but occurred before Pards had time to stamp his authority on his demotivated squad. He was required to put out fires before he could contemplate rebuilding the charred wreckage he inherited. It even got me thinking, is it conceivable that we would have accumulated more than 34 points had we stayed loyal to Dowie throughout? Think about it, it's not as ludicrous as it sounds (though we may not have stayed up).

But in truth, we'll never know if Dowie might have kept us up, or Curbs for that matter. The £11m budget given to Dowie could have been spent a million different ways, some of them would have been better, but plenty would have been worse. Unfortunately, we only get to see a single path of history, and in this case it wasn't a good one.

That path has taken us to the present, where we find ourselves back in the Championship (the level at which we have played the vast majority of our post-War football), with a well-regarded manager at the helm and a financial situation which, whilst weaker than before, is still considerably stronger than most of our new peers. Acceptance is an important goal on the way to healing, and as we look forward to next season, it's worth recalling that some things are just meant to be.


At 4:44 PM, Blogger Chicago Addick said...

Well written as usual NYA.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

The Board are Charlton through and through and unlike West Ham and Chelsea owners, they have an affiliation to the club, that goes beyond just being a business. Dowie was not a bad choice and we seem to forgot, he had to contend with, one of the toughest baptism's imaginable. The first seven games on paper looked pointless and they nearly were.
We will always wonder if Dowie had been given more time, what the end result might of been. He was turning things round, but I wonder if it was more than just results.

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So why did Dowie get sacked so quickly? It seems like more than just on-field performance.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

It appears there were other factors behind his dismissal. I'm not suggesting he shouldn't have gone, merely that the decision to appoint him in the first place was not a bad one (based on what was known at the time).

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Westie said...

NYA - I thought the explanation the Mr Murray gave at the first fans' forum for the appointment of Les Reed was very clear and convincing...

As I recall it, it went something like this: They were in a hole after Dowie's leaving and, mid season, there were no obvious candidates, so Les was the obvious stand in. However, it was decided that if he was made 'temporary' the focus of the media and the team would be on the 'how much longer' question that having a temp in implies. So he was announced as a permanent.

Obviously it didn't work out and when Pards became available it was a bit of a no brainer.

My impression was that the board had done the best it could in appointing Dowie - and in the process had discovered that there were very few candidates out there who were of any interest. when Dowie left, they simply tried to make the best of what had turned into a bad job...

At 6:12 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

If so (regarding Reed) then I think it backfired badly and it made us a laughing stock in the eyes of the media, and understandably so to a degree.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NYA - I agree with you; Dowie's appointment, when viewed at the time of appointment, was the correct one. I guess my 5:44pm question is really whether Dowie should have been sacked or not? If it was simply a question of on-field performance (and the occasional off-field visit to the motorway) I think we would have been somewhere between 34 and 41 points if he had stayed. If the other factors were really things that would have eroded the team's confidence in Dowie over the course of the season, then I'd be more inclined to accept the sacking.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Pedro45 said...

Great post NYA. Sums up the whole season for me...Mistakes yes, but how they affected the season overall is impossible to call.

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous marco se7 said...

for all his reported failures we must not forget that dowie brought in scott carson on loan which was one of the few successes of the season.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

Good post as usual NYA and yours is the one of the first blogs I read along with FV and CA, I still maintain that any manager with the squad inherited would have struggled to get any more points than Dowie, after the first seven games. There must have been a clash with the Board. Who knows but its a good debate.

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear NYA,
As always a well thought through critique of the season.
I agree with NDA that the first part of the season looked very hard on paper and its a miracle that we beat Bolton so it could have been worse. Dowie had a tough start but also had the benefit of £11mill to spend- which was largely wasted(except Carson which was a loan).Traore was known to make mistakes-seen plenty on MOTD whilst he was at Liverpool- but most CAFC fans give players a chance.What about the managers?

The draw against Watford rightly signalled the end for Dowie- Watford looked scared and whatever tactics were employed by Dowie seemed to put them at ease and rattle us.Alarm bells!
Pardew has had the benefit of some easier home fixtures, some money to spend to improve the squad(??Thatcherand...??Bourgherrra) and a fan base desperate for a saviour.
Expectations of beating Man U/Arsenal/Chelsea were nil-but hey!WHU won 2 and Sheff also picked up points- so he didn't do well there. Weak performances particularly did for us over Easter.One goal against City would have beaaten them.where was the inspiration?Performances under Pardew were initially better but against the weaker opponents then faded away. Team selection- why no chance for Holland when he was giving everything in those run in matches?

So to Les Reed- he was the one manager who did'nt have the chance to improve the squad-he had some hand in recruiting ZZ (better than the midfielders we had)which helped Pardew.
Reeds failings as a manager were 1) results(losing to lower league opposition was commonplace under AC -so why the hysteria)
2)he was associated with the previous(failed )regime

-all the rest was pretty much a personnal (media ??)inspired attack
(eg Mike Parry TalkSport"who is he")
1.He's fat-(who is'nt over 50?)
2.he wears spectacles(alot of us do)
3.He gives poor post match media interviews (what!how bad is steve Coppell?)
4.He never managed a football team before (if we only appointed people who had done it before nobody new would get a chance)

These are all critiscms I heard or read on blogs etc.He was Charlton and deserved a chance and more support from the fans than he got. I'm afraid that you too joined in the frenzy. None of that helped.

Where do we stand now? Pardew has it all to do. Most think its a forgone conclusion that we will be promoted-we have that big cash advantage- but Pardew has to build a team from it. He has a high opinion of himself and alot of fans are prepared to go along with it.Fine-me to- I'm prepared to give him a chance. But he did take us down-
-with enormous ground swell of support(clutching at straws)
-with money to improve the squad
-and only playing medicore football
David Whyte-Whyte-Whyte

At 8:42 PM, Blogger worcestershireleaburn said...

NYA, you certainly haven't been Fooled by Randomness! I'm just finding it hard to get used to playing in the lower league. Mind you, when I first started going to the Valley it was in the dark mid 70s Third Division days, playing the likes of Rochdale and Chesterfield, and seeing Eamon Dunphy poncing about! Up the Reds!!

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

Not surprisingly perhaps, 'Fooled by Randomness' is the best book I have ever read. An essential tome if ever there was one.

At 9:02 PM, Anonymous sillav nitram said...

can you please give me sound evidence why Dowie was a reasonable choice because it completely fails me? i think it was more because there was no one else after Davies backtracked.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Mikey126 said...

I was also in the "get Dowie" camp, partly because I rather liked what I'd seen of him as a manager, partly because I hoped it would really annoy Palace.

But Traore was the first name I looked for when Liverpool came to town. I thought then, and still think now, that he was a huge donkey. All that changed when he signed was that he became our donkey and other teams could now be rubbing their hands in glee when his name appeared on our teamsheet. That was the first hint to me that Dowie might not have been the Messiah that I'd thought.

At 1:04 AM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

Sillav, I think Dowie did a reasonable (albeit not outstanding) job at Palace, and probably impressed the Board with his ideas and knowledge. He seems well regarded in the game generally, and despite the Charlton experience, he was swiftly picked up by Coventry (after rumours that Leicester were also interested).

At the time (May 06) the most realistic candidates in my view were Davies, Newell, McCarthy, Parkinson, Taylor, Dowie, Lee, Burley, and Hoddle, and whilst it's perfectly reasonable to say you preferred one of the others, there is no guarantee they would have come (nor frankly have been any better).

At 5:08 AM, Blogger JH said...

Very philosophical mister NYA. While you're in this frame of mind have you given any thought to Marcus Aurelius?

"Does aught befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the Universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web."

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

Excellent post. Dowie has not exactly shone at Coventry, including a recent defeat by Leamington in the Lord Mayor's cup. My wife said he was not up to managing Charlton and I think she was proved right. Steve Brown recently commented that the expectations level for next season is a problem and I think he is right.

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always feel you are a bit harsh on Traore - everytime I checked the portsmouth team sheet he was on it and they have some decent defenders at their disposal.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Blackheath Addicted said...

In retrospect it was always going to take time for so many new players under a new manager to gel and the very difficult start to the season created pressure that Dowie and the players could not handle. Reed did not come to the club as a manager, found himself thrust into the role, and when it didn't work out (and when Pardew became available) stood aside and has since maintained his dignity.

Come on, why not just blame Traore. We were winning 1-0 away at West Ham on day one when he got himself sent off. If we had won that day how different things might have been.

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Ralph Milne said...

Enjoyable reading (post and comments), nice to hear some thoughtful analysis as opposed to what I get in the office 'that dowie was a c*&t' etc etc.

I think the point about the first seven games being a nightmare (thus contributing to negative momentum)is valid. When I saw the fixture list I fully expected us to be bottom in Sept, however I expected us to claw our way to mid table by xmas, how wrong can you be!

I kind of empathise with the assertion that expectations levels next season being dangerously optimistic but a good mate of mine is a Birmingham City season ticket holder and he is adamant it is a very poor division and that Brum went up in spite of Steve Bruce not because of him.


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