Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Reality Check

During a particularly boring meeting yesterday, I took the trouble to review how our squad for next season currently looks. Unfortunately it was a useful reality check to my initially bullish outlook for our prospects next season.

When we won the Championship title in 2000, we did it with a stable and balanced team of good proven players. Each of Kiely, Rufus, Powell, Kinsella, Stuart, Robinson, and Newton started 30 games or more. The achievement of that combination of balance and quality will dictate our season.

GOALKEEPER: Presuming that Thomas Myhre is on his way, it is hard to imagine we will begin the season with Darren Randolph as first choice, and Rob Elliot as back up. Hence this is clearly a priority area for a new signing, and given the Premiership clubs' preference for three quality keepers, we will probably be forced to opt for an ageing keeper on a short-term deal (Maik Taylor?). Verdict: Urgent need for reinforcement.

RIGHT BACK: I would not rule out the possibility of Luke Young staying at the club, though his England ambitions would suffer. Assuming he does go however, and with Kish already gone, we will probably have two youngsters Osei Sankofa and Yassin Moutouakil fighting for the No. 2 shirt, with Simon Walton as a possible option. Personally I remain unconvinced by Sankofa, even at Championship level, whilst Moutouakil must consitute a risk despite the potential signalled by French U-21 captaincy. Verdict: If Young leaves, a cheaper replacement may be warranted.

LEFT BACK: With Hreidarsson gone, Ben Thatcher would appear to have the left-back spot all to himself, unless Cory Gibbs both gets fit and stays at the club, or Kelly Youga is ready to step up after his loan spell(s) in League One. Whilst he may yet surprise us and justify his transfer fee, Gibbs remains the 'mystery man' at the club, not least because we didn't have a manager when we signed him! As for Thatcher, after a promising start his form tailed off badly and I am particularly concerned about his inability (or unwillingness) to get forward Chris Powell-style. Verdict: In the absence of a Phoenix-like revival for Gibbs, we surely need reinforcements.

CENTRE BACK: Following the signing of Jose Semedo, we at least seem to have the bases covered here, suggesting rumours that Anthony Gardner will be the makeweight in the Darren Bent deal are probably false. Both El Karkouri and Hreidarsson have moved on, but in addition to Semedo, we have signed Paddy McCarthy, and have the engimatic Madjid Bougherra likely to line up alongside the Irishman. The future of Jon Fortune is unclear (presumably Pards didn't fancy him given his loan spell at Stoke), but Soulemayne Diawara may just be the joker in our pack next season, not only because he stays but because he is the foundation upon which we build our promotion campaign. Verdict: In good shape.

CENTRE MIDFIELD: The mere phrase 'central midfield' sends shudders down the spine of any Charlton fan that remembers when the likes of Kinsella, Jensen, Parker, Murphy or Smertin graced the Valley turf. The irony of our relegation is that our entire central midfield is now back at its 'true level' but a combination of Holland, Faye, Hughes, Walton, and a (rarely fit) Reid does not strike me as a promotion-winning one. If Darren Bent is sold, this is the one area which justifies a £3-4m type investment in a single player. Verdict: Sorting out the central midfield is long overdue.

WIDE MIDFIELD: Despite having the various talents of Rommedahl, Thomas and Ambrose at their disposal, our three managers last season never managed to tap their obvious potential. With Rommedahl almost certain to leave, and Thomas likely to follow, there is a clear opportunity for Darren Ambrose to prove he is a cut above the rest of this division. Lloyd Sam meanwhile showed glimpses of his promise, but he is unlikely to be ready yet for a regular berth in the Championship, despite experience at this level at both Southend and Sheffield Wednesday. Martin Christensen remains the unknown quantity meanwhile. Verdict: Given Pardew's preference for 4-4-2, this must require some more experienced reinforcement, especially if Thomas leaves.

FORWARDS: The brilliance of Darren Bent disguised the horrible lack of depth in this department last season. Hasselbaink flopped and has left; Marcus Bent scored just one goal meanwhile, and has precisely the wrong attitude for the promotion battle about to commence. Recognising the problem, Pards moved quickly to secure the services of big Chris Iwelumo and Luke Varney who certainly on paper at least, should have plenty to threaten Championship defences with. Kevin Lisbie's tenure at the club will surely end this summer (I'm not so sure - Ed.), but James Walker and Chris Dickson should provide the requisite hunger and youthful exhuberance to provide some healthy competition. Having said that, rumours that we are linked with Jason Roberts or Rob Earnshaw suggest Pards knows this won't be enough (and rightly so). Verdict: One more experienced striker will leave us well-covered.

Our signings so far suggest a preference for youth, and it's probably a sensible strategy. Whilst we ought to be firmly in the promotion shake-up, nothing is assured and this will at least leave us in better shape longer-term if we fail to bounce straight back. Whilst the Charlton futures particularly of Diawara, Young, Thomas, Gibbs, and Marcus Bent need clarifying, realism suggests that we need to be seeing at least 5-6 new signings between now and Aug 11 in order to remain optimistic that we can justify our bookmaker favouritism. A goalkeeper would be a good start.


At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Stefco said...

Another good indepth analysis of our current situation NYA.

However, on the Lloyd Sam front, I think he has the potential to have a very good season for us. When he made his appearances last season, he looked dangerous, energetic & capable. He had bags of spirit & hunger, which was something that the vast majority of the other players didn't. The thing is, if we don't give him a shot, we'll have another Lisbie on our hands if we're not careful. He'll be 23 in September, so he's hardly a fresh plucked chicken from the Academy set-up anymore. Obviously it will hinge on the signings to come & players to go as to whether he gets a proper shot in the side, but I don't see why he shouldn't be given the chance to shine anyway.
Get in there Lloyd!!

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Pedro45 said...

I was having much the same sort of thoughts NYA... My idea is the defence is now sorted (even if Young goes); so are the forwards (if Dazza stays then Lisbie can go, otherwise he'll probably stay too) leaving four plus Big Benty. Wide we have Sam, Ambrose, and Christensen plus maybe Thomas if nobody buys him, which should be ample in this league. That leaves a goalie, but I think Randolph may be used, and midfield where we could do with help, but with Walton, Holland, Faye, Reid and others, not too much is required. I think we'll see maybe just one or two more solid signings, unless Dazza goes, in which case we might see a couple of extra "chances".

At 4:43 PM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

Excellent and very in-depth anaylsis NY
One question, can we take players on loan when the transfer window is closed, if so I would be tempted to go with Randolph, he has to be blooded at sometime, but I suppose with our desperation to get back to the premiership, we wont take the risk. Im confident with our forward line, but I agree our midfield is crying out for ball winning experienced player to compliment Reid and Ambrose. Like you I am not as confident as many. The team may take time to gel and at the moment there is no comparision with the excellant team that bounced us back at the first attempt.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

Another excellent analysis. Hughes is going to Hull so the centre midfield situation is even thinner than you assume. Lisbie is on his way to Gillingham. I am not so convinced by Lloyd Sam as a lot of people are. As the squad stands at the moment, it is not a promotion winning side, although I have more hope of Randolph than you do. But we still need another keeper


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