Monday, February 25, 2008

Black Pool

I've never cared much for the seaside, and Saturday's result merely emphasises why. Ironically it was the first time we have scored three goals on the road since Middlesbrough on 28 Aug 2005, demolishing the Teesiders that day 3-0.

A year ago today my son was born, and just a few hours later, we demolished West Ham 4-0. He had to learn what it was like to be a true Charlton supporter some day, so why not during the weekend of his first birthday? Welcome to the real world, son.

As painful as it was listening to the commentary yesterday, there was also something reassuringly warm and nostalgic about such a rare scoreline, bringing back memories of the following encounters from the last 30 years:

26 AUG 00: Arsenal 5, Charlton 3
19 OCT 85: Brighton 3, Charlton 5
2 MAR 85: Charlton 5, Barnsley 3
3 MAR 79: Newcastle 5, Charlton 3

After the aforementioned performance at the Riverside Stadium, I wrote the following:

"It is hard to recall seeing us dismantle a quality side away from home in such style."

We had just begun 2005/2006 with three successive wins, and the optimism of Charlton fans was extremely high, yet just nine months later, Alan Curbishley would be on his way out, having led us to a disappointing 13th place despite such an outstanding start.

if our optimism that day was ultimately misplaced, might it be reasonable to conclude that the overwhelming sense of pessimism after Saturday's result is too?

Alan Pardew is certainly coming in for some genuine and widespread criticism, for perhaps the first time since he took over in late-2006. Most fans were patient because they recognised the mess he inherited, and moreover we hinted we might pull off an amazing escape from relegation, even if in truth we fell a long way short.

After ten games of this campaign meanwhile, we had accumulated a highly respectable 19 points, and I joined a thousand or so other Addicks for a trip to Molineux on 20 Oct, in which our starting eleven contained fully eight Pardew signings. It seemed that he had been able to create a team in his own image, and the results were coming through as well as we had hoped.

Unfortunately as it transpired, our performance that afternoon was dire, and I wrote the following day that:

"It was such a flat performance, and I can only trust that we've been considerably better than that during the 7-game unbeaten run that I've missed. If not, then my insistence that we are the Championship winners elect are horribly wide of the mark."

Sadly I really was horribly wide of the mark, and just 33 points from 24 games since that afternoon are proof enough, because that's lower mid-table form, not promotion form.

I like Alan Pardew. He has a managerial record at his previous clubs which stands up to considerable scrutiny, and he has the requisite combination of intelligence and aloofness which tends to mark out the best managers. There's probably a little more style than substance at times, but then if he had all the required credentials, he'd hardly be plying his trade at Charlton.

His League record as Addicks manager reads as follows:


CHAMPIONSHIP P34 W14 D10 L10 Pts 52

TOTAL P53 W19 D17 L17 Pts 74

Unless you believed in a Premiership miracle, or unless you (like me initially) underestimated the challenge of a post-relegation Championship campaign, then I would argue his record is perfectly acceptable, albeit not outstandingly impressive.

Although an imperfect comparison in so many ways, Alan Curbishley's overall win record as Addicks boss was 38.1%, compared to Pardew's so far of 35.9% (or 41.2% in the Championship alone). For reference, after 53 games as sole Addicks boss from 1995/96 (when in fairness, a degree of stability had been established), Curbishley's record was as follows:

CHAMPIONSHIP P53 W19 D21 L13 Pts 78

A fairer head-to-head comparison would compare his first 34 games as sole manager only:

CHAMPIONSHIP P34 W14 D13 L7 Pts 55

Few Charlton fans were clamouring for Curbishley's head at this point despite just a three-point improvement (quite the opposite in fact), so it must all be about expectations, and perhaps false ones at that.

I wrote at considerable length about the lunacy of Sam Allardyce's sacking, and watching Newcastle United's antics ever since has been comical, both on and off the pitch. In short, I find the regularity with which clubs change managers to be absurd, illogical and wholly self-defeating.

A disproportionate emphasis on short-term results, in which randomness plays such a key factor, in most cases will hold a club back, rather than propel it forward. Listening to the Scouse morons who rang 6-0-6 after Liverpool's defeat to Barnsley, I was desperate to ask them how they would have felt about Rafa Benitez had Brian Howard skied his last-minute shot into the Kop?

Presumably they would have viewed him considerably more positively, suggesting that the Spaniard's continued employment should depend upon the degree to which a journeyman midfielder has focused on his shooting practice. Insane.

Whether or not Pardew is the best man to be Charlton manager is moot, if only because it's entirely subjective, and has a supply dimension as much as a demand one. I would hand Pardew his P45 myself if David Moyes or Arsene Wenger fancied a challenge in SE7, but until then, he is the best we've got.

Charlton's board (who have rarely let us down) need only satisfy themselves that viewed in the context of some reasonable targets, and limited by a hefty dose of realism, that Pardew is meeting expectations as a highly-paid football manager. Long-term on-pitch results will be the ultimate arbiter, but equally important short-term factors include team morale, training methodology, transfer policy, and the state of youth development. I see no reason at all to panic about the current state of our club, and Pardew's role within it.

The expectations of Charlton fans were clearly too high this season, mine included. However, dashed as those dreams of automatic promotion may be right now, we perhaps have to stop and wonder exactly what it is we are wishing for.

Surely promotion to the Premiership should not be the goal per se, but a mere stepping stone towards the Premiership stability that we crave, and at one point not so long ago we thought we perhaps had. There's little point in going up if we've little hope of staying there; arguably it'd be more damaging.

The Premiership is a very different place today compared to 1999/2000 when we last won promotion; the following season Charlton finished 9th and fellow promoted side Ipswich finished 5th. Today the three promoted sides from 2006/07 occupy 15th, 17th and 20th respectively, and Derby in particular have become an embarrassment to the world's supposed greatest league.

If we're going to win promotion, let's make sure we have some reasonable hope of staying there. Perhaps Pardew's masterplan is to build a team that might be good enough to win promotion, not just this season, but next season, and so on and so forth.

For the most part, he was not tempted to pick up faded Premiership stars in the transfer windows, but has sought to blend exciting young talent (Moutaouakil, Varney, Bougherra, Semedo etc..) with some experienced Championship performers (McCarthy, Gray, Iwelumo etc..). So far they haven't blended as well as we hoped, but it's hardly been a disaster (we're 6th after all). Next season, they might.

Some fans have suggested he might be using Charlton as a springboard, but personally I'd be rather disappointed if this wasn't the case. We should only expect the same loyalty from managers as the typical Chairman offers to them.

Moreover, a quick scan of the Premiership clubs suggests that none are likely to be forthcoming with an offer any time soon, so to the extent that he had held any such thoughts, he'd be advised to focus squarely on the job in hand.

Thus if in due course a better offer does come along, it'll be because of an impressive turnaround performed at The Valley, in which case I suspect most would grudgingly wish him well. In the meantime, we ought to wish him well whilst he's our manager too.


At 8:18 AM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

Good post. If Pards went for any reason it would be Phil Parkinson and would that be an improvement? Fans are always ready to blame the manager, but not the players and a number were well off the pace at Blackpool. I know the manager selects them and the tactics, but he is not on the pitch.

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A week ago I said I would rather be in our shoes than Watford's or Stoke's - because AP is building a team that plays the right sort of football, that in turn should be a platform for our long term future.

So I'm right behind you NYA, on what I think is a more strategic approach by Board and manager.

I just bloody hurts in the meantime...

I wonder if we ought to view the number of non league and fringe players we have picked up in this long term context.

Pembury Addick

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I completely agree. To be fair though, I have yet to see too much evidence that fans are pointing the finger at Pardew. We are all understandably disappointed, but I think we are, on the whole, more upset with the 'quality' of the opposition, rather than that of our team or manager.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Ken Jennings said...

Despite my disdain for players being publicly criticised and for a selective 'remoteness' when things are not going well, I generally like Pardew and I think he has shown his talents in bringing in young players with real potential. I think the results will really show next season. Had we not been relegated, he would have had to probably go another route (eg. big spending on mercenaries, etc.) just to stand a chance of staying up while his young team developed.
Arsene Wenger's results clearly prove patience is most definitely a virtue.
But whoever the manager is, I believe he should take his 'lumps' when the team fails to perform -and I don't mean not live up to fans "over expectations". I would suggest that this season, the hype emanating from the Manager has perhaps contributed to unrealistic expectations. Hence the backlash from disappointed fans.
It might be wise to leave it to the Club's PR to try and get more bums in seats.


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