Friday, August 01, 2008

Bougherr Off

The big Charlton summer sale continued last night when Madjid Bougherra's move to Glasgow Rangers was confirmed.

Seemingly given the choice to live in Seville, Birmingham or Glasgow, he has opted for Scotland's largest city. It must have been their famed Mediterranean-esque climate.

His likely sale has been rumoured for some time, and whilst he did not exactly fulfil his potential at Charlton, I'm still sad to see him go since I've a weakness for stylish defenders.

His career started badly after joining the Addicks in Jan 2007, firstly when a calf strain ruled him out of some early games, and then when he sustained a knee injury during his debut at Manchester United. As a result, he started just two games during the second half of our relegation season, and much of Pardew's raison d'etre for the purchase had presumably gone away.

Last season he was more influential, starting 24 times in the Championship, most coinciding with our more promising form before Xmas. Unfortunately he missed two months of the season during February and March, and then by the time he returned our season, and now clearly his Charlton career, had fallen by the wayside.

It is fair to say we never really got to see those famed runs out of defence, that Sheffield Wednesday fans loved him for. Given he was also occasionally responsible for our annoyingly regular defensive mishaps, he never remotely looked like a £2.5million player for us.

Frustratingly he had all the attributes required to eventually become a fan's cult hero, but alas it wasn't to be. Hence whilst our squad is now scarily thin (see below), the club ought to be congratulated for retaining his transfer value during the 18 months he was a Charlton player.

Some aspects of the club's activities this summer have given cause for concern however. The information emanating from the club has been less than satisfactory in my view for example, whilst our pre-season schedule appears hastily put together, even if it has only yielded confidence-boosting wins.

If you disagree about the lack of information, then tell me for sure what happened to Ben Thatcher (using the website as your sole investigatory tool). The site confirmed that fellow full-backs Powell, Gibbs and Sankofa were released, but what about 'Gentle Ben'? The only mention of his whereabouts since May appeared as a footnote in a story about the loan of Darren Randolph.

Funnily enough, Pards himself said on 4 May (about Grant Basey), "..I'd like to keep Ben Thatcher at the club as well - so Grant may have to play a little further up field." I've no great desire to see him play in a Charlton shirt again, but it'd be nice to have it confirmed either way (not least given that the gaffer paid £500,000 for him just before he bought Bougherra).

With only eight games to go until opening day, by my reckoning our three first-choice goalkeepers are quite possibly unavailable, and we have just two recognised centre-backs (Hudson and Fortune).

Most fans have the club's longer term interests at heart, and thus accept that it is not a sensible risk/reward to 'go for broke' this season. Nonetheless, we are entitled to be concerned having seen six senior players depart (McCarthy, Bent, Iwelumo, Bougherra, Thatcher, Powell), and only one join (Hudson). The recruitment of promising youngsters like Stuart Fleetwood is laudable to some degree, but surely only if they are adding to an existing stable core.

There are obvious doubts presumably too about the long-term Charlton future of Zheng and Thomas , and let's not forget Amdy Faye (who may end up playing centre-back versus Swansea at this rate). And of course there are also injuries currently with the likes of Ambrose, Holland and McLeod.

Eagle-eyed observers may have noticed that the 'players' section on the official website, has suddenly added all sorts of virtually unknown lads to the club's roster (Messrs Solly, Uchechi, Jensen and Yussuff for example).

I always welcome the sight of our own youngsters coming through, albeit not quite so many all at the same time. The drop-down menu may be reassuringly longer, but the message is still unfortunately the same.

It is hard to believe the club will begin the season with the current squad (or less). Surely at the very least, a couple of loan players (maybe a keeper and centre-back) will be confirmed in the next few days? That's what they keep implying anyhow.

Our financial position is bound to be precarious at this point, but it appears the club did not even have the ability to 'bridge' any delay between the sale of outgoing players, and the purchase of replacements. With just one pre-season friendly left to play, this is hardly ideal preparation. Not a criticism, just an observation of our new and rather worrying situation.

In terms of players likely to play more than a marginal role this season, our squad is presently as follows:

Goalkeepers: Weaver, Elliott, Christie
Full Backs: Youga, Moutaouakil, Basey
Centre Backs: Hudson, Fortune
Central Midfielders: Holland, Faye, Sinclair, Semedo, Zheng, Shelvey, Racon
Wide Midfielders: Ambrose, Thomas, Sam, Wagstaff
Strikers: Varney, Gray, Todorov, McLeod, Fleetwood, Dickson

The word that jumps out of that current squad is 'imbalanced'. Too many strikers and midfielders, and far too little cover behind. It's possible of course that Semedo is infact a defender for example, but then again perhaps Basey is really a midfielder.

A realistic first-choice eleven of say Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Thomas, Shelvey, Holland, Ambrose, Gray, Varney, should at least be competitive in this division. However, just a couple of injuries would require us to call upon the wholly untested likes of Racon, Sinclair, or Fleetwood. They may rise to the occasion of course, but we learnt last season that the Championship is no place to continue one's footballing education.

If Pards can produce a play-off side from the list above, then in my view he really has proved he's still one of the best young managers around. As some other fans have mentioned, it feels like the 'old Charlton' is back, and this may be the catalyst for the return of that fans/squad togetherness that was missing last season. After all, who's to say Jonjo Shelvey isn't the next Scott Parker or Lee Bowyer?

However we would also be kidding ourselves if we didn't at least acknowledge the non-negligible probability that we may be fighting another relegation campaign, particularly if injuries take their toll again.

Pards forged his reputation at Reading by moulding promising young players (eg. Nicky Shorey), with more experienced hands (eg. Phil Parkinson, Darren Caskey, John Salako). He now has the unwanted opportunity to do so again.


At 7:23 AM, Blogger Kappacino Kid said...

A really good analysis of our current situation, but it has now ruined my breakfast, I had been hiding behind blind optimism till now.

At 7:33 AM, Blogger bristol addick said...

Totally agree about the information vacuum from the club.

Of the squad you listed, we also have to factor in the injuries. Two keepers out; in central midfield Holland is out, Zheng unavailable and Faye (eternal optimist here!) on the way. Ambrose is out too plus three strikers - Dickson, Todorov and McLeod. That would narrow the squad to the 16 needed for the Swansea match! Just like the old days!

Beats me how 442/Setanta reckon we'll finish 3rd and 5th respectively. If we make the top ten, Pards is a genius!

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Terry Thomas said...

Two things that Pardew said early in pre season are 1) that not being in the play off gave a head start over other clubs in bringing in new players - so where are they? - 2) That we would only bring in players who strengthen the first team - so Fleetwood will be starting against Swansea.

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article.

Two ommissions however.

Both Josh Wright & Aswad Thomas were loaned out last term and did well. I see both of them featuring and surprising a lot of people this term. Including our own fans.
Suddenly not so gloomy after all.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we avoid a relegation battle I'll be surprised. Having been more optimistic last season than I can ever remember, I am at a complete opposite this season.

Looks like realising the potential of players is going to be our defining factor this season - if AP doesn't find the best from the kids Varney and Grey we are in trouble.

Love to know what target the Board have set him.

On the plus side I got a new shirt for the first time since 92 - I think it looks outstanding. Hope I won't want to burn it in May!

Pembury Addick

At 6:08 PM, Anonymous johnny73 said...

A fine article.

Will it be Promotion or Relegation. The answer to me screams mid-table.

I've argued for a long time that the key problem last year was expectation, the players always seemed to be restricted by pressure.
Well that's all out the window now, until we win 3 or 4 games on the trot!


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