Friday, October 31, 2008

Barnsley preview

I wouldn't usually speak of 'relegation six-pointers' in early-November, but it's hard to escape the feeling that this genuinely is one.

Two draws in four games for Charlton, both involving relatively late equalisers, is a somewhat promising sign although we certainly did not deserve to win either it would seem. I'm not yet convinced that this a team 'in recovery' as the manager puts it, because the patient stills seems very sick.

Pardew's tinkering is becoming a real frustration for fans and presumably some players alike. By dropping two of last Saturday's stand-out performers (and not even retaining them for the bench), one is again forced to wonder what big 'game plan' he has in mind for Charlton, if any. After all, it's not as if his constant tinkering is working - one win in eight tells you as much.

After taking six points from three games at the start to the season, Pardew could not resist tinkering at Preston (by moving Nicky Bailey out of central midfield) and he has barely stopped resisting since as we slid down the table. The result is a very worrying lack of consistency, and a team that is clearly less than the sum of its parts.

Pards implied this week that only four players are essentially guaranteed a place (Weaver, Hudson, Cranie and Bailey). This is broadly correct, although only if Cranie is operated in central defence where he has impressed. However he acts as if Luke Varney is also guaranteed a place, and to a lesser degree Matt Holland; neither warrants the same special treatment.

I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Cranie, Bailey, Wright, Sam, Bouazza, Todorov, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Holland, Ambrose, McLeod.

It's hard to avoid the vital nature of this fixture. It is almost a 'must-win' game for the Addicks, or at least a 'must perform well'. A defeat meanwhile will pile more pressure on Pardew, and frankly rightly so. Fans want to see more consistency, and greater evidence of a long-term plan for moving up the Championship, rather than hear more Pardew post-match spin.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 1 (Todorov) Barnsley 1 (Campbell-Ryce). Att: 19,982.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ipswich preview

Thanks to my unhealthy obsession with Charlton, I'm one of the few people who'd rather be in Suffolk tomorrow night, than in beautiful Paris where I am spending a couple of nights on business. Thus unfortunately I will be forced to give one of our most convenient away games a miss.

There were certainly some promising signs during the second half on Saturday, but the first half was so extraordinarily dire that one can't simply dismiss it as an anomaly.

Pardew's team selection will be especially interesting, as he will surely be tempted to opt for the seemingly 'safer' options of the likes of Matt Holland. This would be a mistake despite Ipswich's usually admirable home form.

Most fans will be looking most keenly for Luke Varney's name on the teamsheet (or absence thereon), because patience is running out with our misfiring ever-present striker. Some might argue that dropping him achieves nothing, and of course if Pards persists with him then eventually he will score. But what will the team overall lose by doing so in the meantime?

A spell on the bench, perhaps with his pace unveiled with 15-20 mins to go would seem an ideal way of taking some pressure off his shoulders. In the meantime, either Izale McLeod or Chris Dickson deserves a proper go, if only by virtue of Varney running out of chances.

The fixture list has strangely reversed the fixtures in just over three weeks, but Ipswich will go into the game with greater confidence given they are unbeaten since our 2-1 victory, our last.

This is the type of tricky away fixture which we need to show we have the courage to take something from. Pards too ought to show the courage to pick virtually the same somewhat inexperienced side that finished the game on Saturday.

I hope he selects as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Basey, Cranie, Hudson, Bailey, Wright, Sam, Bouazza, Todorov, McLeod. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Holland, Varney, Ambrose.

NY Addick predicts: Ipswich 2 (Lisbie, Counago), Charlton 1 (Todorov). Att: 20, 082.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Charlton Take Half Measures

Whilst sat on the JFK Airport tarmac at approximately 9pm last night, the Captain on my flight back announced that a computer glitch would require at least a 3-hour delay.

As a result, I experienced the sort of horror that only someone who had chosen to return to the UK 36-hours earlier than otherwise necessary (purely to attend a football match) could appreciate. Indeed despite being a nervous flyer at the best of times, I might have been willing to attempt a take off even if the computer was flashing, "ENGINE NOT WORKING."

We eventually landed at 12.15pm, and I raced through an uncharacteristically quiet Heathrow to my hire car and made it to The Valley in time for kick-off, breathing a huge sigh of relief as I did so. By about 3.45pm however, I had begun to question my sanity entirely.

Pards made some genuine changes to the side, bringing in debutant Josh Wright, Izale McLeod, Mark Hudson and Grant Basey, decisions which demoted Matt Holland and Hameur Bouazza to the bench, and Andy Gray and Kelly Youga to an afternoon presumably at Bluewater.

Unfortunately within minutes you sensed the balance wasn't right. Martin Cranie was played as a makeshift left-back, and clearly had no inclination (nor ability) to support Basey.

Upfront meanwhile, Varney and McLeod were clearly too similar, both attempting to play with their backs to goal when they both only remotely justify their combined £3m+ fees if they can see the whites of defenders' eyes.

Josh Wright was neat and tidy in the midfield on his first start, but on the rare occasions when we worked the ball into a somewhat promising position, our crossing was dire. As a result, we did not muster a single effort of any consequence during the first period.

Burnley meanwhile, already reeling from a strangely disallowed offside goal (despite the referee seemingly rightly ignoring the linesman's flag), took a well-deserved lead when Charlton failed to clear a corner in two attempts.

Like most teams that come to The Valley and control the game, they did not do so with any great flair, but simply maintained a shape, played simple passes and supported their single front man with clever channel running.

I had speculated whether Pards would have the guts to remove McLeod or Varney before the referee had even whistled for half-time, but it was no surprise when Todorov emerged from the tunnel.

Although he remains as raw as ever, McLeod had arguably looked the more dangerous of the stuttering front pair, but as has become acutely apparent, Luke Varney enjoys special status under Pards, a situation that would haunt us all in the 87th minute.

Lloyd Sam's introduction was equally welcomed, and he proved worthy of a guaranteed start at Ipswich on Tuesday night, with some promising wing play and energetic endeavour on the right flank.

More importantly, and just as he did against Reading, Yassin Moutaouakil was given far more licence to roam forward, at times operating like an old-fashioned outside right, drawing the opposition out of position and opening gaps for Sam.

Todorov however would prove to be the star man, comfortably the best player on the pitch during the second period, and someone who despite lacking any pace, always seems to have extra time on the ball.

Much like another former West Ham man (Di Canio), Charlton again have a player for whom one senses 'things can happen' whenever he receives the ball. If he stays fit, he could make or break our season.

When the Bulgarian scored our equaliser from Basey's free-kick (and how welcome those potent set-piece deliveries are incidentally), one sensed that we might conceivably snatch all three points, with the crowd lifted by a far more imaginative second-half display.

As it transpired, Burnley hit the underside of the bar just minutes later, as worrying gaps began to appear in the midfield, Charlton's players seemingly paying a price for their enhanced effort.

It was no surprise therefore that Holland immediately replaced a tiring Wright (who earned a warm Valley ovation), and ultimately it was Charlton that conjured up the game's final outstanding chance.

The late Varney chance summed up everything good and bad about the honest but ultimately limited Addicks front man. Still alert and fastest to react to a short back pass despite the game rapidly approaching stoppage time, he calmly rounded the keeper and then it was as if time somehow stood still.

With the goal gaping and the angle tight (but hardly obstructively so), he quite visibly lacked the confidence to finish things there, preferring to cut back inside and then having done so, instead of selling a final dummy and tapping home, he snatched at his weak shot and the chance was gone.

All but the world's finest strikers suffer from bouts of low confidence. And confidence is only returned by scoring goals, particularly late winning goals at home. It's nice to get a confidence-boosting goal that ricochets off your backside, but here was a gift-wrapped chance to take matters into his own hands.

And guess what, he fluffed it..... for goodness sake, this is what he gets paid to do, and what we paid £2million for! In all walks of life people seemingly have lots of talent, but cannot execute upon it for reasons that are entirely psychological, and unfortunately permanently so. This is where I've got to with Varney as a striker.

As the only outfield player to have begun every game, I don't think Pards can any longer defend him as a seemingly undroppable striking proposition. For me, 4.48pm today was the turning point. Indeed, his very credibility is further threatened in my view if he continues to do so.

Can you imagine how much worse his finishing could get if the fans started getting on his back Kim Grant-style (which they patently are not)? Whether he can contribute more effectively from the right flank is an entirely different and worthwhile debate.

Anyhow, now that I've got that off my chest, here are my player ratings:

Weaver 6 - continues to suggest he's one of the most consistent players in the team; did he get a hand onto that late Burnley crossbar effort? If so, make it an '8'.

Moutaouakil 6 - struggled to get involved in the first-half, but the right-sided combination with Sam is very promising indeed

Cranie 6 - obviously not a left-back, but on the evidence of the second-half, a more than capable centre-back with decent distribution

Hudson 7 - another Captain's performance, several vital interceptions, a threat at set-pieces and he drove the team on at the end

Primus 5 - seemed a yard too slow and was outjumped on a number of occasions; Cranie was more impressive in the same role

Basey 7 - lacks pace, but his set-piece deliveries are dangerous, and he represents a more sensible defensive proposition than Youga it seems

Bailey 5 - a poor game unfortunately, seemingly largely off the pace and guilty of conceding possession on several occasions; wholehearted approach wins plaudits however

Wright 7 - played the holding midfield role admirably - showed a good range of passing and was not afraid to put a foot in when required; an acrobatic early 2nd half pass was worth the entrance fee alone

Ambrose 5 - played out wide, either right or left, I (again) don't see what he offers since he lacks the pace of Sam or Bouazza, and the energetic box-to-box style of Basey; I sense a free central role behind the striker(s) is the only one in which he truly adds value

Varney 4 - when your first-choice striker fluffs two more gilt-edged chances, is it purely a coincidence that his team is 20th?; his worthy all-round game is rapidly becoming an irrelevance for me

McLeod 5 - still a very long way to justifying his lofty price tag, but when fit he has the ability to stretch defences (but any more than Chris Dickson might?)


Todorov 9 - outstanding - virtually never played a stray pass and gave the team the calmness that they patently lacked in the first-half; well-taken header too

Sam 8 - when he performs like that, one wonders how he can be just a fringe player for us - if he can add consistency to his obvious attributes, he may surprise and become a real 'star' for us

Holland 7 - a late substitute probably represents his best role, adding experience to shore up midfield gaps; Josh Wright gave him plenty to ponder before the trip to his former club on Tuesday

At least we have finally taken at least a point from a game in which we have fallen behind. We hadn't managed this since Southampton at home on 12 April.

And you know what, in the second half we demonstrated against a top-six side what most of us already knew.....when the team are set up properly, and suitably 'up for it', Charlton can compete with (and get the better of) any team in this division. As it is, we are 20th and not by accident, which tells you an awful lot unfortunately.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Burnley preview

With the Zabeel deal having been a mere pipe dream, attention turns back to Charlton's form on the pitch, a situation rapidly resembling a nightmare.

There are several troubling statistics relating to this season, but it's the simple fact that we've lost 7 out of 12 games that troubles me the greatest. If one takes the final 10 games of last season too, it's now 13 defeats from 22.

In starker terms, we've fallen behind 7 times during this campaign, and have failed to salvage a single point from those situations - this is the type of trait that relegated sides have. Our politicians were finally forced to mumble the 'R-word' (recession) today - it's probably about time Pards began using the 'R-word' (relegation) more forcefully in his teamtalks, because the threat is very real.

He has promised changes to the line-up, and I don't doubt that we will see them. However I don't sense fans necessarily want change for change's sake, but might actually prefer stability if there was greater evidence of a 'masterplan' at work that simply needed time.

We have scored plenty of early goals this season, suggesting that 'Plan A' is to attack from the off and force the opposition onto the back foot. Indeed reports suggest we completely dominated the first 25 minutes against Bristol City. However if the goal doesn't come, or more importantly if a soft one is conceded instead, what is the 'Plan B'?

I believe the squad has talent, and on the rare occasions that it clicks, we can play some terrific stuff. However I don't sense that Pards has a true system in place into which any player can slot into, and moreover his penchant for loan signings and general tactical tinkering does not help matters either. Thus performances like the one at home to Reading are more likely a function of randomness, rather than an inevitable consequence of weeks of hard work in training.

Pards bemoaned the fact that Lloyd Sam tried to do several jobs when introduced on Tuesday night, and not simply the one that he was asked to perform. Surely this is simply poor coaching? And if not, shouldn't Sam simply be banished to the reserves for a while? For sure Moutaouakil would have been.

Our goals meanwhile have dried up, scoring just 6 goals in our last 9 games. With just four goals from open play between them all season, a Gray/Varney partnership is clearly not working. Each has something to offer in his own way, but neither is a natural goalscorer and pairing them together thus makes little sense. The time has surely come to offer the likes of Dickson, McLeod or Fleetwood a proper run in the side.

As I expected, Burnley have recovered from a poor start to tuck into an early play-off position and are certainly not missing Andy Gray it would appear. As a seemingly perpetual member of English football's second-tier, they have a degree of stability that we are lacking, and like Reading, Hull or Stoke before them, they may well secure some Premiership football based upon that simple virtue alone.

I think Pards will select as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Basey, Hudson, Primus, Bailey, Wright, Sam, Bouazza, Todorov, Dickson. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Holland, Gray, Varney.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Wright), Burnley 0. Att: 20, 711.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goodbye Dubai

Should we be surprised that Zabeel terminated takeover talks? In all of the comments I made on this blog and others, it was the amazing timing of the deal that struck me the most.

Unfortunately it seems that it was the very timing (in the midst of a global financial meltdown), that was ultimately really too good to be true.

I guess what is unusual is that the indicative deal was announced on Friday October 10th, the very day upon which the world's financial system was closest to collapse. Surely whatever is known now was known then, although there have indeed been several recent news stories suggesting that Dubai's ruling families are pulling in their horns and focusing domestically.

The quote about the 'worsening economic climate in the UK' sounds like PR b*llshit however. After all, if the fate of English football was truly correlated to the parlous state of the wider UK economy, then several clubs would already have collapsed upon their own contradictions.

If one assumes that Zabeel are true to their word, and will not imminently confirm talks with Everton or West Ham, then their decision bodes very ill for the domestic game given the enormous leverage that now infests so many clubs.

The speed with which this leverage is now unravelling globally is astounding, and the great unwind is taking down every asset class which relied upon it literally one-by-one. If virtually every single global bank can be nationalised in some form, then major football clubs can certainly go to the wall.

Where does it leave Charlton? Well, exactly where we were all along - a Championship club in the midst of a realignment to new more realistic goals, and led by a manager who is struggling to maximise the still considerable talents at his disposal.

Any hope that the risk of relegation this season would be avoided via a huge January transfer budget, has now clearly been dashed. The pressure on Pardew to deliver at least midtable security is now enormous, because the future would indeed be bleak if he does not. Watching League One football in a less than half-full stadium is not a particularly edifying thought.

However should he manage to turn this season around, I see no great reason to be overly pessimistic about the future. A quick look at the Championship table whilst depressing for us right now, also suggests that if we take a step back from our moroseness, we should realise we are actually on a pretty stable footing, at least in a relative sense.

It's hard not to feel sympathy for the likes of Richard Murray and those fellow directors that have toiled for years, to build a club whose structure, community spiritedness and finances would represent even a potential investment proposition for the likes of Zabeel.

One would hope that they do not lose the faith, and consider flogging the club to literally anyone willing to buy it, particularly those who fail to understand that Charlton is about more than simply the 11 players who happen to be wearing the shirt right now. However in this type of environment, who knows what financial demons lurk today in their personal finances, lending greater urgency to such a forced sale?

Coincidentally and flight delays notwithstanding, I will be at The Valley on Saturday where I had been hoping to be present to hear the deal announced.

Nonetheless, when the Red Red Robin begins to echo around our fabulous little stadium, I'll get that same old shiver down my spine and I'll remember just why I love the club as much as I did the very first time I heard it, as an expectant 4-year old kid back in 1977. Nothing that happened today changes any of that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Charlton bigger underachievers than Newcastle

I have come across an interesting report produced by the Football Pools. It seeks to definitively assess on an objective basis, which clubs are clear 'overachievers', and which are the 'underachievers.'

Using the start of the 1992/1993 season as a starting point, it seeks to place all 92 clubs on an equal footing, and then rank their subsequent achievements based upon a complex dynamic set of statistics such as attendances, stadium capacity, financial stability, transfers and League/Cup performances.

I had assumed that Charlton would be ranked very highly, yet we are placed in just 54th position below such great overachievers as Newcastle and Aston Villa. It is difficult to argue with the top five however, comprising Doncaster Rovers, Portsmouth, Reading, Hull and Wigan. Fans of Manchester City, Coventry, Forest, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday can hang their collective heads in shame however.

If my understanding of the basis of calculation is correct, then it is really a rather clever analysis since it does not base for example Charlton's achievements in the context of our dire situation in August 1992, but adjusts expectations upwards as we begin 'achieving'. The boo-boys at the Valley will be familiar with this approach.

August 1992 was chosen as a starting point, because it coincided with the launch of the Premier League. Although Charlton were still playing their home games at Upton Park, we had achieved a miraculous 7th place finish the prior season, despite fears of a relegation battle as Alan Curbishley and Steve Gritt began their managerial careers. As a result, our base benchmark was set somewhat higher by virtue of this 'outlier' season.

Given that we finished 11th in the Championship last season (and are even worse placed today), an impartial observer would conclude based upon these two pieces of data alone, that the club had gone backwards during the last 15 years. Indeed, strictly speaking they would be correct although it somehow doesn't feel as though we have.

Interestingly, the analysis sets each club's starting index at 100 and then lists season-by-season their revised index, so fans can see when their club was over or underachieving. For those without the inclination to review the full report, this is how our index has fluctuated:

End Season
1992/93 - 95
1993/94 - 97
1994/95 - 93
1995/96 - 99
1996/97 - 92
1997/98 - 95
1998/99 - 91
1999/00 - 100
2000/01 - 114
2001/02 - 111
2002/03 - 111
2003/04 - 115
2004/05 - 106
2005/06 - 104
2006/07 - 99
2007/08 - 94

For the purposes of this report, Charlton seemingly suffer unduly for having returned to the Valley in Dec 1992, thus ratcheting up reasonable expectations. This trend presumably continued as attendances increased, and financial stability improved.

Thus although it seems implausible, the report suggests that by the time we won the Division One title in 1999/2000, the club had merely met expectations over the prior eight seasons. It certainly didn't feel like that, but then again perhaps fans of all clubs overestimate the extent of their achievements, and certainly there were several mediocre seasons inbetween at The Valley.

However it is difficult to argue with the conclusion that the end of the 2003/04 season (when we finished 7th in the top flight) represented the pinnacle of our achievements since 1992/93. This would be true whether on an absolute basis (which it was by definition), or on a relative basis (which this report backs up).

Thus had this report been produced at the end of 2003/04, we would have ranked below only Arsenal, Wigan, Cheltenham, Walsall, Accrington Stanley, Aldershot and Gillingham in terms of achievement up until then. If Curbs had literally gone out at the top, how would his successor have fared then?

Our absolute and relative deterioration since is painfully obvious. Certainly 20th place in the Championship represents the lowest point in our recent history in a footballing sense. Seen in terms of 20,000+ crowds and a modern stadium, the conclusion is clear and the situation needs to be urgently addressed. In the meantime, let's just hope they don't intend to produce this report on an annual basis.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bristol City preview

A crucial eleven days for Charlton begins with the visit of the 'other' Robins, in the shape of Bristol City.

I'm not in the mood to give Pards an easy time, but our current 19th place in the Championship table does certainly not yet imply an imminent relegation battle. After all, we are as close to Cardiff in 4th as we are to Barnsley in 22nd.

But whilst the season still feels in its infancy, by the time we have played Derby in front of the Sky cameras on 15th Dec, the season will already be halfway through. At some point between now and then, Pards needs to find a winning formula (or at least a 'not losing' formula) else I would begin to fear for his future, and ours.

Saturday's defeat had all of the usual traits for which we are rapidly becoming accustomed. A predictably stale team selection, a failure to take chances and no ability to claw our way back into the game. We have failed to gain a point from any game in which we've fallen behind, a deeply worrying statistic which suggests a lack of confidence, heart or both.

After having praised Jose Semedo so forcefully after the Ipswich win, I was surprised to learn that Pards still opted for Martin Cranie at Cardiff. Are our three loan signings required to play under the terms of their loan, because how else can one explain this apparently perverse state of affairs? Such a provision would certainly make some sense from the point of view of the player's club.

When one bears in mind that Semedo has replaced Cranie at half-time in two consecutive matches, the situation becomes even weirder. After all, right-backs are not usually the first to be sacrificed in a half-time tactical switch, and Semedo whilst honest enough, is hardly a rampaging overlapping alternative. However the fact that the Portuguese left the field in tears on Saturday after his red card, makes me warm to him more. You can understand his frustration.

Unfortunately Mark Hudson's own red card has left us dangerously exposed in defence, and none of the gaffer's options are especially comforting. He will choose between Kelly Youga and Cranie at centre-back, which implies more importantly that he must decide whether he trusts Grant Basey or Yassin Moutaouakil more in their stead at full-back. Given that Pards would probably sooner spend a day away from a mirror than pick the Frenchman, I would expect Basey to start.

If Pards continues to opt for 4-4-2, then an unchanged midfield is likely, although it offers a far from comforting sense of stability, particularly against a well-drilled footballing side like Bristol City. They passed it around us in this fixture in March, and a midfield that contains Holland, Ambrose and Bouazza will likely ensure the same outcome.

There are two youngsters itching to play, and with the continual use of Matt Holland's creaking legs clearly not working, then surely now is the time with four games in eleven days, to give Jonjo Shelvey or Josh Wright a chance (or both). Shelvey is just 16 and probably requires greater protection, but Wright turns 19 next month and is already at an age where you have to rapidly prove you can step up from the likes of League Two, else what's the point?

Upfront the much heralded Varney/Gray partnership is stuttering badly, though it is worth noting that Gray has not scored since Pards dropped him at Forest, despite having scored the winning goal four days earlier.

Todorov is likely to be preferred to Gray, but whether Varney is the best partner for the Bulgarian is a moot point. I would imagine the greater poaching nous of Dickson, Fleetwood or a nearly-fit McLeod would be better-suited to Todorov's guile.

Alternatively, whilst one wonders how much more patience can be afforded Darren Ambrose, the option of playing 4-5-1 with him in the 'hole' (presumably behind Varney) is an appealing one. With Cranie and Basey both defence minded first, and attack-minded second, it would also allow Sam and Bouazza more freedom to patrol the flanks, and hopefully do the type of damage they did against Reading.

If I was choosing the team, I would select as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Cranie, Primus, Bailey, Wright, Ambrose, Bouazza, Sam, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Holland, Gray, Dickson.

However, given that Pards is unlikely to seek my pre-match opinion, I expect him to select as follows: Weaver, Cranie, Basey, Youga, Primus, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza, Ambrose, Todorov, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Wright, Sam, Gray.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Bouazza), Bristol City 2 (Trundle, Adebola). Att: 19, 102.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cardiff preview

Usually two-week international breaks offer an interminable respite from Charlton news, in favour of fascinating coverage of the way Frank Lampard feels about the challenge posed by the mighty Belarus.

We still had to put up with Lampard of course, but a Charlton story emerged from nowhere last Friday, the potential implications of which can quite simply not be overestimated.

Those that do not favour foreign ownership of clubs in any form have a valid point, but given that the English game has clearly moved in this direction, it was not clear what the future held for Charlton in this context. Moreover, it implied an assumption that our current owners would wish to remain so forever, an unrealistic one given the effort and capital they have poured in over the years.

The timing of the Zabeel bid is fabulous, in light of the perhaps unprecedented wealth destruction that is currently taking place across the globe. The possibility of securing a deep-pocketed, and hopefully well-intentioned new owner at this time bodes extraordinarily well for Charlton in both an absolute and relative sense.

The 'absolute' implications are obvious; in the near-term perhaps some January squad additions, and an end to budget-balancing firesales. However the 'relative' implications are truly whetting my appetite at this point.

Although the average fan may not realise it yet, but the 'football boom' is well and truly over. The Premiership model, which layers enormous debts upon a business which essentially redistributes the bulk of its revenues to players with no loyalty, is wholly unsustainable.

The assumption that these debts can always be refinanced, or that some other billionaire will be the 'greater fool' and take over the club, will now be severely challenged.

The present global economic bust is unusual so far, because its first victims have been the very wealthiest. Entire fortunes have been wiped out in Russia for example, whilst the ongoing carnage in equity markets generally reminds one of that old adage that it's only when the tide goes out, that one finds out who's been swimming naked.

I would find it very difficult to believe that a wealthy enough individual, currently has a Premiership club high on his shopping list. Many of these acquisitions were achieved via leverage (now impossible to obtain), whilst any investor worth his salt today will surely favour cash and liquidity, over the uncertainty of sport. The universe of potential buyers is thus greatly reduced, with potentially devastating consequences for many clubs.

In this context then the cash emanating from Zabeel, and Dubai more generally, is both rare and welcome, because it is both largely unleveraged, and will be invested with more than a mere near-term profit goal in mind (the long-term marketing of the 'Dubai' brand is key here too in my view).

As a result, I find myself literally lying awake at night, wondering how deflated I would feel if this deal does not get completed. I'm not usually prone to hyperbole, but I really do believe that this would be the defining moment in the history of Charlton Athletic FC.

Returning to The Valley in 1992 was a special moment too of course, but mere emotional sentiment compared to the possibilities herein (although the latter would not have been possible without the former of course). Not surprisingly therefore, it is not easy to get overly excited about a trip to dilapidated Ninian Park.

My mantra that draws are the most overrated outcome in the modern game, is best emphasised surely by the Bluebirds. Despite just one defeat all season (the same number as leaders Birmingham), they would be leapfrogged by a win from stuttering Charlton (five defeats so far).

Cardiff may include former Addick, Jay Bothroyd an uninspiring free transfer acquisition towards the end of Curbishley's reign. Best known for his free-kick abilities, he has surely re-found the level which he always belonged.

The club confirmed this week that Zheng will undergo a foot operation, and whilst not usually one to promote conspiracy theories, I sense there is something rather odd about the whole situation. Thus I believe it is a fair assumption that he has played his final game for Charlton, whether Zabeel complete their acquisition or not.

I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver, Semedo, Youga, Hudson, Primus, Bailey, Holland, Ambrose, Bouazza, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Cranie, Shelvey, Dickson, Sam.

NY Addick predicts: Cardiff 0, Charlton 1 (Varney). Att: 11, 282.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Round of Gulf

Back in December 2006, I suggested that Petrodollars might save us from relegation. Not surprisingly perhaps, they gave Les Reed's charges a wide berth at the time.

However it seems that 14th place in the Championship today is not enough to deter the most determined bidder, because apparently 'Zabeel Investments' are poised to complete a bid for the club.

The timing of this news is incredible. The world's stock markets have just suffered their worst ever week, yet it seems the Petrodollar-fuelled Arabs can't ignore a great investment when they see one.

The deal is far from complete of course, but this is potentially the greatest development in the chequered history of our club. The possibility that they have got bored by Liverpool's internal wranglings, and looked to SE7 instead, is simply too wonderful an outcome to contemplate.

If the incredible recent volatility in financial markets has taught us anything, it's that there's a world of difference between 'real money', and what I would term, 'funny money'. The likes of West Ham's owners represent 'funny money', cash generated at the peak of the leverage boom, that is now unwinding at incredible speed.

'Real money' today is only present in the Gulf, Russia and to a lesser extent, China. Despite the inevitable cultural shock, the idea that Charlton could be purchased even indirectly by the Al-Maktoum family is surely beyond our wildest dreams. Dare I conclude that we might be the 2nd richest club in the world (after Man City)?

The deal is far from being concluded, so let's not get carried away. Moreover, it is worth pointing out that the wealth of Dubai (compared to Abu Dhabi) is somewhat dubious. They never had much oil to begin with, so the gleaming skyscrapers are a little speculative, but one cannot seriously doubt the Emirate's ambition. For further reference, I discussed the UAE in more detail here.

The obvious question is then, "why Charlton?". Firstly, we're no doubt cheap - our current Board have worked wonders, yet will not be demanding a ridiculous price.

Second, and most importantly we are London-based, and within view of the stunning wealth-generating capability of Canary Wharf (surely some mistake? - Ed). Thirdly, despite a worrying degree of mediocrity on show recently, we have produced consistent 20,000+ crowds in a friendly stadium, a far from trivial consideration in light of Mike Ashley's experience at Newcastle.

One has sensed for some time that the present Board might be willing to sell at the right price, and to the right buyer. The bifurcation of the Premiership, has made apparent the enormous financial sacrifice required to maximise the potential for survival. The Board has always implied it would only sell to a genuine and deep-pocketed bidder. They don't get much more deep-pocketed than this.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but I was wondering in the pub tonight how Mourinho would utilise Messi, Fabregas and Gerrard to their full potential, particularly if one inevitably had to start on the bench. And more relevantly, what would it mean for Darren Ambrose?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Halfway to Seventy

"Thirty-five is when you finally get your head together, and your body starts falling apart." Caryn Leschen

It's my 35th birthday today. The quote above sums up the way I feel about it perfectly.

I haven't been able to play sport for two months because a minor but niggling ankle injury resolutely refuses to heal. Linvoy Primus reached the same milestone as me three weeks ago, and not surprisingly he's always injured. Hangovers meanwhile now roll into the second morning after the night before.

More promisingly though it has occurred to me I can now bed women half my age without breaking any applicable laws, and they can drive me home afterwards. Strangely I'm not inundated with offers.

Appropriately the second most famous Briton to leave these shores to move to New York (John Lennon), was also born on 9th October. Given the credit crisis is in full swing, I wish I could 'imagine no repossessions' , but I can't.

So half way to 70 then, if I get there. Although I'm eating a fresh fruit salad as I write this, it's not something I take for granted. It would be nice to know either way though, as it would certainly make retirement planning easier.

I'm spending this birthday in London, back on a short business trip that frustratingly doesn't coincide with any Charlton games. Four days after I was born, Charlton inevitably lost 4-0 at Walsall, thus beginning a love affair that's proving harder to shake off than my hangovers. It was in the old Third Division as well, which puts our current position in some perspective.

Alan Pardew is the eleventh Charlton manager that I've experienced, and the third called 'Alan'. Surprisingly he's also the 39th longest-serving manager in the League right now. And to think those calling for his head are labelled 'fickle'.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ipswich preview

The mood amongst the Addicks faithful turned increasingly sour this week, and ever the populist, this blog tapped into the prevailing sentiment.

Defeats against a club's most hated rival never go down well with supporters, but that was barely half the story. It was instead the half-hearted disjointed performance, and Pardew's typical lack of post-match contrition which particularly riled supporters.

Pedro 45 has written an impassioned case for the prosecution, which whilst still a little premature in my view, is nothing if not eloquent.

Virtually no supporters expected automatic promotion, and even hopes for the play-offs might have been deemed 'optimistic'. However we did expect more evidence that Pardew has a real plan that his squad can execute, that the players are responding to his methods, and that lessons were learnt from the second half of last season.

Over the course of the past 46 matches (beginning with Barnsley at home on 6 Oct), we have accumulated just 56 points. Leicester City went down last season with 52 points. We are sailing far too close to the wind, and even more worringly the trend is firmly backward not forward.

Those that point to 'budget constraints' are misguided in my view, because one might only reasonably point to the forced departures of Reid and Bougherra as representing players presumably happy at the club, and who would have been additive in the Championship.

And whilst of course we inevitably lost some players of rather dubious Premiership quality, we're no longer playing in the Premiership. In the meantime since relegation, Pards has spent approximately £9million on new recruits (as well as adding a myriad of loans and free transfers), a budget which frankly is the envy of all but a handful of competing clubs.

Ipswich fans have learnt through bitter experience to dampen their expectations. It's now been six years since they competed in the top flight, and after consecutive post-relegation finishes of 7th and 3rd, their subsequent demise reflects the importance of doing everything realistic to maximise the benefits of the parachute payments.

However under the stewardship of Jim Magilton, they secured a respectable 8th place finish last season, and have made a solid enough start again this time. Their home form was outstanding last season (15 wins from 23) , but only Barnsley were worse on the road, and we destroyed them last season with an outstanding first-half of football.

I received a nice email from my former economics Professor at my alma mater informing me (perhaps in jest), that he was adding my recent post on the credit crisis to the official reading list for the new cohort of undergraduates starting this week. I'm sure the likes of Keynes and Marx are delighted to be in such esteemed company.

Interestingly he's also a devoted Ipswich fan, and admitted, "I quite like Lisbie," and then compounded his initial mistake by adding, "...he's quite neat." Yet more evidence in my view of the parlous state of university funding back in the UK.

More seriously I had to chuckle when he described Ipswich's season so far. Simply substitute 'Ipswich' for 'Charlton', and 'Magilton' for 'Pardew' in the quotes below, and perhaps we've inavertently stumbled across the inherent traits of following a club playing Championship football. Ring any bells?:

"Ipswich are in a very strange state at the moment. Magilton took over when things were pretty dire and the team had come to an end, and he needed to start over. His first two years he had no money and did everything pretty much right, the team was coming together, he clearly had a plan in mind and they were, at times, playing nice football. We should really have made the play offs last year. Then there's money available, he fails to sign most of the people he really wanted, but he still brings in 8 new people over the summer. Since then he hasn't played the same team twice, his midfield seems to be drawn randomly from a hat, and he seems completely confused about what his best formation is. So, we have more potentially good players than we've had for a long time, but Magilton doesn't seem to know what to do with them."

It is difficult to approach a home fixture with Ipswich without recalling that wonderful night in May 1998 when we realised we were heading to Wembley. Our team that night was: Ilic, Barness, Bowen, Jones K, Rufus, Youds, Newton, Kinsella, Heaney, Jones S (Mortimer), Bright. Subs not used: Allen, Brown. What would Charlton fans give now, to have some of those characters back in the side?

Instead Pards must choose from a squad arguably with considerably more talent, but an acute absence of heart. He has promised changes, but then he did so before Tuesday night and merely added Ambrose for Gray, hardly a revolution.

If Charlton's future is going to be brighter than the immediate present, we should be maximising the playing time of those young and talented enough to form the core of a side that could be playing Championship football for some considerable time. Some of these players will require patience, some may ultimately not be good enough, but at least they won't be playing in the 'comfort zone'.

The future lies in the hands of the likes of Hudson and Bailey, not Ambrose and Zheng. If Zheng's exit is a virtual certainty in January, then I'd rather he didn't play now.

In Moutaouakil and Semedo, we have two talented youngsters who've taken the risk of leaving their home country, to play for a middling Championship side in England. They should be nurtured, not left to watch as yet another loan signing arrives in their stead.

Longer-term let's give the likes of Josh Wright a proper run in the side, so I don't have to keep receiving emails from Barnet and Brentford fans wondering why he's being overlooked. League Two is not the same as the Championship, but that's where Nicky Bailey played until last summer. The kid is probably desperate to show Charlton fans what he can do. We know what Matt Holland can do, and frankly it's not good enough anymore.

Until then, I expect Pards to select as follows: Weaver, Semedo, Basey, Primus, Hudson, Bailey, Zheng, Ambrose, Bouazza, Varney, Todorov. Subs: Elliot, Cranie, Holland, Gray, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Todorov, Zheng), Ipswich 2 (Lisbie 2). Att: 22, 288.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pardew: In His Own Words

When you've a Championship record of just 74 points from 55 games, but a reptuation as one of the brightest young managers in the game to protect, it certainly helps to have a few ready-made excuses available for post-match press conferences.

Last April I suggested that Pardew might be reading from a prepared script, and indeed a more scientific review provides considerable evidence that this may not be far from the truth.

When he can't blame the referee, individual performances, or a need for new signings, he can always take comfort from the effort his team showed, and look forward to the next game.

And when none of those will do, he'll not shy way from turning full circle, or reverting to the plain ridiculous. After all, it's better than blaming himself....


"Unfortunately for us, the referee didn't help us one iota." (Hull H, 07/08) - Pards reminds the ref of the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet.

"From where I was standing I thought it was a harsh decision."(Watford A, 08/09) - Pards asks ref to officiate from the touchline.

"The referee has a duty, in my opinion, to the paying public, and he didn't help us at all in terms of trying to speed the opposition up." (Scunthorpe H, 07/08) - the paying public from Scunthorpe didn't seem to mind (or don't they count?)

"I can only assume because of the John Terry thing this week that the referee has made a call that in my view was wrong." (Forest A, 08/09) - the subtle influence of Chelsea makes its mark even at the City Ground.

"The free-kick which subsequently led to their penalty wasn't a free-kick and those two harsh decisions cost us." (Wolves H, 08/09) - Pards rewinds the tape.

"The whistle never stopped - he seemed to be antagonised by everybody."(Plymouth H, 07/08) - Pards antagonised by Rob Styles (ok, fair point).

"I think we were [roughed up] and I don't think the referee helped in all honesty." (Wolves A, 07/08) - Pards gets honest.

"The referee surprised me all day actually." (Barnsley A, 07/08) - Pards still touched by his surprise pre-match gift from the ref.

"Without attaching blame to anyone, the referee didn't do us any favours." (QPR A, 07/08) - Pards blames the ref.

"I actually thought Watford's first goal changed the game. It looked offside and we were shocked, and then they scored a second." (Watford, 07/08) - Pards bemoans acute case of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"I don't think he really had control of the game." (Scunthorpe A, 07/08) - Pards angry as game descends into anarchy.


"The boys in the dressing room were fully committed in terms of their performance." (Palace A, 08/09) - but once they left the dressing room....

"I feel real sympathy for the players; they gave everything." (Burnley A, 07/08) - Pards gets all warm and cuddly.

"I was pleased with the character of the team, but that was about all I could be pleased with." (Hull H, 07/08) - Pards gets life in perspective.

"Perhaps it was character and grit that got us the point." (Leicester A, 07/08) - or perhaps it was Paddy McCarthy's equaliser? Pards gets philosophical.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the team at the moment in terms of their character and commitment." (WBA A [FA Cup], 07/08) - Pards most pleased by a run of 1 win in 8.

"Again, it was an unbelievable first goal, but I couldn't fault the application and attitude of the players." (Ipswich A, 07/08) - who could argue with that?

"The least we deserved in terms of the commitment we had to match with them." (Scunthorpe A, 07/08) - Pards comes to terms with defeat at Scunthorpe.

"The honesty and commitment of this team I don't think you can question." (Wolves H, 07/08) - who could?

"I can't fault the players whose application was strong and in the end we were undone by a good little team in Luton." (Luton A [Carling Cup], 07/08) - Pards risks being accused of being 'sizeist'

"The players gave everything they had." (Coventry H, 07/08) - Pards pontificates on the season as a whole. So if effort wasn't to blame, and we still finished 11th, what was? Or more pertinently, who?

"We wore our heart on our sleeves." (Norwich H, 07/08) - Charlton risk a colour clash.

"I couldn't fault the players' attitude today." (Barnsley H, 07/08) - Alan, we get the message.


"So we really need to bring another centre half in..." (Watford A, 08/09) - Pards states the bleedin' obvious.

"We are short of defenders and need nous in and around the team." (Preston A, 08/09) - .....and again

"I think we are going to need to strengthen in the window, looking at what we have seen in the first half of the season." (WBA A, 07/08) - but at least you can't fault the effort.

"Now I need to patient in the market in bringing in two more players. If I get the ones I want, I think we'll do better." (Swansea H, 08/09) - were Bailey, Cranie and Primus the ones he wanted? If so, we're not doing any better.

"The squad was a little bit short..." (Coventry H, 07/08) - 'big' Chris Iwelumo expresses surprise at Pardew's observation.

"When the window opens I may have to bring in a player to improve us in that [Ambrose's] area." (Leicester H, 07/08) - Pardew teases us.

"We've got a good base so we shouldn't panic but we need to bring in three or four first-team players." (Coventry H, 07/08) - and get rid of 15.

"We've been talking and we're looking to make some moves because the first 23 games have shown that we're not good enough." (Colchester H, 07/08) - unfortunately the second 23 showed we were even worse.

"There are some flaws in the side that we did not correct in the last window; we will in the summer." (QPR A, 07/08) - phew, so what where they again?

"We need to bring in one or two players to make sure we're stronger." (Hull H, 07/08) - we brought in five....and got weaker.


"Some were not at their best, but they were committed no less." (Palace A, 08/09) - you can't question their commitment

"We certainly had four or five below the performances they have been giving." (Sheff Utd H, 07/08) - at least the other 55% of the team rose to the occasion.

"We had a few low performances today..." (Sheff Weds H, 08/09) - here we go again....

"Some players were just a wee bit below [par]..." (Wolves H, 08/09) - Pards rediscovers his Scottish roots.

"There are a few players who have to take a good look at themselves tonight. A few were way below par." (Preston A, 08/09) - Pards gets into the spirit for the forthcoming Ryder Cup.

"Three players didn't train all week and that showed..." (Hull H, 07/08) - so why pick them then?

"I'm very disappointed with today. I expect a lot more from certain individuals." (Blackpool A, 07/08) - we certainly do.


"Now we really need to start looking after ourselves in terms of making sure we get a run together or else we will find ourselves in trouble." (Palace A, 08/09) - Pards forgets about the play-offs.

"Unfortunately we got defeated so we have to come back quickly and we've got two more games this week to get back on track." (Sheff Weds H, 08/09) - well at least there's still Ipswich on Saturday.

"With a home game to come next week I'm hoping a win will put us in the top six." (Forest A, 08/09) - erm, we lost 2-1 and are now 17th.

"Sometimes you have to accept defeat but the performance level will make us stronger for Saturday." (Burnley A, 07/08) - Pards rallies the troops ahead of a 2-0 defeat at Ipswich

"Preston deserved to win and we have to go to Burnley and do better." (Preston H, 07/08) - we did much better....we only lost 1-0.

"We're in decent shape for Saturday's game and the league table might be looking prettier on Saturday night than it is tonight." (Sheff U, 07/08) - Pards pretty certain we'll beat Burnley at home (we didn't, we lost 3-1)

"After the two defeats the crowd will be a bit edgy on Saturday, so we need to be big and brave. We need to be better than we were tonight, and a win would put us right back in contention." (Plymouth H, 07/08) - Pards looks for bravery ahead of the 1-0 defeat to QPR


"It was always going to be a difficult game as there was no real focus for us." (Barnsley A, 07/08)


"I just felt we played with freedom today as there was no pressure on us." (Coventry H, 07/08) - nothing quite like freedom, so long as you win.

"Perhaps we've got to be a bit more dogged, and not be as ambitious as we are at home at times."(Burnley H, 07/08)


"I am happy with a point, as much as I don't like to say that because everyone who knows me knows I like to win." (Hull H, 07/08) - Pards reminds doubting fans where his managerial focus really lies.

"I felt a bit disappointed in the first half as we seemed too up for the war and couldn't seem to settle ourselves down and keep possession." (Doncaster A, 08/09)


"We were comfortable to let them have it." (Doncaster A, 08/09) - if your team can't keep possession, just pretend it's the game plan.

"We've been strong at home." (Bristol City H, 07/08)


"Our away form has probably been good enough to put us in the play-offs, and the way the points have gone this season, perhaps even in the automatic promotion spots as well." (Soton H, 07/08) - Pards wonders if the League table is lying.

"Every time we got three or four passes we looked like we were going to create something, but there was not enough of that." (Sheff Weds A, 07/08)


"We were trying small passes which were cut out, and we were inviting pressure." (Palace A, Sep 08) - Charlton's confused players wonder whether they're meant to be passing or not.


"They started strongly as you would expect for a side that have not won for a while." (Palace A, 08/09) - who would want to face a team full of confidence from 1 in in 8?

"It's been a good week, and I include Wolves in that." (Forest A, 08/09) - Pards delighted after a 3-1 home defeat to mighty Wolves.

"We just could not stop their string of attacks and this game could have been 6-5 in the end." (Preston A, 08/09) - or maybe just 6-1...

"If you look at us, you have to say we've come close." (Coventry H, 07/08) - Pards frustrated as Charlton miss out on play-offs and promotion by just 6 and 15 points respectively.

"I think we have shown today that we still carry a major threat." (Ipswich A, 07/08) - rest of division terrified as Charlton lose 2-0 at Ipswich.

"We lost our way today and that's unusual for one of my teams." (Preston H, 07/08) - as Tom Jones once said, "It's not unusual."

"I thought Scunthorpe were brilliant, fighting for their lives today." (Scunthorpe H, 07/08) - Pards congratulates the 'Iron' for their relegation scrap....on opening day

"They came and played and made the pitch too big for us really..." (Barnsley H, 07/08) - is that allowed? Surely teams can't just alter the dimensions of the playing surface?

"On any other day we would have won the game, but unfortunately we haven't."(Burnley, 07/08) - Pards demands a replay.

"There was always doubt in their minds and we fell between two stools."(Colchester H, 07/08) - Pards angry as stools begin interfering with play.

"I was conscious that Ipswich would know how we would play, so I changed it a bit," (Ipswich H, 07/08) - Pards keeps Jim Magilton guessing.

"I felt that there wasn't a lot of electricity on the pitch in the first 35 minutes or so, with both teams probably playing at about 95 per cent of their capacity. That was probably a good thing for us though, because it allowed our quality to come through." (Cardiff H, 07/08) - Pards finds the winning formula...stop trying so hard.

"Nobody would remember it if we reached the quarter finals and finished eighth in the league." (Luton A [Carling Cup], Sep 08) - what about if we lost in the 2nd Round and finished 11th?

"The difference between the two sides was that little edge they had in the game, especially in the box." (Barnsley A, 07/08) - so just the entire purpose of the game of football, then. Pards philosophical after narrow 3-0 reverse.

"When I analyse us, I have to say we have this ability to gift situations to teams." (Burnley H, 07/08) - Charlton get into the Xmas spirit early.

"I'm not too disheartened as the application of the players has been very good during what has been a very tough logistical run for us." (Barnsley H, 07/08) - Pards becomes first manager to use word 'logistical' in post-match press conference.

"Sometimes events unfold that can knock you out from where you've been." (Sheff Utd H, 07/08) - no sorry Alan, you've definitely stumped me with this one.