Tuesday, November 11, 2008


(Left: Charlton fans mourn departure of Darren Ambrose)

Darren Ambrose has returned to Ipswich on a two-month loan, presumably with a view to a permanent signing.

He was signed from Newcastle for £1.5million in July 2005, and thus his arrival coincided with Alan Curbishley's final anti-climatic season as Addicks boss.

Before I launch into a tirade of criticism, I suppose this unfortunate timing ought to form the basis of the 'case for the defence'. Indeed, perhaps aware of the pressure on his shoulders, he was sent off on his debut.

Now aged 24, Ambrose should be in the prime of his career and given his talents, frankly a cut above the rest of the Championship. Instead we are comfortable loaning him to one of our rivals.

The biggest problem with Ambrose, as has been debated ad infinitum, is his inability to be pigeon-holed. Is he a winger? Is he a goalscoring central midfielder? Is he a striker?

The truth is that he's none of the above, which is why such a promising player with ten England U-21 caps is now so easily disposed of despite our League position.

Another factor is probably his wages, with Ipswich's new owners presumably willing to take on all of his contractual demands. As I joked back in July when I hacked into the club's email server, it was perhaps a surprise that he remained for so long.

He was mainly utilised as a wide midfielder by all four Charlton managers that he played under. Given that he could never remotely perform the task of a more defensively-minded industrious wide midfielder, it is reasonable to suppose that he could at least occasionally beat a full-back.

Unfortunately he lacked the tricks and the pace to do so, and thus we were left with a usually anonymous luxury player, whose very rare high moments came when he cut in from either flank. His left-footed equaliser against Manchester United in November 2005 was a very clear high point.

It was perhaps his two goals against his new club at The Valley last season, which reignited Jim Magilton's interest. Interestingly they arose when Ambrose was utilised at the tip of a midfield triangle, the only position in which he threatened to fulfil his potential.

Unfortunately this position is tactically restrictive since it requires managers to opt for a 3-5-2 or 4-5-1, and moreover in recent seasons Ambrose had some very able competition for this role, in the shape of Zheng Zhi.

One way of assessing Ambrose's disproportionate number of first-team starts as a wide man, is in terms of the tactical flexibility that he can help engender.

After all, it improves a manager's options if you can shift from say 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 without making a substitution (by for example moving Luke Varney wide right, and shifting Ambrose inside).

Seen in this team-oriented context, perhaps one can forgive him some of his inadequacies. Is it any wonder he was signed by Curbs given his obsession with flexible players?

The whole disappointment with Ambrose however, ought perhaps to be seen as yet more proof that there's never a 'free lunch' as a Charlton fan.

When he signed for Charlton, many Newcastle fans bemoaned his departure and told us we'd bagged a bargain. Young, English, talented......we'd get two or three seasons out of him, then flog him to Spurs for £10million.

Instead he joins the illustrious recent list of Charlton signings whose excitement I felt upon learning of their signature, was matched only by the sheer scale of my disappointment once they actually wore the red shirt.

Others recently added to that list include the likes of Dennis Rommedahl, Jonathan Johansson, Neil Redfearn and Francis Jeffers.

In Ambrose's case, it's a particular shame because he seems such a pleasant unassuming chap. It's so much easier to hate the likes of Marcus Bent.

It reminds one of an important lesson that every Charlton fan needs to learn at an early age. It's one that I fully intend to impart upon my own children, just as soon as they are old enough to fully digest it, "Son, if he was really any good, he wouldn't be playing for Charlton."


At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To compare him with JJ whose goals kept us in the Premier League in his first season and even Dennis , who was at least funny and exciting is just not right. The bloke has been a complete disaster and was a major reason for our relegation and has been a principal cause of us not recovering . If pardew has half a brain , we will recover and climb the table quickly now because we will be playing with 11 men

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I have to disagree with Anonymous, Darren Ambrose has underperformed, but he has not been the reason for our downfall. He was a young player and cost a relatively small sum bearing in mind our position at the time.

He has failed (completely) to justify the promise, but he didn't cost £10m after all.

What I would agree with though is that Jonathan Johansson was, I believe, far from a disaster. I think his first season was indicative of his ability. My view is that a long injury was more responsible for him disappointing in the later years.

Either way, however, despite his ability, and our current lack of it, I am not at all disappointed by his departure. I guess that is the sad legacy he leaves behind.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing that is coming out of East Anglia loud & clear is that nothing has been agreed to make the move permanent in January.

Charlton want £250,000 & Ipswich will have first refusal.Be interesting to see if he does enough to convince them.

The smart money will be on Ambrose being another whose career hit a blip when he came to SE7 only to take off again when he moved on.

The decision to let him go has to be judged against the success or otherwise of who Pardew brings in by way of a replacement.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger mikewoodhouse said...

I can't say I'll miss Ambrose much. I still kind of miss Dennis, on the other hand. I felt he was chronically under-utilised by Murphy's lack of a left foot, which meant he'd almost always look for Thomas on the left. By the time Murphy left for first-team action at Spurs (hah) poor old Den's confidence was shot. He was the only CAFC player I've seen who was as quick as Shaun Newton in his afterburner days (before he met Pat van den Hauwe). At some point in the future I expect to be telling my kids "Ah, Dennis, that lad could catch pigeons". Something like that.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

I agree JJ made a more telling overall contribution than Ambrose, especially in 2000/01 when his finishing was outstanding. But given we paid over £3m for him and he had been something of a goal machine at Rangers, arguably it was the least we expected.

But thereafter his lack of appetite for the physical side of the game was at times embarrassing, and he was comfortable (like Ambrose) just to drift in and out of games.


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