Perhaps the most-telegraphed transfer in the history of non-League football was concluded today, when Stuart Fleetwood finally signed for the Addicks from Forest Green Rovers. He had been listed on Wikipedia as a Charlton player for at least the past ten days.
Fleetwood was the top scorer in last season's Blue Square Premier (with 27 goals), particularly impressive given Forest Green finished fully thirty points behind title-winning Aldershot. The inevitable comparison with Chris Dickson is a little unfair given that Fleetwood's goals were scored three levels higher in the league pyramid.
When choosing from a fully-fit squad, Pardew's striking options are undeniably deep:
Chris Iwelumo (tall, reliable but ultimately limited)
Andy Gray (clever, strong but lacking in confidence)
Luke Varney (pacy, versatile but neither target man nor outright finisher)
Izale McLeod (sprightly, full of potential but extremely raw)
Svetoslav Todorov (great with his back to goal, but lacking in pace)
Chris Dickson (confident, exciting but utterly untested)
Stuart Fleetwood (see Chris Dickson)
Those readers that studied combinatorics at school, will know that if Pards plans to revert to 4-4-2, he will thus have 21 different striking options next season. Broadly one could probably subcategorise the septet between 'target men' (Iwelumo, Gray, Todorov), 'channel runners' (Varney, McLeod) and 'poachers' (Dickson, Fleetwood).
Assuming Pards does not plan to partner two players from the same category (the footballing equivalent of incest), his options are reduced to 16 from 21. Personally I find the option of either Gray or (especially) Todorov alongside Varney, with at least one of McLeod, Dickson or Fleetwood ready to spring from the bench to be the most attractive.
In light of the embarrassment of striking riches above (contrasted for example with our relative poverty of midfield options), some fans have understandably questioned the rationale for the Fleetwood deal. Like Dickson before him, he will probably be loaned out to a League One side to gain valuable higher-level experience.
The initial outlay for these types of speculative and virtually free players, either from non-League or as free agents, is by definition immaterial, so it can appear at first glance as a risk-free investment. This is particularly the case if, as Wyn Grant probably rightly suggests, Dickson may now be worth £300k+ without having started a game for the Addicks.
However one firstly needs to factor in the wage costs, which are typically not counterbalanced with an immediate first-team impact. Second and most importantly, the overall success of this type of transfer strategy needs to be assessed on a holistic basis; for every Chris Dickson, Kelly Youga or Jerome Thomas, there is likely to be a Sergio Leite, Jesper Blomqvist or Stephen Hughes (remember them?).
So far, it is hard to argue that Charlton have not done a good job in this regard, and as such they should be urged to continue down this route. Jerome Thomas for example could well be worth seven-figures to some poor unsuspecting Premiership side (Hull City? - Ed.). That type of windfall can hide a multitude of speculative sins. From the current squad alone, Messrs Racon, Christensen, and Monteiro are probably costing perhaps £75-100k pa each, with no discernible positive impact thus far.
I am fond of referencing author Nassim Taleb on this blog, and a recent interview in the Sunday Times reminded me of a highly attractive theory which would seem to describe perfectly Charlton's current transfer strategy. He was referring to an optimal personal investment approach, but it remains valid in my view. In short, he believes one should position themselves to benefit from unexpected surprises ('Black Swans'), rather than to suffer from them:
Stuart Fleetwood's valuation could 'explode' (as could his impact on the first team); Mark Hudson's could not. Hudson is however a 'safe' investment based upon his prior Championship experience; Fleetwood is not. Providing the club continues to get the balance right, the approach makes considerable sense. A 'safe' central midfielder would be nice right now though.