Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's All Over Now

Whilst those Addicks fans present at The Valley were having their hearts ripped to shreds, I was desperately trying to follow events from New York via email updates from my Dad.

Fully 35 separate emails pay testimony to the ups and downs of an extraordinary night, although as implied on my previous post I am rather unmoved by the eventual outcome.

Firstly victory last night we now learn, would only have set up a one-off game against a Millwall side, that outclassed us 4-0 just weeks ago.

In other words, if our probability of gaining promotion were about 25% when the first penalty was struck, then it would only be about 44% now.

Every club in the domestic football pyramid deserves to be where it is, and Charlton is no different.

It is irrelevant for example that The Valley is the 28th largest stadium in England, or that our average attendances in League One were higher than those at 14 Championship venues.

We must face up to the fact that the clubs we must now seek to emulate are the likes of Doncaster and Scunthorpe, not Fulham or Stoke.

We began the season so promisingly, those opening six wins achieved with some flowing football from a stable team selection, and not a single loan player on view.

The confidence that those quickfire 18 points engendered, should have been the basis for a successful season that culminated in automatic promotion.

Even at Christmas, the team had 46 points from 22 games and was still thus on course for nearly 100 points.

However just as the club had done in 2007/8 when form began to deteriorate, it desperately sought to plug holes with another smattering of loan signings and seemingly random team selection.

The philosophy seemed to be that if you try enough things, then eventually you must stumble across a winning solution.

Except that we didn't, and the inevitable result was extraordinary inconsistency and finally play-off defeat.

Unfortunately whilst one accepts Phil Parkinson tried his best, to believe that he is the right manager for Charlton is to tolerate mediocrity.

I've maintained all season that we do not appear to play to any consistent system, and the players appear under-coached.

How many individual players have categorically improved under his stewardship for example?

He does appear to have engendered good team spirit however, which allied with the decent (albeit revolving) quality of the squad he utilised, was enough to ensure the season didn't degenerate into total failure after Christmas.

Nonetheless a record as manager of just 27 wins from 74 League matches is a tough one to defend, and let's not mention those Cup defeats.

However whilst the club's finances are so unclear, it is hard to make predictions for the future or even to suggest an appropriate way forward.

Some appear to believe that administration is an inevitability, but this ignores the fact that the debts are largely owed to the same people (ie. the directors) who are responsible for deciding whether to opt for administration!

In short, to assess the likelihood of administration, one would need to know more about the individual financial situations of the directors, and this is of course not a matter of public record.

Either way, the debts are sizeable and must either be restructured (via administration), repaid (via brutal cost-cutting, surprisingly quick onfield success or the sale of the club) or converted to equity.

Whichever route the club takes, surely we must stop all this short-termist nonsense and build for the medium to long-term future, even if it means taking some steps back to take several forward.

It's just like 1992 all over again unfortunately. The stadium may look much better, but the challenges are similar.

We need to acknowledge that although those Premiership years are so vivid in the memory (and readily available to recall on YouTube), they are as far away today as they were back then.

When fans speak fondly of the Curbishley years, it is often forgotten that it took the club eight seasons to reach the Premiership, and ten seasons to begin to become established there.

In short, it didn't happen overnight but the club had stability, and did not panic when there were short-term blips (like twice finishing 15th in 1994/95 and 1996/97 respectively).

Instead Curbs slowly built a consistent playing system on a tight budget, that incorporated both homegrown youngsters and hidden gems in whom he could see potential.

Why is the club seemingly so unwilling to revisit this route? The one that sees the likes of Keith Jones or John Robinson signed for virtually nothing, yet ultimately coached into Premiership players?

You find the right characters that can fit into the system you wish to deploy, and you coach them to improve. And you do it consistently.

Ask Accrington Stanley fans whether being long-termist works. Their boss John Coleman has improved their League position every year for the past eleven seasons.

This is not easy of course, it takes coaching and tactical prowess and the belief not to be blown off course by a few bad results. Unfortunately Parkinson displayed neither.

Curbs utilised the odd successful loan signing of course (eg. Heaney, Costa etc.) but it was hardly the bedrock of his managerial strategy.

How could the best medium-term interests of the club be served by utilising Reid instead of Wagstaff, or Borrowdale instead of Solly?

If these kids aren't good enough then kick them out, but if they've got a chance for goodness sake play them. At least they'll be here next season.

So what if it takes us a few seasons to rebuild from here? At least when we eventually win promotion, we will have done so with a stable squad that will be better set up to cope with the new challenges of the Championship.

What would the squad have looked like next season had we won promotion? We may well have been an embarrassment again, and that would have set us back further than where we stand now.

Clearly the club has royally screwed up the past four seasons, but they had set the expectations bar pretty high, having built the club into one that was rightly viewed as a model for so many others.

I've no wish to sound like David Brent upon learning of his redundancy, but if lessons are learned then last night's defeat may well be the best bloody thing that's happened to our club in a long time.


At 4:43 AM, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Sadly, I would agree the squad, as it presently stands, with the current manager at the helm, is not ready to move a league higher.

I would also agree it is preferable for a club to develop its home-grown talent.

Having said that, Swindon was definitely a stronger side, having Ward and Darby on loan from Bolton and Liverpool and their efforts contributed greatly to the win over Charlton.

Had Charlton tapped the rosters of say Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham or even West Ham for two or three brightly talented youngsters, would they have been promoted?

And if they were and those players then withdrawn by their clubs, would it be straight back down again? On that basis, what will be the fate of Swindon, should they reach promotion?

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that I disagree with most of what you've written.

Look at the stats of the teams who automatically qualified and those in the play-offs. Notice anything about Charlton? No 15+ goal player (ignoring Forster who's 15 were mostly prior to joining).

It wasn't that the team as a whole weren't good enough, it was simply that we didn't have a 15+ goal-a-season striker on board. Personally I'd argue that the lack of such a player shows that in actual fact we've had a very good team to have ended up just three points shy of an automatic spot. Highly likely that such a player would have turned one close loss into a win over the course of a season.

You complain about bringing loanees in to fill holes? Well if you don't, and given that there was no money to buy players, you'd be left with... a hole. Complaining about bringing loanees in also conveniently overlooks those other teams for whom it's worked well.

Too many people have complained about team performances one week and then complained about changes the next! Talk about 20-20 hindsight!

Reid or Wagstaff? I like Wagstaff and I hope we'll see him next season (but I suspect not) but I'd prefer Reid.

"Kick the kids out if they're not good enough"? Did you really write that?? So you don't want us to bring up kids through the ranks, loan them out to get them experience and hopefully see them make the grade. You only want us to bring in already qualified/experienced players at some cost?

And lastly I disagree with your comments about Parkinson. Sure his record at Charlton isn't fantastic, but neither are the records of his forerunners and with the funds available to him (quick poll... how much have Charlton spent on signings recently? Bugger all) I think he's done an admirable job.

I come back to the fact that all we were missing was a 15+ goal striker and the lack of one is not necessarily a fault of anyone. If Burton hadn't been carrying a hernia all season, he might well have been that person. The mere fact that we were in the playoffs without the 24+ goal players that Swindon, Leeds and Norwich had (Paynter, Beckford & Holt) or the 18+ goals that Huddersfield, Swindon and Millwall had (Rhodes, Austin, Morrison) is a damn good achievement in my book.

The margin between us getting an automatic spot and staying in League One was very, very, small.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Hungry Ted said...

So we're all in agreement then? One thing we can all agree on, I'm sure, is that the club needs our support more than any other time in the last 15-20 years. You need to experience the lows to appreciate the highs.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger New York Addick said...

Anonymous, I don't have a problem with season-long type loans (we had great success with Scott Carson for example), but we did not have any of those.

Indeed if anything like that comes out of this supposed Liverpool deal, then that could be quite exciting.

But I just don't know how you can build any consistency when you have such rotation of personnel, and uncertainty about their ongoing availability.

With regard to youngsters, I probably should have said 'don't have any prospect of being good enough'.

It just seemed that say Wagstaff would play some good games, but after one poor half he would inevitably return to the bench for the latest loan player.

We will thus start another season in League One with Wagstaff showing promise but lacking experience, when infact he should have had another 15-20 games under his belt.

When Parkinson finally gave Randolph a chance, he looked a decent prospect yet earlier in the season it was apparently in our best interests to play Carl Ikeme.

Parkinson may not have had any money to spend, but he had perhaps the largest wage budget in the division (which at this level may be the more important metric).

We would not have been able to secure the free transfers of the likes of Burton, Dailly and Richardson without offering them Championship type wages, whilst virtually all the loans were from higher divisions.

He also inherited players for whom we'd previously paid a decent fee (eg. Bailey, Racon), or homegrown players that would command a decent fee (eg. Shelvey, Sam).

The key point I tried to make was that all of our policies frankly since the middle of the 2007/8 season have smacked of utter desperation that winning promotion instantly was the be all and end all, rather than attempting to build some stability from which to build.

And of course most importantly, it patently hasn't worked either.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

At this level one just has to use loan signings. Finishing 4th in the division was better than I expected. Parkinson is no Alan Curbishley, but the comparison is not an apt one. Any new manager would have to operate on an even more limited budget. Desperate policies reflect a difficult situation.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

As mentioned, I don't have a problem with season-long loans, nor the occasional 'emergency' loan (our left-back problems this season being an example perhaps).

But we have used fully 28 loan players in just three seasons. This is patently absurd and the results reflect it.

At some point surely it just becomes a poor substitute for good old-fashioned coaching.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Dave said...

NYA - I suspect you will get your wish re rebuilding, but out of harsh financial necessity rather than choice. When Curbs joined us he had every prospect of being at the helm for a good few years in the steps of Lennie and he had already had a couple in tandem with Gritty. Phil Parkinson didn't have that luxury and the Board very clearly gambled on success this season, so there should be no surprises that we got the best quality players we could afford. those happen to be loanees and I think that served us well this season on the whole even if I didn't agree with them all. When promotion is not a realistic target, they may only be forced to splash the cash if relegation becomes a serious threat and even then, they might simply not have any more to give.

In terms of longevity, Parkinson can only be kept on as a financial expedient as things stand. Without new investment he will do well to see his current contract out. Only then are we likely to take a punt on a new manager and I would be very surprised if that too is another long shot.


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