Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vetere Departs

The club website has quietly and briefly confirmed the departure of Jeff Vetere as technical director.

His appointment had rightly generated a reasonable degree of excitement, given the stature of clubs where he had previously worked.

Indeed a very well-connected football contact of mine described him as a 'genius'.

In the brief period during which he was reconnected with the club, his role was so low profile that it is hard to assess what impact he had, and thus what impact his departure will have.

In my 'CAFC - The Movie' blog, I had cast Vetere firmly in a starring role so I don't view today's announcement as being a positive thing.

The idea espoused on some fan forums that he had merely come to set up a scouting network (and thus his work is done) seems rather unrealistic. These things take years not months, and what exactly would he have done?

If he shortly turns up at a bigger and richer club, then it will be fairly obvious what has happened (and frankly who could blame him?).

If not, then I suspect that the fact that the person who I firmly believe is absolutely running the show (Jimenez) is also a self-styled 'football fixer', then perhaps Vetere was never comfortable with exactly what role he was being asked to perform.

However whoever was responsible for pulling together the aforementioned 21 players has clearly done a terrifc job (presumably it was some combination of Powell/Jimenez/Vetere/Chapple) on the evidence so far.

We Are Leeds?

I believe Charlton are the only side in League One for whom I cannot make the following statement with at least 95% confidence: “They will not generate more than 100 points.” (New York Addick, 2 Aug 2011)

Lest I be accused of being in a state of perma-negativity, I draw the attention of the jury to the above statement made before the season even started.

Indeed with the team now on course for 111 points (based on 2.42 per game so far), I probably couldn’t even make that claim with at least 50% confidence.

After Monday night’s all-action win over Huddersfield, I decided it was time to get my trusty abacus out again to assess where we now stand in regard to the ultimate goal….promotion.

The current League One table is conveniently free of assumptions about games in hand given that every team has played exactly 19 games.

Simple extrapolation suggests that 93 points will be required for automatic promotion (Huddersfield are in 3rd place and averaging 2 points per game).

However historical precedent suggests that this is likely an overestimation.

In the past ten seasons, the following points totals would have been sufficient to guarantee automatic promotion: 88, 86, 88, 81, 84, 77, 80, 83, 84, 84 (average: 83.5).

Given that even fifth placed Sheffield United are on course for a points total in excess of this average, the total required this season is likely to test the upper boundary of the above range.

For the sake of simplification, I will suggest that 88 points will again be sufficient, as they were in 2010/11 (Brighton/Southampton) and 2008/9 (Leicester/Peterborough).

If true, then it means that Charlton require just 42 points from their 27 remaining games, equivalent to just 72 points over a full season.

Looked at another way, it only requires the same degree of form that Brentford and Carlisle have shown in their own 19 games this season (ie. 1.53pts per game).

With the team displaying such terrific team spirit, scoring goals for fun, defending like warriors and able to temporarily replace the injured players (Stephens, Jackson) with new loanees, even I will struggle to build a case that this points target is beyond us.

However an analogy from 2009/10 has been troubling me slightly for reasons that will become eerily apparent.

After 19 games of that season, Leeds United had a record of P19 W14 D4 L1 Pts 46……sound familiar?

Interestingly, of the 11 points that they too had dropped up to this point, 6 had come at home and 5 away just as Charlton’s have.

After their 19th game, the table looked like this:

Leeds P19 46
Charlton P20 42
Norwich P20 38
Colchester P20 36
Huddersfield P20 32
Swindon P18 31

With a game in hand and a eight-point gap between 1st and 3rd, they too must surely have felt automatic promotion was almost assured already.

Indeed when they went to Manchester United just a few weeks later and won an FA Cup tie there too, their stock could hardly have been any higher.

As we know what actually happened was that promotion was only achieved on the final day, and not before even Charlton briefly occupied the 2nd spot for a few minutes.

The problem of course was a diabolical dip in form from 9th Jan onwards, caused perhaps by those very FA Cup exploits (they subsequently earned a draw at White Hart Lane before bowing out at home).

Somewhat astonishingly given their prior form, they won just 3 of their next 16 League One matches, a run which even included a spell of four consecutive defeats, all to teams which would eventually occupy the final top six.

They recovered sufficiently to scrape past the finish line thanks to 5 wins from their final 7 games, but it was one hell of a close run thing.

If there is a potential lesson in the above story, it is to recognise that progressing to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup may well be a poisoned chalice.

Had Leeds missed out on promotion, it is hard to believe their fans (and directors) would not gladly have given up those great days out in Manchester and Tottenham, for a top two finish.

The other lesson is not to allow complacency to even threaten to creep into our preparation and focus (and to be fair, there is absolutely no evidence that it has).

There were signs of it at Stevenage (and I wasn’t afraid to point it out), but clearly lessons were learned and they have bounced back in fine style.

From a personal point of view, I hope it’s wrapped up long before Hartlepool on May 5th because the wife is expecting our third child that very weekend.

This potentially presents the very embodiment of a ‘modern dilemma’, and in my experience women can be very selfish in this regard.

She may have to be induced.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bee Sting

For the second time in the past three seasons, I made the relatively short trip to this often forgotten part of West London, wedged as it is between the M4 and the river.

A couple of main stand tickets had fallen my way courtesy of a Brentford staff member, so I took up a terrific vantage point close to the directors’ box (indeed close enough to confirm that under no circumstances would I mess with Tony Jimenez).

It was reassuring to observe Jimenez sharing a pre-match joke with Richard Murray, suggesting that all is well in the Charlton boardroom, not surprisingly perhaps given onfield matters.

I had deliberately kept my planned attendance at the fixture quiet in the hope of not jeopardising the team’s chances, such is my usual impact on the side.

It seems my plan worked and I witnessed a rare Charlton victory (rare for me that is), although I’d be hard pushed to claim I’d seen a terrific performance, certainly by my demanding standards.

The first half belonged firmly to the home side, with the leggy central midfield pair of Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga dominating affairs.

Indeed whilst one would imagine they are probably amongst the most impressive central midfield partnerships in the division, they particularly showed up the deficiencies of Andy Hughes whose first half performance bordered on the mildly embarrassing at times.

It was Hughes’ mistake which forced Ben Hamer to make an early smart low save, whilst a terrific passing move saw the ex-Bees keeper’s woodwork rattled not long thereafter.

The talented but extraordinarily frustrating home striker Clayton Donaldson then somehow guided a free header wide, and the Addicks (who had not created a first half chance) were left grateful to hear the half-time whistle.

An early second-half Addicks corner at least suggested a greater level of attacking intent, and their first real chance of the game may ultimately have changed the game altogether.

Bradley Wright-Phillips was put clear through the middle, and in the melee which resulted from his effort, there was an ugly collision between keeper and defender, which left Shaleum Logan requiring six minutes of treatment.

Perhaps shaken by the seriousness of the injury, Charlton soon took the lead further flattening the atmosphere.

The type of fast-flowing passing which I’ve read about (but unfortunately haven’t yet seen much of yet) saw the ball played out wide to Danny Green in space, and his first time low cross was helped home by Wright-Phillips.

The remainder of the match saw the away side happy to soak up pressure, with Morrison and Taylor resolute in the air, and denying the Brentford forwards any meaningful space.

A series of corners during an unprecedented TEN minutes of injury time were nervy, but the Addicks held on for a hard-fought (and vital given other results) win.

I’ve clearly missed better performances (bear in mind the last match I saw was at Stevenage), but I got a better feeling for why we seem to be churning out results.

Defensively we look rock solid with two big strong lads at the back, whilst in Wright-Phillips we have the division’s most natural goalscorer, playing so much on the last defender’s shoulder that he’s effectively in their blind spot.

Indeed whilst I suspect we rely upon his goals more than we realise, conversely in another sense it doesn’t matter. All teams rely on their best players to a large extent (else they wouldn’t be their best players).

Throw in a terrific workrate, team spirit, better players and one or two additional ‘value adds’ (like Green’s set-piece delivery), and the massive improvement on last season is not inexplicable at least.

As for Brentford, it's not hard to see why their home form is poor. Despite plenty of possession and neat passing, a determined away side can deny them space and frustrate.

They should be good enough for a play-off spot though.

Here are my player ratings:

Hamer 7: a late flap caused defensive jitters, but he made a couple of saves when called upon
Solly 6: relatively quiet, but it’s hard to recall too many attacking forays down the left flank
Wiggins 7: looks a class above this level at times; the signing of the summer
Morrison 8: every League one side needs a brute at the back; he’s ours
Taylor 8: rock solid alongside his big partner
Hughes 4: despite recent results, his continued presence denies the midfield a playmaker – this may not end well
Hollands 7: contested in midfield and never shirked a challenge, but time on the ball was limited
Green 7: excellent deliveries both from set-pieces and open play; needs to receive the ball more
Jackson 5: exited the game in rather comical fashion; never gained a foothold
Kermogant 5: dropped deep to good effect at times, but was largely muscled out
Wright-Phillips 7: only in the side for one reason, and proved it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Swiss Ramble

In life, it's sometimes important to simply accept that someone can do something much better than you can.

Despite writing numerous posts that attempt to address issues relating to Charlton's finances, this outstanding blog is a must-read for anyone interested in the topic.

Indeed his (or her) articles are always exceptionally well-researched, regardless of which club it relates to, and this one is no different.

It does not offer any predictions, but instead a rational and balanced assessment of the financial realities of being a former Premiership club in League One.

In my own lengthy article written in June, I sought to provide a more predictive assessment of where the club was headed (and why), and I'd like to think early evidence suggests I was not too far off the mark.

Not surprisingly the key conclusion of the Swiss Ramble piece is that the 2006/7 season was both a footballing and financial disaster (especially the latter).

Seeing the extent to which the net transfer spending rocketed in both an absolute and relative sense, is truly shocking when you stand back and look at it (as the analysis permits).

Whilst blame is often placed at Iain Dowie's door (he presumably chose the overvalued new players), I'm again strongly inclined to blame instead a catastrophic (and most out of character) misjudgment at Board level.

To describe it as a calculated gamble would be generous indeed. A calculated gamble (as opposed to a wild one) would not have required such a hefty price if it failed.

Going forward however it will become harder for any curious fan to receive much financial transparency as before, although the club remains a UK limited company and thus must still file accounts at Companies House. The accounts to 30 Jun 2011 remain unfiled for now.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Three Degrees

'Intelligent footballer.' It's surely one of those modern oxymorons like 'non-iron shirt', 'pleasant flight' or 'underpaid banker'?

Or maybe not it seems in Charlton's case.

The current squad contains three players with degrees (Alonso, Hughes, Pritchard), as well as one more who certainly attended university (Taylor), although I cannot find firm evidence that he graduated.

However I should begin with a clear disclaimer. I don't for one moment think that the acqusition of a degree is a guarantee of intelligence.

I've met as many graduates who are remarkably stupid, as non-graduates who are anything but.

Outside of the few truly intense vocational degrees (medicine etc.), and the top universities, a degree in itself probably doesn't signal much more than some ability to organise and commit to a long-term challenge (a useful skill nonetheless).

However this 'signaling' effect is real and valuable to employers, who need to sift through thousands of potential recruits.

In short, we live in a complicated world and I too need simple rules with which to live by and save time, so on this basis I'm going to declare that Charlton almost certainly has the most intelligent squad in English football.

It would probably be decidedly unintelligent of me to suggest that the fact that we also have more points than the other 91 clubs, is a direct result of the above observation (not least because only Messrs Taylor and recently Hughes have played any meaningful part).

Realistically, is intelligence an asset on the football field, or is it an irrelevance or even a hindrance?

Much of football is impulsive which by definition renders intelligence irrelevant. Wayne Rooney is a terrific exponent of this trait.

Those aspects which are less impulsive (awareness of space, obeyance of tactical instructions, knowing how to 'play the percentages' etc.) can probably be improved simply by repetition.

Conversely, when there is a 50/50 tackle to be won, I don't want our player conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis weighing up the risk and cost of injury versus the importance of winning a meaningless tackle.

Just get stuck in and we'll deal with the insurance company later.

There is probably a softer version however called 'football intelligence,' which successful but less naturally gifted players must possess.

The likes of Matt Holland, Clive Mendonca and even Chris Powell in recent Addick memory would fall into this category for me.

Frustratingly there are plenty of talented players who lack this footballing intelligence, leaving naïve fans convinced it is only a matter of time before they flourish (yet they never do for this very reason).

For all I know Therry Racon may have read the work of Jean-Paul Sartre on the team bus, but he was a gloriously stupid footballer. So too, Kyle Reid.

However the main point of this blog post is to observe that it is unfortunate that many more footballers must be capable of acquiring a fuller education (to degree level at least), yet very few do so.

I've no reason to think that footballing talent is disproportionately distributed amongst the less intelligent, whilst the large and growing percentage of the population that now attend university adds further support to my view.

Of course much of the explanation lies in the fact that an acute structural difficulty to both study and pursue professional sport concurrently, alongside the substantial rewards available in the latter, mean that it is both impractical and largely irrational to seek to pursue both (and thus few do).

Instead most footballers with degrees either acquire them part-time later in their career (eg Hughes), or make the leap to professional football much later only after completing their studies (eg Pritchard).

This situation is in direct contrast to the US system where the 'college draft' is integral to the structure of professional sport.

Many of these American qualifications are admittedly of dubious merit, but with professional sport being one of life's riskiest careers (not to say shortest), a 'fall back' option of some sort must have value.

This is not to say that a degree provides a useful grounding for all careers. No academic course worth its salt has ever taught a student how to sell for example, perhaps the most useful commercial skill of all.

The preferred 'fall back' option for footballers good enough to spend considerable time in the Premiership is simply 'loads of cash in the bank' (and it's a damned good option), but this is not true for those even with a 10-15 year career in the Championship, let alone League One or below.

If properly advised and financially astute, most will have had the earnings ability to end their careers mortgage-free, but with no obvious means with which to maintain the ongoing expenditure that their high quality of life (and wife) demands.

They might live for another sixty years after all.

For many players, the time value of money determines that this consideration is more than outweighed by the benefit of 'front-loading' their earnings, the exact opposite of more traditional professions which become more lucrative over time, and for much longer.

One also ought to put value on the fabulous memories and never ending source of anecdotes, which a football career brings.

Thus whilst a small percentage will move straight into a (likely poorly-paid) junior coaching or teaching role, most will enter the non-footballing workforce at a level which their peers (graduates or otherwise) will have left behind half a generation earlier.

For those not intellectually gifted but with a football talent, the pursuit of a career therein is a pure free option, and should be pursued without question.

The potential rewards available are so great (relatively), and if a rejection ensues instead, they haven't lost an awful lot from trying.

Things are less clear-cut for those who might have the potential to attend university and be a professional footballer.

Importantly only the most prodiguous talents can be certain they are good enough for the top level at 18 years old, because they are already playing there.

Indeed if clubs were more accommodating, it should be realistic to complete a degree at the same age as most fellow students, whilst playing professional football concurrently.

The time demands of either are famously unprohibitive after all.

Perhaps clubs should be encouraged to enter formal partnerships with local universities/colleges, probably also offering to sponsor the player by paying his tuition fees.

Alternatively clever use of the loans system could be used to find a suitable club (possibly non-League) close to a university of choice.

But what would be in it for the clubs to be supportive in this way?

Firstly they at least claim to have a social conscience, and encouraging education is a good way to prove it.

Second, there is scope for some type of ongoing commercial partnership with the institution, via student ticket promotions etc.

Third, the club would be a more attractive proposition for promising (and bright) young players, particularly those whose parents are aware of the need for balance. This consideration probably trumps the others.

Fourth, the experience of studying alongside fellow students from diverse backgrounds should help develop a more 'rounded' individual, probably making them better players too in subtle ways.

Surely so much of the depressingly regular trouble that footballers get into is a function of moving from immature teenager to (relatively) rich adult, without the natural break or pause between the two that other successful people get.

Admittedly it's hard to picture Titus Bramble at Oxford University (maybe Oxford United), but less mutual suspicion between academia and football would be a positive thing all round.