A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a stylish chap named Chris Powell did battle with a fleet from the West Country in one of the final conflicts of the Great Championship War. The stylish chap, flat-capped for the special occasion, led his Haddock Eating Redmen to a crushing victory with a Frenchman called Yann his chief man on the battle front. They certainly weren’t the biggest army, the Foxes from the Midlands, those who Wandered around Lancashire and the Identity Confused Welshmen all had resources far greater that Powell’s tiny force, but they’d given the 10 month long war an astonishing go. They managed to pull off some shock victories, crippling the Foxes regiment on two occasions and defeating the Wanderers and the Welshman after all appeared lost. It was a war effort that the Haddock eaters could be incredibly proud of. Morale was high and optimism was great that a summer recruitment programme, along with the inclusion of some promising small ones, could see a future war be won outright.
That was two weeks ago. Charlton Athletic had just finished 9th in the Championship after three years in exile. Gone were the days of losing at home to Walsall on a cold December Sunday, replaced by victories over the likes of Leicester City, Cardiff City and Bolton Wanderers. As someone once sung, ‘the only way is (was) up’. However, as is the case for this time of year, the entertainment of watching 22 men kick a spherical object around a patch of grass is replaced by never ending excitement of rumour. Unfortunately at Charlton Athletic, rumour is never a good thing. Whilst there have been several positives to come out of the club in the days since the curtain fell on the 2012/13 season, the usual panic has arisen over finances, player sales and even that stylish chap with the flat cap jumping ship. That exciting future has gone from being in touching distance to slipping away out of reach but it’s certainly not all doom and gloom as some will have you believe. It’s always exciting in SE7.
First of all, let’s deal in facts. Facts give your writer solace when those doom-mongers successfully convince themselves and anyone that cares to listen that ‘we’re doomed’. There have been seven players released by the club; five of which I fully agree with, one of which I begrudgingly agree with, and the other I’m rather disappointed with. John Sullivan, who has now joined Portsmouth, and Yado Mambo were unlikely to challenge for first team places and releasing them gives them the chance to play regularly first team football. Salim Kerkar, whilst playing an important role in the first half of the season including a fantastic performance against Cardiff in the 5-4 victory, was at best a bit part player and only rarely put in pleasing displays. I would hope we could find a left winger of a higher standard to challenge Callum Harriott. Matt Taylor will be remembered as a central figure in 2011/12 promotion team and he rarely put in a foot wrong when called upon in the campaign just gone, but Championship football seemed a step to far for the centre back. I hope he returns to League One and guides another team to promotion. No one put in more effort than Scott Wagstaff, but unfortunately the time was right for one of the few players you could label as ‘Charlton through and through’ to leave the club. Out of all the released players, it is he who I hope goes on to achieve great things and maybe finds himself in a position to return to the Valley in a red shirt one day.
The decision to release Ricardo Fuller is the one I begrudgingly agree with. He had his critics, and in certain games he wasn’t up to scratch, but he provided that spark of genius that hardly any other player in last season’s squad to provide. On his day, he still had that Premier League quality that made him a cult hero at Stoke City, whilst his partnership with Yann Kermorgant towards the end of the season didn’t receive the praise it deserved. Fuller’s ability to hold the ball up consistently and occupy a position up top gave Kermorgant a free role, which the Frenchman exploited dangerously. However, with the Jamaican rumoured to be earning in excess of £10,000 per week and a body likely to break down at any moment, I see it as a decision that had to be made given the financial constraints the club have to live under. If there was an option for a risk free pay-as-you-play deal then it would have been stupid not to keep him at the club, but of course football and footballer’s contracts aren’t that simple.
The one that has left me confused and, if I’m honest, rather angry is the decision to release Danny Haynes. Yes, in the words of Andy Hughes, the pacey forward possesses a pair of ‘chocolate hamstrings’, but according to the reliable source of Rich Cawley at the South London Press, a new deal was in place for Haynes, suggesting something has changed. It may have been as simple as Powell deciding his injury record wasn’t worth the risk for the flashes of brilliance Haynes brought, or a replacement may have been identified, but the cynic in me points towards further budget constraints being forced upon Powell. If that is the case, the fact finance may be holding us back is highly frustrating, not just in the case of releasing Haynes but in general. Cynicism isn’t my thing so I’ll leave that to the pessimists, but I do hope investment comes in so we have the opportunity to progress further.
In more positive news, three players have signed new contracts with the club. Dorian Dervite, who impressed towards the end of the season, signs a new one year deal, as does Leon Cort. I’m very happy to see Dervite stay put for at least another season, but I thought it may have been time for Cort to move on with age not on his side. However, he impressed in the first half of the season before injury, an incredible display against Millwall alongside Dervite comes to mind, and he may prove a solid 3rd or 4th choice option. The most exciting piece of news is that exciting youngster Callum Harriott has extended his contract until 2016. His inclusion in the team in the final few months of the season was a crucial factor for the upturn in form, showing a potent threat down the flank that had been missing for a considerable amount of time, and at just 19, he has the potential to be a genuinely outstanding player. The three year deal means, in a worst case scenario, we’re in a position to make a few million from him if we need to sell, or we have a very talented footballer for the next three seasons.
That leaves the contracts of Cedric Evina, Andy Hughes and Bradley Wright-Phillips to attend to. It’s been widely reported that Evina has been offered a new deal, whilst a decision on Wright-Phillips won’t be made until after Brentford’s play-off final. I fully expect Wright-Phillips to leave, Championship football is, for whatever reason, not his level, but he’ll always be a hero for scoring the goals and ‘the goal’ to get us promoted back to the Championship. There’s a grey area around Evina, does he want first team football or is he willing to play second fiddle to Rhoys Wiggins? I rate Evina very highly, but if he wants to move on to find regular football, I won’t hold any grudges. Finally, I can only guess that Hughes will be offered a player/coach role, which will be ideal for all parties. He’ll be a valuable asset to call upon when needed and he’ll have the chance to develop a career when retirement calls.
Potential Ins and Outs
It’s only a matter of time before Sky Sports News bring out their gadgets and tell everyone there’s a considerable amount of microseconds left until the transfer window closers, and Charlton have already been linked to a number of players, whilst a few players are seemingly heading for the exit door.
The Addicks look set to swoop for Jonathan Obika and Mark Gower, two loanees who took a while to find their feet during their loans spells at the club but impressed in the final few weeks of the season. I would welcome both players: Gower’s experience could prove vital and his eye for a pass doesn’t seem to have been lost as showcased in the 4-1 win over Bristol City whilst Obika, if not another forward, is a must with only one senior striker in the shape of Kermorgant currently at the club. There have also been reports liking Charlton with a £250,000 move for Crawley defender Mark Connolly, who is highly regarded and being tracked by a number of Championship club if the reports are to be believed.
That £250,000, or any other transfer fee for that matter, is likely to be covered by the potential sale of three players reported as being made available for transfer. After turning down a £2.5M offer from Aston Villa in the summer for Dale Stephens, he is now up for grabs again alongside Danny Green and Danny Hollands. With hindsight, it now appears a mistake to have turned down such a large sum for Stephens, but I rate him highly and he impressed throughout the season, unfortunately having a number of shocking displays that have seen him split the Charlton fan base. Hollands was unimpressive before his loan move at the start of the season and didn’t look like he had taken to Championship football well with his best game of the season coming in the penultimate game in a surprise appearance at Middlesbrough, however, it may be right to cash in on him with other midfield options. Finally, as I’m sure regular readers of my blog are aware, I don’t rate Green too highly. Despite having all the attributes to make a decent winger, they never seem to be displayed and I can count his decent performances this season on one hand. Hollands and Green will raise a few £100,000 each whilst Stephens may bring in a bit more, but I would hope we could find a way to keep the former Oldham midfielder. However, if it’s a case of selling Stephens to keep the likes of Solly and Hamer, then it must be done.
Just as I had calmed myself down after the Danny Haynes story was released, a Wolverhampton journalist posted a Tweet claiming Chris Powell was in the frame for the Wolves job. Cue panic attack. The man has made our club great again. He has taken a club sinking deeper and deeper and revolutionised it. A title in his first full season with 101 points and an incredible 9th place finish with one of, if not the smallest budget in the Championship speaks volumes about Powell without going into the finer details of his character and such like. Losing Powell is not an option, especially not to a crisis club in League One. Thankfully it appears as if it is Wolves dreaming big and Charlton will laugh off the approach; I can’t believe Powell would want to move anyway. He promised us he’d see us all next season on the final day, I’m sure he’ll stick to that promise.
All this in just two weeks; we’ve got a long summer on our hands. Entering my 10th season as a Charlton fan, I’ve grown used to this by now. But I still remain positive for next season if we can keep Powell and the bulk of the current squad. I said on the final day if we started the season with the team that started against Bristol City, replacing Hamer for Button, I wouldn’t be too disappointed. Hopefully the finance issues are resolved one way or another but in the meantime, I’m going to go back to savouring that felling of positivity we all enjoyed two weeks ago about Charlton Athletic Football.