The argument goes that Charlton’s relegation to League One was confirmed following the abysmal defeat to Sheffield United. The players were beaten, and so was the manager; the club was only heading in one direction.
It isn’t an argument I follow. Chris Powell had picked up his players time and time again, and I certainly would have backed him to do so on this occasion, even with the clearly strained relationship between owner and manager. Powell and his players, throughout their three years together, more often not rose to the challenge.
In fact, I believed our relegation to League One was confirmed the moment Powell left the building and Jose Riga came in to replace him. In a purely practical and football based sense, it seemed suicidal to make a managerial change with two months of the season remaining, especially to replace a manager doing a respectable job in testing circumstances with one who had never worked in England before.
But, whether you wish to believe so or not, Powell’s sacking was much, much more than just a decision based around results. As Powell said himself, Roland Duchatelet’s plans ‘didn’t sit right with him’, and his period working with the owner was tough. With Powell handed a bunch of Duchetelet signings who weren’t good enough, forced to sell two of his best players and tensions running high, Charlton’s boss was effectively forced out with his job, which was already testing thanks to a lack of investment, made almost impossible.
Whilst some will argue Powell’s sacking has been proved right, the manner in which Powell departed wasn’t, and can never be, justified. Even today, it’s emerged Powell is yet to receive his settlement pay-off. Is that really how a club legend should be treated?
Nonetheless, that doesn’t take anything away from the job Riga has done. In fact, there’s a case for Riga’s success in helping to maintain our Championship status being worthy of even more credit owing to the situation surrounding both the club and his appointment.
At times, Riga has made mistakes; continuously playing Jordan Cousins out of position and a number of bizarre substitutions have been particularly frustrating. At times, Riga has got lucky; poor performances have gone without punishment thanks to a number of fixtures against teams in turmoil. At times, Riga’s side has crumbled far too easily; the defeats to Brighton, Reading and Blackburn were especially depressing. It’s been far from perfect.
But all of that is an improvement upon the very worst that I expected. I envisaged Duchatelet’s dire signings starting every game, the ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ spirit vanishing and defeat after defeat leading to relegation.
In fact, the biggest praise I can give to Riga is that, whilst there are obvious tactical flaws, he’s managed to maintain that fight and spirit amongst the players and it’s that that has seen us avoid relegation.
Some will mock the suggestion that spirit alone has seen the Addicks pick up points in recent weeks and, of course, that isn’t the case. It’s a healthy mixture of different factors, from genuine ability to Riga’s tactical set up in a handful of games on top of that spirit.
Take, for example, the Bournemouth game. It wasn’t the best of performances, but Riga’s substitutions and the determination of the players pushed the Addicks on in order to achieve that last minute winner.
However, and I say this at the risk of being lynched, I don’t think Riga can be viewed as a long term option.
First of all, as mentioned above, there have been bizarre tactical decisions. Those Bournemouth-like wins have been few and far between and results such as the wins over Leeds, Forest and Sheffield Wednesday were largely based around the players digging deep and the opposition being a bit pathetic.
And there’s also a question mark around how much power Riga actually has. He’s his own man in some respects, but I do find it a little odd that nothing has been done in regards to Yohann Thuram’s decision not to travel to Leeds. Two games out before returning to the bench without a word was rather bizarre, and I was hurt, in a sense, to see a player who clearly doesn’t want to be here take up a place on the bench.
Thuram’s loan should have been terminated, or at least he shouldn’t have been in a match day squad from Leeds onwards. Would have Powell, or a similar manager, have made sure a disruptive influence was removed? It might be meaningless now, but when you’ve watched players give their all for this club for three years, it’s worrying that those that might replace them lack the same commitment.
There still has to be a huge concern over Duchatelet’s intentions. If you won’t believe people with Charlton connections, just look at how Duchatelet’s other clubs feel about him. Personally, I’d want a British manager, who understands our club, culture and traditions, who wouldn’t be afraid to challenge Duchatelet if needs be. Of course, that’s going to be unlikely, and I find it incredibly difficult to trust Duchatelet to make the right decision, but if really wants what’s best for our club, and not just for himself and his network, then that would be the correct route to go down.
Who do I want? I couldn’t answer you that, but someone who can build up something like we had with Powell. Results are one thing, but feeling a strong bond towards the collective staff and players is another, almost more important, thing. I don’t think Riga is that man.
Nonetheless, I don’t scorn at the view Riga should stay. I’ll stand by the view that he’s not right in the long term, but, if nothing else, you could certainly argue he deserves a chance after a relative success over the past few weeks.
What I do scorn at, however, is those who are praising Duchatelet for both surviving and his decision to remove Powell. Again, at the risk of being hung from the Covered End’s roof, Duchatelet merely made survival harder, and deserves little credit for the work of Powell, Riga and the players in avoiding the drop. Likewise, praising Riga is not an excuse to criticise Powell’s time at Charlton, which seems to be the order of the day on a popular Charlton forum.
But I digress somewhat. Arguments about Duchatelet have gone on and on to the point where arguing with each other is futile; there are two camps, with two fundamentally different views. Maybe there’s now a third camp, those who don’t like what’s gone before but are willing to give him a second chance. Sensible, but emotions are still too raw for myself, and many others.
So, instead, I’ll say thank you. Thank you to Jose. You’ve proved me wrong with the results you’ve picked up, and I wish you all the best in the future. I didn’t expect to be appreciative of Riga back in the middle of March.