In the miserable moments, the dire defeats and even the relief-filled thrill of survival, Diego Poyet’s mere involvement made the final few months of last season more bearable and improved the eventual joy.
Rarely has a player made such an immediate impression after coming into the side, let alone a teenager making his first 23 appearances in professional football. In fact, I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say Poyet became our talisman; dictating the way the Addicks played and acting as an outlet in the manner Yann Kermorgant had done in a more advanced position.
It was a pleasure to watch such a young talent play, from the incredible tackle prior to the last minute winner over QPR to the flicks that led to goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Yeovil Town. The pleasure was only increased by the fact he was one of our own; another reward for the excellent work of the academy set-up in recent years.
But that work, whilst possibly laying the foundations for Poyet to become a player of Premier League class or more, will only result in those 23 appearances and a relatively minuscule development fee for Charlton. The midfielder who is better than Gus has decided his future lies away from The Valley.
To lose such a talented young player not six months after he made his debut for the club that developed him is obviously a bitter pill to take, and I can’t pretend I didn’t feel a horrible feeling of disappointment upon hearing the news of his departure.
There’s first of all the frustration that two successive boards failed to renew Poyet’s contract; utterly bonkers when his potential has been known for some time, whilst this current ownership appeared so transfixed with Championship survival they forgot to get round to keeping the players that helped us achieve that.
There’s also an argument that Poyet should give something back to Charlton. Maybe that’s fair; maybe, in a world where footballers put loyalty ahead of their own development and bank balance, Poyet owes us at least another season. And maybe Poyet owes it to himself to have another season of development in the Championship before heading onto bigger and better things.
It’s understandable to feel angry and betrayed from a Charlton perspective, but put yourself into the mind of Poyet himself. The choice he’s made seems a perfectly legitimate one.
First of all, his influence in keeping us up is arguably payback enough. I don’t want to single one player out, because our survival was a real team effort, but could we really have maintained our Championship status without Poyet’s influence? I’d say it would have been unlikely. Even if that isn’t enough for some, it certainly shouldn’t be forgotten and it makes the abuse he’s receiving largely unjustifiable.
It’s also apparent he had a great deal of respect for both the manager and the coach that gave him a chance in the first team. The departures of Chris Powell and Jose Riga won’t have been critical to his decision to leave, but it certainly won’t have helped; having one of the men he admired around would surely have acted as some sort of influence to keep him at the club.
On top of that, the delay in offering him a contract would have only increased his frustration. After what he did last season, on top of the clear talent he’s displayed, I don’t think it’s unfair for him to demand to feel wanted. If the way the board have dealt with other out of contract players are anything to go by, it’s clear to see why Poyet would have felt a little undervalued.
You could also argue that with so many players departing, the club have showed a lack of ambition that has frustrated Poyet, although spending a vast amount of cash on a forward suggests otherwise.
Similarly, it’s not unfair to say there’s lot of uncertainty surrounding Charlton at present. As much as we would like to think we are, we’re hardly the most attractive proposition to players with a strong bargaining position.
Is a club that’s part of an experiment and a complete overhaul that could go either way really the right place for a young player to reach his maximum potential? It might well be, but a stable Premier League club with a good record of developing young players, excellent facilities and a larger financial clout is certainly more attractive. Besides, Poyet’s good enough to play in the Premier League right now, so, if he makes a wise choice, I don’t buy the argument that’ll he spend his career sat on a bench wasting away.
So whilst I share the anger and disappointment, if not the bitterness, I wish Poyet all the best and I hope his next decision is one that betters his career. I’ll feel a sense of pride seeing him play in the Premier League and beyond.