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Charlton Conundrums – Ten Questions to Be Answered in the Short and Long Term

Delete where appropriate: those stress free off-season months are over, which is a shame/bloody hell, domestic football is almost back, I can’t wait/the World Cup’s not over yet, give me a chance. Whatever your choice is, with pre-season well under way, it’s time to start worrying about Charlton’s fortunes once more.

And whilst the off-season and the start of pre-season has seen plenty of activity, not all of it welcome but a fair amount of it promising, there remains as many questions to be answered at the start of any other campaign. Here are ten of the more important ones that spring to my mind.

  1. Will Bob Peeters be a success, will he be allowed to fulfil his role independently and how much time will he be given?

It’s incredibly difficult to judge Peeters’ managerial ability. Mutterings from Belgian journalists have been indifferent, as is his record, but he certainly speaks with the confidence of a man who knows what he’s doing and has come across as a likeable figure in the first few weeks of his Charlton career.

Regardless, he’s got an unenviable task. Following one from two bosses that were adored by supporters, there will be a demand for Peeters to improve upon what’s gone before with the additional challenge of having to mould a fresh and diverse squad together.

Of course, Chris Powell proved that the old cliché of a new squad needing time to gel isn’t quite true, but this situation is slightly different. Where Powell’s squad was full of players who were similar characters and knew League One, Peeters’ squad will be a mixture of young and old, Football League regulars and Belgians.

Powell also had the benefit of having his starting XI, minus a certain Frenchman, at the club from the first pre-season game; Peeters’ squad still very much needs addressing, but he’ll be helped by the fact that that several players in his starting XI have been at The Valley for a number of seasons.

He may also have pressure from above, working under an owner who has previously attempted to interfere with team selection. Some will suggest that Roland Duchatelet won’t interfere this time around, but it’s hard to believe when he’s tried to do it before.

And should Peeters fail, he’ll be out the door quickly. The one-year deal and Duchatelet’s apparent lack of patience with any of his assets, managers, players or ground staff, means it’s almost certain he won’t be given time to build a long term project should his first season prove a challenge.

Personally, especially given the tough task facing Peeters to mould the squad together and to get them playing how he wants to, I’m expecting a difficult start. Nonetheless, I’m prepared to give him plenty of time before I start to make a real judgement.

  1. Will those that have departed be missed?

Whilst the squad needed rejuvenating, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we’ve lost a number of important players since January (and Bradley Pritchard), and having those players within the squad for this coming season would have been beneficial.

Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant will continue to be missed, whilst Ben Hamer, Dorian Dervite, and Diego Poyet would have undoubtedly played a large part this season had contract dealings not been quite so disorganised. You could even argue, but I won’t, that Marvin Sordell showed enough in the latter stage of the season to mean his absence won’t go without notice, and many are calling for the return of Astrit Ajdarevic.

Of course, the extent to which they’ll be missed or not depends on the calibre of the replacements, but the players that have left were all largely likable figures. Their presences may well be missed as largely off the pitch as they will be on it.

We’re also going to need someone to step up their Instagram game in the absence of Hamer, Ajdarevic and Andy Hughes. Arguably the biggest shoes to fill this season.

  1. How far are we away from a completed squad?

Although the friendly games against Standard Liege and Sint Truiden were largely irrelevant but for providing fitness and game time to Charlton’s players, the two different starting XIs did give a chance to show where the gaps are in the squad for the coming season.

Whilst what’s come in so far is impressive, Franck Moussa particularly excites me, there’s still a long way to go before the departed players have been completely replaced and I’ll be feel totally comfortable with the squad.

Should Tomasz Cywka, someone who has always impressed when we’ve played Barnsley, and Andre Bikey, a slightly better Sam Sodje without any personal financial benefit for his cards, join on the back of their trials, then a centre back, several wingers a striker and a goalkeeper would still be needed.

We could also do with a physical presence up top. I can think of the perfect candidate…plays for Bournemouth…French chap…

  1. Will a full pre-season give the recruits from abroad time to adapt?

The players Duchatelet brought into the club from abroad in January were certainly not lacking in pedigree and promising YouTube clips. In fact, there was a great deal of excitement about a Polish striker with an excellent goal scoring record, an Iranian cult hero and, to a lesser extent, a French goalkeeper who was voted the best in Ligue 1 in 2012/13.

But none of those players managed to adapt to the English game; even Ajdarevic, who looked the most competent having played in England before, struggled to complete more than an hour of any game.

You would like to think that a whole pre-season campaign will give the likes of Reza Ghoochannejhad and Piotr Parzyszek, especially given his reported fee, the chance to fully adapt to English football and show their full ability. It will also mean those who arrive this summer won’t be thrown straight in at the deep end, and may make a more immediate impression once the season itself gets under way.

At the very least, having a full pre-season removes excuses. These players will either show they’re good enough, or they won’t.

  1. Who is making the decisions?

That Peeters has been given the role of ‘head coach’ suggests his power is limited, and decisions regarding player contracts and signings are not primarily his responsibility. But, with no director of football, it’s difficult to suggest who has the final say, or who even plays a part, in transfer dealings and such like.

Of course, if the decisions turn out to be the correct ones, the majority won’t have a desire to know what goes on behind the scenes and how the club operates, but it would be nice to have some clarity.

On a similar note, when is this going to happen? 

  1. Just how good is Joe Gomez?

It would seem the answer is absolutely phenomenal, and it looks like we’re going to get a decent chance to watch the promising young centre back in action this season. 

  1. Will Nick Pope be first choice?

The young goalkeeper excelled on loan at York City in the latter half of last season, playing a huge role in the Minstermen’s climb up the League Two table with a number of outstanding displays and 16 clean sheets. It’s not difficult to see why there’s a great deal of excitement from Charlton fans about Pope, nor why some are hoping for the stopper to be first choice this season.

But, whilst there’s no doubting he’s an exciting talent, I’m more cautious than most about Pope. It’s one thing to keep clean sheets in League Two; another to keep them in the Championship. It’s a huge step, no matter how much you’ve impressed at the lower level.

I think it will be the case that, at least to begin with, Pope will provide back up and competition to a more experienced number one. Still, it’s nice to have such a highly related ‘keeper in reserve.

  1. What role will the Charlton stalwarts that remain at the club have?

A big one. In fact, keeping Michael Morrison will be as crucial as any signing we make this summer. The centre back should be the first name on the team sheet, along with Johnnie Jackson, and act as a source from which to build and mould the new side around.

I’ve seen some suggesting that Johnnie Jackson’s playing time should be limited this season, or that he shouldn’t be captain, but that’s utterly absurd. Rarely does the skipper put in a below par performance and his leadership skills are unquestionable. He had my player of the season vote last time out because of his consistent performances and the way he led us under difficult circumstances.

So please, Roland, don’t force anymore long serving members of staff out of the side or club.

  1. Is Igor Vetokele a ‘network signing’?

If the Angolan centre forward plays like his price tag would suggest he will, few will question the legitimacy of his transfer, but there are certainly questions to be asked but Vetokele’s move to SE7.

Standard Liege attempted to sign him in January, Duchatelet has gone against his own sensible spending policy to sign him and he’s been given a lengthy contract.

My, and many others for that matter, worry is not that we’ll be a feeder club, but that we’ll serve as a holding club for players who aren’t quite ready for Standard Liege just yet. The likes of Loic Nego, Parzyszek and Vetokele would appear to fit into that category.

For the time being, it’s probably best not to worry and enjoy the forward’s goals this coming season.

10. What would be considered a successful season for Charlton?

For me, it’s still about survival. The head coach’s unknown ability, key players departing and reshaped squad could result in disaster as easily as it could come off, so preventing ourselves from being dragged into a relegation battle will suit me.

However, now Duchatelet has parted with vast sums of money, I imagine he’ll be wanting a great deal more. Talk of promotion is far too ambitious, as is a challenge for a play-off spot, but a top-half finish may not be out of question should all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place tidily.

 

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