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A Love-Hate Relationship With Harriott

Amidst the celebrations at the end of last season as Charlton maintained their Championship status, there was also relief a player who had long threatened to become an exceptional performer had, seemingly, finally reached that level.

For it was Callum Harriott’s goals that first sealed the win over Watford that confirmed the Addicks had avoided the drop, and then ended an arduous season in style at Bloomfield Road.

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And arduous is probably how Harriott viewed the campaign on a personal level. If nothing else, it was certainly frustrating for the young winger.

Failing to build further on the momentum he built for himself at the back end of the 2012/13 season, he was in and out of the team, guilty of some game changing mistakes and rarely made a positive impact.

But those final two games of the season, in addition to playing a huge role in the comeback win over Sheffield Wednesday, suggested that the development of a man who is still only 20 was back on track.

In fact, you could make a decent case to say that not only was Harriott’s development back on track, but he had actually improved as a footballer when compared to the raw talent that represented the Addicks 12 months prior to that.

Although making an immediate impact after coming into the side at the start of 2013, including playing his part in the eight-game unbeaten run at the end of that season, it was obvious he was far from the finished product.

He was exciting, certainly, but also very raw. He would often get in good positions and fail to execute a decent delivery, or ruin those good positions by making what was seemingly an incorrect decision. Like all young players, he was sometimes a little nervous and not yet quite suited enough to the professional game to make the right choice on every occasion.

But at the end of last season, Harriott stopped overcomplicating things, stopped trying too hard and just let his natural ability takeover. Better decisions were made, there was a genuine threat in the way he moved forward and, finally, there was an end product.

The catalyst for that upturn in form was the through ball at Hillsborough that sent Marvin Sordell through on goal to get the Addicks back into the game, and it’s clear Harriott needs catalysts to get into his stride.

No player has relied on the confidence given to him by important moments in my time as a Charlton fan like Harriott does. Only Jerome Thomas and Bradley Wright-Phillips come anywhere near.

Therefore, important moments also work against the youngster. He seems to struggle after making an error, either trying too hard to make amends or visibly looking disappointed to the point where all spark from his performance disappears.

And that’s possibly one explanation for why Harriott, who many Addicks were excited to see at the start of this season in the hope he would continue his form from the end of last season, has somewhat struggled during this campaign.

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The opening day miss at Brentford, hitting the bar with no goalkeeper standing between him and the goal, allowed the Bees to go on and claim a point from the contest. Had he converted that chance, it’s reasonable to suggest the sort of Harriott that was seen in May might have made appearances in August and beyond.

But the miss, although almost certainly not the only reason Harriott has struggled to play anywhere near his best this season, has meant the winger has returned to the character that frustrated Addicks for much of the previous campaign.

While it’s somewhat harsh to judge on a handful of appearances, largely from the bench, it’s apparent the same mistakes are still being made by the 20-year-old despite having 61 appearances to his name.

In fact, his performance in the draw with Millwall is the perfect example of Harriott’s frustrating nature.

In truth, it was one of Harriott’s better performances of the past year. He persistently created space for himself, gave the impressive Alan Dunne a number of problems and carved out a couple of openings for his side.

On that basis, you can see why some Addicks were generous with their praise for the winger, who came on midway through the first-half after Yoni Buyens picked up an injury.

But, in and among the positives, there were the faults in Harriott’s game that should really have been addressed by now.

His eagerness to impress leads to silly and unnecessary fouls. Before half-time, Harriott had already given away a couple of dangerous looking free-kicks by simply trying too hard to win the ball and barging into the player without control.

Last season, he gave away a penalty against Leeds with such a foul, and it’s a cause for concern that he still can’t press opponents without going in recklessly, and that he still can’t keep his desire to impress in check.

Along similar lines, there has always been a reluctance from Harriott to get stuck in. Of course, it’s not the role of a five-foot something winger to make crunching tackles, but you would expect to at least the opponent’s life difficult in a 50/50.

On top of that, too often Harriott made the incorrect call. He released the ball when he should have kept it, and kept the ball when he should have released it. Harriott’s decision making is something that has long been holding him back, and it’s probably not helped by that apparent desire to impress, especially given the fact he has played just a handful of games under Charlton’s new boss.

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Recently, Bob Peeters suggested that Harriott needs to cut the tricks out of his game, and simplify it. And while that does seem a simple thing to suggest, it couldn’t be truer. Harriott has been at his best for the Addicks when he’s played a simple game.

Yesterday, like so many times previously, he attempted to overcomplicate things unnecessarily. Of course, it’s easy to say sitting from high up in the stands, but it’s frustrating not to see what seem like clear moves made by the youngster.

You really just want Harriott to play with a care free attitude, to not have to think about what he’s doing, because that’s what seemingly leads to the errors, and just let his ability override the need to think. It’s apparent he can only do that when confident, and he can only get to a level of confidence by playing with a care free attitude. Developing a football brain is a must.

It’s also a frustration that while Harriott appears not to have developed his decision making and the mental aspect of his game, his fellow academy graduates have done. Diego Poyet immediately got to grips with first team football, Jordan Cousins has improved massively over the last 12 months and even Morgan Fox is beginning to look a little more comfortable. You could say similar things about Nick Pope, who benefited from a loan move to York.

Harriott, that end of season run aside, hasn’t showed noticeable signs of improvement since his first major run in the team.

And maybe, given the sort of player he is, a loan move would do him some good. His potential to be a dangerous player means, if possible, I’d rather not lose the option of using him, but, in the long term, a run of games in a lower league may be exactly what he needs.

I’m desperate for one of the most exciting academy graduates, in terms of his style of play, to reach his potential.

In fact, a comment from a fellow fan I overhead yesterday interested me. Said fan compared Harriott to Scott Wagstaff, suggesting that, like with Harriott, Wagstaff always showed potential but never really anything more than that.

Occasionally, the now Bristol City player produced a moment of magic or a decent enough performance, but all too often it was a case of getting into good positions, showing some ability but contributing little to the cause.

Of course, as stated earlier in this piece, Harriott is only 20. There is still plenty of time for him to develop, to improve on his composure and learn what move is right in any given situation. There is still time for him to make the most of his potential, arguably unlike Wagstaff.

Despite my criticism suggesting otherwise, I do believe that Harriott has a very good chance of fulfilling his potential. A big change is needed inside his head, I feel, if he is to reach his best, but you would like think that will come in due course.

But there is a need for Harriott to begin to show some consistency, and to show the same maturity as his fellow academy graduates, if his potential is to be realised.

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