#2 – Chris Solly
There hasn’t been much stress involved in deciding the players who would be a part of my favourite Charlton XI. In fact, the vast majority of the names came to me without more than a minute’s thought. A few unnecessarily emotive words followed, before I returned to catching up on the sleep university has deprived me of.
But choosing the player to occupy my right-back slot proved to be incredibly taxing. The lack of time spent picking players for other positions was made up for, here.
On the one hand, there was a full-back of such genuine quality that his England caps were more than deserved. In fact, there’s an argument that Luke Young, an argument enhanced by his leadership qualities, deserves a place in the side on the basis of being one of two Charlton players to be capped by the national side in my time as a supporter.
But then there’s the 5’3 defender who, according to folklore, is both rather quality and better than John Terry. After several seasons of dreadful players putting in half-hearted performances, Chris Solly’s talent and determination allowed Charlton fans to feel they could put their faith into an Addick once more.
It’s the sort of selection headache that managers would claim to be a nice one to have, despite the fact it gives them sleepless nights filled with sweat, blood and tears.
In the end, I made my decision not on ability, which I felt was equal relative to the divisions they played in, but on which player I enjoyed watching more in Charlton red. I feel a sense of disgust in shunning Young, who would make a straight list of my favourite 11 Charlton players, but Solly is my right-back.
I sense I have some serious justifying to do.
The real deciding factor was the context in which both players played for the club. Young a fantastic player surrounded by very good players having joined a club which had cemented its place as a Premier League regular; Solly a fantastic player, often surrounded by other good players at Championship and League One level, but one that came into the side after years of dross and decline.
Of course, the academy graduate was not alone in doing so, but his promotion to first-team regular played a huge part in Charlton’s rejuvenation in 2011. The figurehead of the quality and committed players seen at The Valley in recent years; the anti-Simon Francis.
And what has made Solly’s influential role in the previous few seasons more pleasing is that he is one of our own. Among the best Charlton’s academy has produced.
In fact, there was a feeling that this underdeveloped kid who would get bullied by the big boys of League One wasn’t going to be good enough. Right-back the one area that Chris Powell had not suitable bolstered during his transfer spree.
From game one of that title winning season, those dubious about relying on Solly found their worries were unnecessary. There was a calmness and maturity belonging to a much more experienced professional who had played at a higher level, defensive technique and cleverness that made him almost impassable and a threat going forward that meant he was vital to the way in which Charlton played. The Addicks a much weaker side without the diminutive defender.
And it was telling that the two league games Solly missed in 2011/12 were arguably Charlton’s worst performances of the season; the 1-0 defeat to Stevenage and the 1-1 draw with Rochdale. That was partly down to Michael Morrison and Rhoys Wiggins stepping in at right-back, both clearly not suited to the role, but the lack of cohesion in general without the academy graduate was obvious.
The Player of the Year trophy that followed, despite the goals of Bradley Wright-Phillips, the brilliance of Yann Kermorgant and the inspirational impact of Johnnie Jackson, was more than deserved; Solly the standout in a team that achieved 101 points.
But for all the good work and success achieved in his first full season, it was Solly’s first season in the Championship that really confirmed the Addicks had a very special player on their hands. In a season of ups and downs, the full-back was consistently faultless, more than holding his own against the much tougher opposition England’s second tier has to offer.
Having been passed around the basements of Charlton fans in order to protect him from interest from West Ham, a sensational strike against Blackpool topped off an excellent first half of the season for Solly, which also included a vital role in the 5-4 win over Cardiff.
But it wasn’t until the final period of the campaign where Solly, finding another level along with his teammates, moved from consistent eight out of tens to ten out of tens. It started with a tackle on Wilfried Zaha, my favourite tackle in my time as a Charlton fan if I’m allowed to have such a thing, at Selhurst Park and ended with a perfect performance at left-back, a position which he filled for much of the season, in the 4-1 over Bristol City.
And Solly had arguably his two best performance for the Addicks during that period, amidst the eight game unbeaten streak at the end of the season.
The first came in the 6-0 win over Barnsley. Defensively, there wasn’t too much for him to do, but, in combination with Bradley Pritchard, the full-back marauded down the right with intent, purpose and penetration. Involved in a number of Charlton’s successful attacks, his final ball was also regularly testing. The performance of a spectacular attacking full-back.
The second followed just three days later. At times, Craig Bellamy, Kim Bo-Kyung and Andrew Taylor attacked in unison down the left, but they had no way of getting past Solly in Cardiff’s 0-0 draw with Charlton.
While it was a night of celebration for the Bluebirds, who sealed promotion to the Premier League, Charlton’s ability to compete with their opponents offered hope of future success for them. And that was especially true about Solly; a faultless defensive display cementing another Player of the Year trophy, as if it wasn’t his already.
But that those two performances came so close together is an unfortunate reminder of how Solly’s career has stalled somewhat since the start of last season.
Having missed three league games in the previous two seasons, a knee injury limited him to just 12 games, adding to Charlton’s struggles throughout their relegation threatened campaign.
And although fit to play throughout the current season, the academy graduate has been unable to play three games within a week. A blow that has been covered by the impressive Joe Gomez, but a blow nonetheless given how well Solly has performed.
Nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped the 23-year-old effectively becoming Charlton’s vice-captain the absence of Morrison, and also trying his hand, if a little uncomfortably, as a Phillip Lahm-type centre midfielder.
It just remains something of a shame that Solly’s true potential, owing to his knee issues, is probably going to remain unfulfilled.
Of course, there is absolutely no positive for the player, and he does eventually deserve the chance to play at a higher level, whether that’s for us or another club.
But maybe, just maybe, it’ll mean Chris Solly will be a Charlton player for much longer than a player of his quality would normally.