Chris Powell's Flat Cap

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How Charlton Can Challenge in 2015/16

The tears, of which there were many, that followed the confirmation of Oguchi Onyewu’s departure from the club may not yet have dried, but the news of 15 players being let go by Charlton means it’s time to start thinking ahead to next season.

For most, there were mixed feelings towards the released list.

While largely deadwood, Tal Ben Haim possibly still had something to offer, and the mutual respect shared between player and supporters suggested there would have been no complaints if Lawrie Wilson had been kept on.

But there was also a suggestion that moving these players on would allow the Addicks to push on. Better quality players could replace them, and a top six push could be instigated.

I am not at all suggesting our ambition next season should be to finish in a play-off spot. I do want to see progression, and on-the-pitch efforts to reflect a sense of ambition from those at the top of the club, but I don’t believe that translates to needing to challenge for promotion.

However, there is a feeling from some that it is not an unrealistic target. There’s quality within the squad, a platform has been set, and there is now an opportunity to add top six quality to the squad.

For that to happen, there are several actions and changes that need to be made by Roland Duchatelet, Guy Luzon and the players.

  1. Hold onto our key men 

Irrespective of the end-of-season slump, and some rather disappointing performances from a handful who had previously impressed, the core of Charlton’s squad in two spells during 2014/15 showed they have the potential to lead the Addicks into the top six.

Stephen Henderson is one of the best goalkeepers in the division, Johann Berg Gudmundsson can win a match on his own, and Tony Watt’s power, pace and trickery proved so crucial.

Throw into that the thought that Young Player of the Year Joe Gomez and Player of the Year Jordan Cousins have the potential to get even better, and there are certainly a number of individuals in this Charlton squad who could play at a higher level.

With that, of course, comes attention. Especially in the case of Gudmundsson, who has made no secret of the fact he’s undecided about his future, and Gomez, wanted by a host of Premier League and Bundesliga clubs, the Addicks have a task on their hand to keep them in SE7.

But it is absolutely vital Charlton keep their key men if they want to over achieve next season. Some will argue it doesn’t really matter as long as the money is reinvested properly, but there is more value in keeping a settled core of players than remodelling the squad in the name of profit.

Besides, cashing in on key men at Standard Liege didn’t exactly work out well for Duchatelet, and there’s always a danger the money could go elsewhere in the network when a player is sold.

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  1. Alter the spending philosophy

And if Charlton are to keep a hold of those key players, the club’s current spending philosophy will need to be addressed.

It can certainly be argued that wanting to abide strictly to Financial Fair Play is ethically sound, honourable and will prevent the club from entering into the sort of turmoil that might threaten its existence.

But it seems more apparent that Duchatelet is using FFP as a cover up for what would appear to be his main desire behind owning Charlton and the network strategy as a whole. To make profit, and to make profit as a priority above footballing success.

If the Addicks want to succeed, then such a practice must be ditched. The value of keeping quality players at the club, and adding more, must be seen as higher than the money they could bring to the network’s bank account.

In terms of adding to the squad, we’re not going to match the wage demands of a top player like a club with parachute payments can, but that doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t be ambitious with who we attempt to attract to the club.

Centre-backs are now desperately needed, a more advanced centre-mid wouldn’t go a miss, and a couple of strikers to share Vetokele and Watt’s workload are crucial. But we shouldn’t settle for Roger Johnson, Christophe Lepoint and George Tucudean. We should be in a position now where almost every signing is of high quality and will improve the squad.

And if Duchatelet wants some inspiration, he only needs to look at what the club who played us off the park on the final day of the season have achieved. Bournemouth might well have been heavily criticised for their expenditure and losses, but being called FFP cheats can be laughed off when you’ve just won a league title and will be playing in the top flight.

Alas, I fear this will be the main stumbling block. I cannot see Duchatelet altering his strategy, or pouring money into us at the expense of his other clubs. In fact, Katrien Meire’s admission that the clubs in the network should be playing at different levels suggests their desire to get Charlton into the Premier League doesn’t match how much supporters want to be there.

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  1. Give the head coach more control

Like most Charlton fans, Luzon has grown on me.

I still completely reject the way he was appointed, and as such my trust in Duchatelet and Meire is less than Andrew Strauss’ in Kevin Pietersen.

But I do have a reasonable amount of trust in Luzon. He definitely got a few things wrong towards the end of the season, but his role in turning things around can’t be understated and the players seem to have a great deal of respect for him.

As such, it would be beneficial for all if he was given more control. Given his relationship with Duchatelet, you would think the trust would be there for that to happen.

He won’t be able to completely build his own squad, but he shouldn’t be dumped with Duchatelet’s signings and told to make it work.

There should be a stronger influence from Luzon on those sort of decisions, allowing him to have the players at his disposal that suit his plan and his philosophy. Quality is nothing without a cohesive unit, as Chris Powell had.

Nor should there be any influence at all over who he should be picking. I’d really rather not get to January and have another sacked boss talk of the pressure he was put under to pick an under-performing network player.

Balls to this head coach nonsense. Cut the strings and let him have some freedom.

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  1. Continue to keep things simple 

At the risk of offending those 3-2-1-3-1 loving chaps who rejoice at a 93% pass completion rate from a regista, football’s really bloody simple.

Keep it tight at the back, show some fight, composure and creativity in midfield, and have some players with some genuine threat in attack and you’ll probably win some games.

That was the philosophy Luzon used to get the Addicks playing some superb football after 14 winless games. Two banks of four keeping things tight when without the ball; four main forward threats running riot when breaking.

The back four were solid, Cousins ran himself into the ground in midfield, and, when all else failed, Henderson was there to pull of a stunning save or two. It provided a base from which the forward four were able to obliterate opposition defences on the break, with Bulot, Gudmundsson, Vetokele and, especially, Watt unplayable at the start of that winning run.

Of course, Luzon would be proved a very poor coach if did not have some tactical flexibility, but it does mean he shouldn’t attempt to be creative or clever when there is no need to. Oh, and Eddie Howe used a 4-4-2 formation throughout his side’s title winning campaign, which almost certainly confirms it’s the right way to go.

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  1. Utilise the network, but don’t rely on it

I don’t agree with the concept. I’d rather we weren’t in it. Yohann Thuram briefly played a significant part in my life.

But it’s there, it’s going to be used, and it should be utilised to our advantage. Much like another club who achieved promotion last season.

More good than garbage was sent to SE7 in 2014/15. George Tucudean poor, Yoni Buyens rarely looking like he was that interested after November, and Marko Dmitrovic a bit pointless, but the others were of decent quality.

A minor slum takes little away from how well Tal Ben Haim performed for much of the season, Frederic Bulot’s turnaround after the AFCON was sensational, and Tony Watt was an absolute pleasure to watch.

There are players within the network that can make a difference, who deserve to play without Duchatelet making sure they do. In fact, I’d put getting Bulot back high up on the list of priorities.

But we should not be reliant on the network.

Watford weren’t reliant on theirs. An experienced core, full of players who have achieved in the Football League before, was complimented by those recruited from Udinese and Granada.

And that’s exactly the make-up we should be going for. Not Buyens slogging through another half-arsed performance in a key position.

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  1. Make use of the in-house scouting team and recruit from the Football League

Which brings me onto my next point. The Football League’s got some good players in it. Sign them.

If what Peeters said upon his departure, that the in-house scouting team were being largely ignored, is true then that is incredibly disheartening and frustrating.

Of course, some players signed from other European clubs have made an impression in SE7 since Duchatelet’s takeover, but that doesn’t justify stubbornly ignoring the quality available in the Football League.

Hopefully the signings of Chris Eagles, Alou Diarra and Johnson are a sign that players with experience of the English game will be signed more frequently, and I’m equal hopeful the fact that Eagles and Johnson failed to impress on a consistent basis hasn’t provided justification to exclusively shop abroad.

For players snapped up from Football League clubs will not only have the skills already required to be suited to Championship, but are also more likely to provide the leadership and drive that was occasionally missing last season. A fit again Johnnie Jackson will obviously help with that, but more is needed.

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  1. Have a bigger squad, and with better balance

The lack of depth in Charlton’s squad was what ultimately saw a promising start to the campaign turn into a potential relegation battle.

Not addressing the lack of numbers sufficiently in October and November left regular starters complacent, Igor Vetokele broken, and Bob Peeters clueless as to how to address the slide without options available to him.

As such, it was no coincidence that Luzon’s Charlton began to win games once additional bodies were recruited. Having competent options on the bench and to cover for injuries crucial.

But even when the squad was bolstered, there were too many similar players in the same positions. Four centre-midfielders who do exactly the same job and, Gomez a side, a bundle of centre-backs who turn into Sunday League players against any sort of pace.

Depth and variety are vital if the Addicks are to have a chance of breaking into the top six.

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  1. Continue to promote from within

If Charlton are to mount a serious attack on the top six, then there must be more money spent and a greater quality of player recruited. But this shouldn’t come at the expense of academy graduates being given their opportunity.

It’s fair to say that it went a little too far at times last season. The bench a crèche and Karlan Ahearne-Grant played when he arguably wasn’t quite ready, but the success of Gomez, Solly and Cousins indicates the pool of talent must continue to be utilised.

That especially true given the success of the U21 and U18 sides in the campaign just gone. A Kent Senior Cup win, with Ahearne-Grant shining, for the development side and a marvellous triumph for the academy, beating Brentford to become national champions.

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  1. Take the damaged Igor Vetokele in for repair

As Vetokele hobbled off the pitch during the final day defeat to Bournemouth, there was some suggestion that he wasn’t actually the player his early season form suggested he was.

The goals had dried up, his overall play was hugely disappointing and his effort was minimal. Send him off to Standard Liege and find someone else.

But there is absolutely no doubt the Angolan is a player with considerable talent. Even after the combination of Duchatelet failing to provide Peeters with another forward and Peeters continuing to play Vetokele despite the fact he was completely broken, there were still plenty of excellent performances.

Yes, he fell hugely short of the 20-goal tally he threatened to reach, but he still managed to make opposition defences struggle. His on and off-the-ball work, in particular his persistent pressing, a valuable asset throughout the run of seven games in nine through February and March.

However, he was always going to struggle given the strain placed upon his body. A good rest over the summer, in addition to some transfer business that means the Addicks won’t be totally reliant on him, might well mean we’ll get to see Vetokele playing to his maximum once again.

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  1. Send Christophe Lepoint off to STVV

I’ll be handing in my season ticket if he gets just one minute of football in 2015/16*. I don’t even want to see him feature against Welling.

*Disclaimer: No I won’t. But still, don’t play him.

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