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My Worst Charlton XI – Part I

Following the completion of the series of features on the players that made up my perfect Charlton XI, it was suggested to me by a number of individuals on Twitter that I should tell the tale of an XI made up of those who have provided me with the most misery during my time as a Charlton supporter.

With my time as an Addick including the decline from the top half of the Premier League to the bottom half of League One, and a period of rather questionable transfer activity having returned to the Championship, this was quite an interesting prospect. The only difficulty in creating such an XI would be narrow down the long list of dross that has represented the Addicks since 2004/05 to just eleven men.

In fact, it is only in goal where I had no choice to make. The first man in my worst Charlton XI might well be the player I dislike the most.


#1 – Yohann Thuram

A goalkeeper who had impressed for Troyes in Ligue 1 to the extent that Standard Liege were willing to pay around £1m for his services, the cousin of a former French international full-back, and, arguably most importantly, he would become Charlton’s highest rated player on FIFA 14.

You could almost be forgiven for being somewhat optimistic about Charlton’s second network signing following Roland Duchatelet’s takeover in January 2014.

Yohann Thuram certainly did not seem like a poor footballer. At least not someone that would weaken the squad, irrespective of how unnecessary an addition it was.

A goalkeeper wasn’t needed, with Ben Hamer and Ben Alnwick both having impressed throughout the first half of the season, and there were weaknesses in other areas of the squad that desperately needed addressing if the Addicks were to move away from the Championship’s bottom three. A third goalkeeper was not going to cure a chronic lack of goals.

In fact, Thuram did not cure anything during his six-month stay in SE7. Instead, he inflicted misery upon those who were forced to watch him prove he was indeed a poor footballer, became the catalyst for the divide between Chris Powell and Charlton’s new owner, and threatened to harm the team spirit so crucial to both the FA Cup run and Championship survival.

Not just the squad, but the club was weaker for Thuram’s involvement with Charlton Athletic. Still, and probably until it ceases to exist, the goalkeeper is the epitome of all that is wrong with Duchatelet’s now slightly smaller empire.

The signing and the player that means doubts are cast over every player recruited from within the network, and whose actions while at The Valley, indirect or otherwise, are one of the main reasons why warming to Duchatelet is tough for many.

There was certainly no indication that Thuram would have such a disastrous impact on this era at Charlton when he pulled on the club’s shirt for the first time, but his debut was certainly less than impressive.

A trip, which is probably a word with too many positive connotations to be used in this context, to Middlesbrough made me long for a quick return for the injured Bens. Two stunning late saves not enough to create any sort of optimism after softly conceding to Emmanuel Ledesma from range and picking out stewards with his goal kicks.

But one of those Bens was soon quietly whisked away. Despite rumours that, another Ben, former goalkeeping coach Roberts was equally concerned by Thuram’s ability, Alnwick was bizarrely sent to Leyton Orient. It was later revealed that Thuram’s arrival effectively forced the now Peterborough ‘keeper away from SE7. The first instance of the Frenchman proving divisive.

The second came just a day later. But his divisiveness was a product of a performance that, without any exaggeration, was quite simply disgusting.

For Charlton travelled to Wigan in tatters. They were without Yann Kermorgant and without hope. In terms of both ability and optimism, Powell’s Charlton hadn’t been this weak since his first six months in charge.

But in such adversity, Powell and his players were agonisingly close to engineering an incredible result. His side superbly structured, and almost every member of it showing a level of determination and fight that didn’t seem possible given recent events.

Alas, they were let down by the man between the sticks. That fight constantly tested by Thuram’s hopeless distribution, uncomfortable shot-stopping, and horrendous flapping from corners, before his incompetence made the fight worthless in the game’s dying moments.

Clinging onto a 1-0 lead with minutes remaining, the goalkeeper proceeded to let in a very saveable strike from Marc Antoine-Fortune, before somehow being beaten by Jordi Gomez’s free-kick. The spirit of the side crushed, and those in the stands left broken. It needed the head of Johnnie Jackson and Powell’s crossbar swinging antics to put things, temporarily, right.

This clear evidence, however, was not enough to prevent Duchatelet from insisting that Thuram played, informing Powell that he was better than Hamer. Charlton’s number one quickly disproved such a theory, pulling off a number of remarkable saves in the incredible FA Cup victory at Hillsborough, but still the owner pressured the manager into playing his shoddy network player.

It came to a head at Bramall Lane. Powell defiantly choosing his players, but with the pressure he was under to select Thuram and his inadequate fellow network players, the chances of a Charlton victory against an inspired Sheffield United side were always going to be low.

While the performance on the day was disheartening, Thuram’s involvement, direct or otherwise, in that defeat and the sacking of Powell that followed cannot be ignored.

But it wasn’t until after Powell’s dismissal that Thuram as an individual caused the most widespread outrage. His decision not to travel to Leeds in protest at a lack of playing time made all the more laughable with Hamer making a stunning penalty save from Ross McCormack in the last minute to win the game for the Addicks.

At any other in point in Charlton’s history, such action from a loan player would have resulted in them immediately returning to their parent club. Alas, he returned, to boos from The Valley crowd, just a week later.

His continued appearance in the matchday squad until the end of the campaign causing totally unnecessary anger and bemusement. What good did including a negative influence in a squad that needed to be united in order to survive the drop have? Thankfully, Jose Riga’s influence on the side was stronger than Thuram’s.

But, with it a clear indication of Duchatelet’s influence over selection, it served to only increase tensions and divisions between supporters and the board.

In truth, the Thuram saga probably allowed Duchatelet to achieve what he wanted. To remove those who would disagree with his motives and allow Charlton to exist as a cog in his experiment.

However, it did at least provide this ownership with notice that their view of the quality required in the Championship couldn’t be more wrong. The network has continued to provide the Addicks with some questionable players, but those who could be potentially disruptive have been shipped out quickly and the standard has increased.

Irrespective, it would take some effort to recruit a recruit a goalkeeper so poor and an individual capable of having such a negative impact as Yohann Thuram again.


 

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Gone-mez: Making the Most of Joe’s Sale

From the moment that the first reports emerged towards the end of last season that suggested there was Premier League interest in Joe Gomez, it seemed unrealistic to expect him to still be a Charlton player come August.

With those clubs in or on the fringes of the top four said to be tracking the young centre-back, it would have needed an unlikely change of ethos from those at the top of the club for Gomez not to have been sold.

Roland Duchatelet’s model, for his individual clubs and for the network as a whole, is to make profit. The several millions that could be offered by the giants of the English game for a player who had cost Charlton no transfer fee were not going to be rejected.

And so it has proved, with Liverpool reportedly closing in on the England U19 international for a fee in the region of £5-6m, which could potentially rise to £10m based on add-ons. Considerably more acceptable than the £3.5m figure that had earlier been suggested.

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It is therefore needless to say that I am not surprised by these developments. Katrien Meire’s suggestion that the key members of this squad would be kept always seemed like a unrealistic and dangerous promise, while Guy Luzon’s plea for Gomez to stay, implying he wasn’t yet ready for the Premier League, seemed desperate.

Desperate, and also ignoring the fact that Gomez wasn’t the man with the power in this situation.

The youngster himself said he wanted to stay, and everything I have been told about his character suggests he is mature and level-headed enough to truly have meant that and know the benefits of it.

Gomez is as good as any teenager that I’ve seen play for the Addicks, which is especially impressive considering he plays in a position where experience is so often vital. But his reading of the game, composure and defensive ability is already at the level of a seasoned professional.

Regardless, with just 21 Championship games under his best, the 18-year-old could certainly do with another season at this level. Another season of growth in a division which he is already well above the average standard would allow him to move onto the Premier League in a stronger position to compete for first team football and benefit Duchatelet’s Charlton’s bank balance even more.

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But, unlike with Diego Poyet last summer, it is not Gomez who is in charge of this transfer mini-saga. It’s largely Charlton, and partly those clubs that are after him.

Gomez may wish to stay, but the decision is almost entirely taken out of his hands with Charlton willing to sell and Liverpool willing to bid such a substantial amount. He could, of course, reject the move, but it would be incredibly difficult for him to do with the club seemingly wanting the cash.

Despite all those positive noises at the end of last season, Gomez was never going to stay, and I have nothing against him as an individual snapping up a chance to move to one of the biggest clubs in England.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure that the sale being an inevitability and something we must realistically accept makes it the right decision.

For starters, it’s apparent from my Twitter feed that the decision to sell after promising he wouldn’t be has angered supporters. Another blow to the already frail trust between board and fans.

But the more important concern is based around our, and Duchatelet’s, ambition. Why must we constantly sell our best players without much of a fight? We can’t we hold onto our academy graduates for the length of time that suits all partiers? Why can’t Duchatelet invest in the squad without first dismantling it?

In fact, Richard Murray stated after Duchatelet’s takeover that the club were no longer “in a position where we have to sell our best assets before they have realised either their full potential playing for us or their full potential in the transfer market”. That should be the case, and can be the case very easily given Duchatelet’s wealth, but it is evidently not.

Of course, we are a medium-sized Championship club, and must accept our place on the football food chain, but we’re not going to move up if we’re unwilling to stamp our foot down to prevent players being sold and invest without first selling.

As such, selling does not show the ambition Johann Berg Gudmundsson is after. You worry Gomez’s sale will have a domino effect.

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However, it remains possible the Gomez’s sale could have the opposite impact.

There should be several millions available for the squad to now be improved. The loss of Gomez should be able to be offset by securing the signings of a number of high quality players that improve the overall health of the squad. Those signings could convince Gudmundsson and others that Charlton can match their ambitions.

The sale has been compared to that of Carl Jenkinson’s to Arsenal in 2011. The £1.5m or so that the club were awarded by a tribunal for a player who had made just a handful of appearances for the Addicks allowed Chris Powell to put together his title winning squad.

But this is a very different position. Gomez is a better, more important, player than Jenkinson. The Gomez money will not win the league – that amount nowhere the transfer budgets of those Championship clubs with realistic aims of winning promotion – while the transfer and recruitment policy is very different, and carries more risk, to the one used in 2011/12.

There is even a very realistic chance the money will not be spent on improving the squad, which would be catastrophic for both the relationship between board and supporters and Charlton’s chances of any sort of relative success. Standard Liege’s transfer dealings last summer don’t fill you with much optimism.

But this is a huge opportunity for Duchatelet to provide some hope for those whose genuine and reasonable doubts have lingered for some time and grown larger today.

Spending Gomez’s fee may not win the league, but it can certainly bring in a handful of very good players. Spending all the fee won’t resolve these questions over ambition, but it will show there is some cause for optimism. Gomez’s sale isn’t right, but improvement on the pitch will soon make it forgotten.

The sale makes it evident, if it were not already, that Duchatelet’s ambitions are based around financial rather than footballing success. But reinvesting the transfer fee wisely will at least show there remains enough genuine ambition to push the Addicks forward, and prevent the growth of this rather uncomfortable feeling that we are merely a cog in a money-making scheme.

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2015/16 Fixture List Spoilers

In the view of some, getting excited over the release of the season’s fixtures is a bit weird.

Unlike a cup draw, there’s no real mystery or excitement. It’s simply confirmation of what was already known – Charlton will play the other 23 teams in the Championship twice between August and May.

But, regardless of what is admittedly the trivial nature of the fixture release, it really is rather exciting. A season that is still the best part of two months away suddenly appears closer, the build up to the first few games of the season can begin, and important away trips can be pencilled in and looked forward to.

For those reasons, I’m very much looking forward to Wednesday, and the first round League Cup draw on Tuesday. Maybe more so considering the most exciting thing that’s happened so far this summer is the unveiling of the new, rather bizarre, mascots.

However, the release of the fixtures is almost always tainted by how predictable they seemingly are for Charlton.

Not in the sense that every team will be played twice, but the same sort of fixtures at the same time of year are frequently given to us. And quite a few of them fail to whet the appetite.

Consequently, here’s a few spoilers ahead of the coming week’s announcements. Look away now if you don’t want the fun ruined.

Unnecessary disclaimer: This is all tongue-in-cheek and I have no idea what the fixture list will look like. 


 

8 August 2015 – Bristol City (H)

For some illogical reason, the Football League have decided that facing Charlton Athletic on the first day of the season is the fixture promoted clubs dream of. Probably because we’re massive and all that.

Four of the five seasons Charlton have spent in the Championship since their relegation from the Premier League have started with a promoted team. They were the promoted team on the occasion that they didn’t.

Add into that two fixtures against Wycombe Wanderers and Bournemouth in League One, in addition to Sunderland celebrating their Premier League return in 2005/06, and promoted teams have been played on the opening day on seven of the last ten seasons.

So, the first game of the campaign will see Scott Wagstaff return to SE7.

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11 August 2015 – Northampton Town (H)

The League Cup first round draw, for us away travellers, is genuinely quite exciting. Because, without any sarcasm at all, there are few things more exciting than going to Morecombe away on a Tuesday night.

But Charlton don’t get the exciting draws. They get horrendously boring clubs from the lower leagues at home. Oxford United and Colchester United in recent seasons, and Northampton will be drawn in this.

A routine 3-0 win will follow, before a disappointing defeat away at Ipswich Town preventing a tie with a Premier League club.

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26 September 2015 – Brighton and Hove Albion (A)/3 October 2015 – Milton Keynes Dons (A)

A bit of a personal one, but incredibly predictable.

These two fixtures, in theory, should be my closest away games. I live in Milton Keynes, and attend university near Brighton.

But both of our trips to the Amex since I’ve been a university student have occurred out of term time, meaning I’ve been back in Milton Keynes.

And with MK Dons in the Championship this season, we’ll obviously be playing them at Stadium:MK during term time. Probably the week after I’ve gone back to university, with Brighton away the week before, made possible by a midweek home game in the middle.

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13 November 2015 – Queens Park Rangers (A)

Our one televised game of the season will be a trip to Loftus Road on a freezing Friday night in November.

Sky Sports will build it up as a “MASSIVE LONDON DERBY”, Guy Luzon will be asked if he can handle the pressure of such a fixture – “just another game” – and I’ll watch that Jackson header against the R’s from 13/14 on a loop during the week leading up to the game.

Oh, and as it’s on Sky, we’ll lose by at least three. Glory days.

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19 December 2015 – Burnley (A)

Since our return to the Championship, our fixtures on the weekend before Christmas have been incredibly grim.

A 2-0 defeat away at Sheffield Wednesday, which featured Dan Seaborne and Salim Kerkar down the left, a 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers, and a depressingly poor 2-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

So, of course, we’ll be forced to travel to Burnley, if not Hull, on the Saturday before the festive period gets underway, and we’ll fail to perform. Shudder.

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9 January 2016 – Bolton Wanderers (H)

I know the FA Cup third round draw won’t be made for some time, but it’s still all rather predictable. I would be shocked if we don’t get a mediocre Championship club at home.

The upper tiers will be closed, a rotated side will put in a half-hearted performance, and Eidur Gudjohnsen will score a second half winner.

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9 February 2016 – Leeds United (A)

The only Championship ground I’ve not been to, aside from one belonging to a relegated Premier League club (KC Stadium) and one belonging to a promoted League One club (Ashton Gate), is Elland Road.

Since our return to the Championship, we have travelled to Leeds on a Tuesday night, and on a Tuesday night where one thing or another has prevented me from slogging up north.

Undoubtedly we’ll be playing them again in midweek, and I’ll walk up there and back to attend if I have to.

30 April 2016 – Preston North End (A)

The last time #CAFC played #PNEFC away on the penultimate weekend of a season, they ended it as champions.

Should it happen, the person tweeting it will be me. All about them numbers, regardless of how unrealistic it is.

7 May 2016 – Huddersfield Town (H)

Last season, it was Yann Kermorgant who returned to The Valley on the final day of the season and celebrated promotion with his new club.

Next season, it will be Chris Powell who will be celebrating promotion in SE7 in May.

He’ll also be joined summer signing Lawrie Wilson, finding his best form again in Powell’s hardworking side, and February loan addition Kermorgant, who was allowed to leave Bournemouth after they signed 76 world class strikes.

Meanwhile, Charlton will have crawled to a mid-table finish.

If it all plays out like that, I absolutely promise not to give it the whole “I told you so” narrative. I’ll be too busy crying.

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The Free Agents That Charlton Should Sign

We’re now into June and Charlton Athletic are yet to add to their squad in preparation for August. The new season is just 64 days away. Jason Euell is going to have to register as a player for the Welling United friendly. Panic.

But, with retained lists steadily released over the past few weeks, a number of high quality players are now available on a free. Panic averted.

And I’ve made the scouting team’s job a whole lot easier by scrolling through all the lists of released players to find a number the Addicks should be looking at signing. You’re most welcome, chaps.  

Defenders

Jos Hooiveld

With Tal Ben Haim, Roger Johnson and Oguchi Oneywu all released, in addition to doubts over the futures of Andre Bikey and Joe Gomez, it’s no secret that filling the gaping hole at centre-back will be one of the main priorities for Charlton this summer.

And, despite his Millwall connection, then can be no complaints should the Addicks manage to attract Jos Hooiveld to SE7.

In fact, Hooiveld showed his class in the defeat at The Den in April. The Dutchman, on loan to the Lions from Southampton, was one of few Championship defenders to contain Tony Watt last season, rarely being fooled by his trickery and frequently forcing him away from goal.

Having played in England for five years, you would imagine the former Netherlands U19 international is settled here, and would therefore probably want another English club, while his age, 32, shouldn’t be enough to put off those who make the final decisions on transfers at Charlton given the centre-backs who were recruited last season.

The only plausible factor that would prevent the Addicks from signing Hooiveld would be his wage demands, but he remained on the same deal at Southampton throughout his time there, starting in the Championship, so you would imagine they wouldn’t be beyond our reach.

Paul McShane

There was fury among Hull City fans when Steve Bruce decided to keep his son, Alex, at the club and allow popular centre-back Paul McShane to leave.

But Hull’s loss will be a Championship’s club’s gain. Despite their relegation, the Republic of Ireland international impressed as part of the Tigers’ back three, and would certainly do a job in the second tier.

With his wages unlikely to be extortionate and McShane the right side of 30, he’s certainly a viable option for the Addicks.

Ryan Taylor

With Lawrie Wilson released and Charlton’s chances of keeping Joe Gomez slim, a right-back to compete with Chris Solly is needed, and Taylor seems like a decent option.

Given his harsh treatment by Newcastle United, he’ll certainly have a point prove, and, without being outstanding, he did a decent job for the Magpies during their struggles in the back end of last season having returned from a lengthy injury absence.

You would imagine that Championship is now his level, so the only issue would be a question of wage. Given his injury problems in the past, I can’t see him demanding too much.

Other options

Lewis Buxton: An experienced but injury hit right-back. Ryan Taylor-lite.

Joe Mattock: A decent left-back, but injury hit and not a position, with Rhoys Wiggins and Morgan Fox in place, which needs strengthening.

Carlos Cuellar: Very similar to Jos Hooiveld, but lower in quality. Not an improvement on the centre-backs that were at the club last season.

Matt Mills: Once highly rated, the former Bolton man is now nothing more than a sub-standard Championship centre-back. Again, not an improvement on what we had last season.

Midfielders

Kim Bo-Kyung

Throughout last season, there were constant calls for Charlton to sign a creative, attacking midfielder. With Jordan Cousins, Johnnie Jackson and Alou Diarra, the Addicks have a bunch of, although incredibly talented, strong and hardworking battlers.

And Kim Bo-Kyung would fill that role well. Impressing during Cardiff’s promotion to the Premier League, regardless of Malky MacKay’s comments, and then doing a decent job for the Scottish manager at Wigan last season, the South Korean would be an excellent addition to the squad.

Chris Taylor

With Ben Marshall and Craig Conway ahead of him at Ewood Park, Chris Taylor’s chances were limited last season, but he remains a very tidy winger at this level.

His goals at The Valley in the FA Cup, well taken if a little assisted by some generous Charlton defending, combined with his overall performance showed that, despite his isolation during the campaign just gone, he still has enough about him to perform for a side with ambitions of finishing in the top half of the Championship.

More of a diligent and hardworking winger than the sort of player who could act as a direct replacement for Frederic Bulot, he might well be a useful rotation option.

At the very least, he’s an upgrade on Chris Eagles.

Ben Pringle

Having rejected the offer of a new contract at the Millers, one of the sweetest left foots in the Championship is available on a free.

Pringle will surely be attracting interest from all bar the very top second tier clubs, given how much he has impressed at Rotherham over the previous few seasons, but would surely be a reasonable target for the Addicks.

Other options

Rudolph Austin: Inconsistent, but an outstanding Championship midfielder on his day. Austin, however, is of similar style to the midfielders the Addicks already have, and shouldn’t be a priority.

Jerome Thomas: The one-time Addick was frozen out by Palace and, at 32, is well past his best, but as someone who I personally admired during his time in SE7, I wouldn’t frown if he was to return.

Paul Anderson: A winger of similar standard to Chris Taylor who I’d be delighted to sign, but Ipswich haven’t yet ruled out keeping Anderson at Portman Road.

Forwards

Nicky Maynard

After an injury-hit season, during which the previously prolific forward managed just 12 appearances and a single goal, you would think Maynard would be hungry to prove himself at Championship level once again.

With the Addicks lacking an alternative to Igor Vetokele, which proved so costly to the side and to the forward himself last season, a punt on the poacher to bolster the attacking options would not be a bad move at all.

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas

Despite playing a vital role in Bristol City’s promotion to the Championship, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has been let go by the League One Champions, and will surely have a number of suitors in the second tier.

Although he is versatile, able to play across the midfield, it’s as a target man where he excels – the sort of forward that Charlton require.

With a decent goal-scoring record to complement his ability in the air and to hold up the ball, there is no reason why the Addicks shouldn’t be showing interest in JET.

Bobby Zamora

At the risk of brutally cutting off a decent percentage of my readership, I’m not entirely sure we can be friends if you look at the list of players released by Queens Park Rangers and feel even the slightest bit excited.

A defender in Richard Dunne who makes Johnson look as quick and agile as Usain Bolt, a yellow-card hungry midfielder in Joey Barton whose a lot more trouble than he’s worth, and a worse-than-Bradley winger in Shaun Wright-Phillips whose career has been ruined by his desire to collect pounds doing very little at Loftus Road.

But I will allow you to suggest Bobby Zamora would be a decent enough signing. His Wembley winner and stunning strike against West Brom fail to mask the fact he’s not prolific, but he’s the sort of forward we don’t really have – a massive shithouse.

There are, though, numerous issues with pursuing Zamora. The most obvious being that he’d demand a sizeable wage which, even if we could afford, would be hard to argue would be worth it for what he could provide.

At 34, he’s unlikely to attract the interest of the Addicks regardless of how much of a dent he’ll put in the wage budget.

Other options

Craig Mackail-Smith: The forward was released after another season of struggle at Brighton and, while maintaining a decent reputation, is probably no longer good enough for the Championship.

Luciano Becchio: The Argentine managed three goals in five appearances while on loan at Rotherham, but just 21 appearances for the Millers and Norwich since January 2013 makes signing Becchio a bit of an unnecessary risk.

Carlton Cole: There’s not a chance we could afford his wages, but he’d at least know his way to Sparrows Lane.