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.