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Remaining Cautious, But There’s Cause For Optimism

Having been emotionally tested on more occasions than I care to recall in the previous 18 months, even the briefest or faintest moments of positivity are welcomed by Charlton supporters.

Rarely have bloggers and Tweeters had their stream of legitimate worries interrupted by a sense of hope. As disheartening to write as they are to read.

Periods where it is possible to be optimistic without diverting from rationality, logic and realism offer a huge sense of relief. The short-lived nature of such feelings in the past irrelevant in the moment in which they are felt.

So it is no surprise that Charlton supporters, myself included, have latched onto the latest chance to feel optimistic with some enthusiasm. Especially after a summer which has featured moments of uncertainty and disappointment.

In fact, it would appear that this period of positivity has been born out of the uncertainty and disappointment that came before it.

For, with good reason, there was worry as Joe Gomez was pictured with a Liverpool shirt. No anger directed at the young defender, who certainly shouldn’t have turned down such an opportunity, but there were reservations over the decision to sell and doubts over what would be done with the £6m or so gained by his sale.

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As a relatively mediocre Championship club, our status demands that, occasionally, players of quality will be sold. But to lose another player of quality, and another exceptional talent, so quickly and before he has reached his maximum value was hugely disappointing. There is an argument that we should be able to improve without having to sell first.

Gomez, irrespective of how young he is, should have been a part of Charlton’s spine in the coming season. Understandably, questions were asked about Duchatelet’s goals and ambitions for the umpteenth time.

Would he invest the money, would he invest the money wisely, or would it just be stored in his back pocket? The Belgian’s goal remains purely financial, and the evidence from Standard Liege after a fire sale there wasn’t encouraging.

There were further questions asked about what Duchatelet was up to following the sale of the main cog of the network. The experiment surely couldn’t exist as it had without Standard, so some sort of change of ethos needed to be made, but there was confusion as to what that would be.

And while it is dangerous to get carried away, and Duchatelet’s goal will remain financial success over football success, it is understandable to see why some are beginning to believe that the owner wishes to move the on-the-pitch success of the Addicks up his list of priorities.

For the first three additions to Charlton’s depleted squad are extremely positive, if not offering huge improvements to the potential side. Patrick Bauer, a German centre-back who played regularly in the Portuguese top flight last season, El-Hadji Ba, a French midfielder who has played little over the past few seasons but remains highly commended by those who have watched him play, and Simon Makienok, a giant Dane who finally addresses the lack of target man option, all exciting.

Exciting not only because of their pedigree and the positive words that those who have seen them play before have offered, but because it suggests that such a level of quality will be replicated in future signings. The Gomez money might well be used wisely, and the sale of Standard, with the nature of the network restricting clubs’ progression, could potentially be the catalyst for the Addicks to kick on.

While Duchatelet will undoubtedly continue to buy as cheap as possible with the sole intention of selling on for profit, the quality tier from which these players have been recruited appears higher. At the very worst, the indirect benefit of Duchatelet attempting to add to his bank account may have changed from dross performing poorly for the Addicks to talented players performing.

However, with each instance of positivity, comes caution and a sense of doubt. It isn’t negativity, more knowing what has gone before and not being willing to get too carried unless there is concrete proof that feeling positive isn’t a misguided thing to do.

And in this case, where the feeling that supporters are finally having their ambitions matched by the club are at the strongest for some time, it is especially important not to get carried away.

For while these signings appear of greater quality, ignoring the numerous failures of other players recruited from Europe cannot be ignored. The list of players that appeared promising when signed and went onto disappointment is large, and it would be naïve to predict success for Bauer and Makienok without having seen how they adapt to the Championship.

Of course, they both appear more Vetokele than Parzyszek in terms of their likelihood of succeeding and the pedigree with which they arrive in SE7 with, but when so many recruits from Europe have failed to live up to their potential, it is right to refrain from getting too carried away.

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There is less of a gamble in recruiting those with experience of the English game, or who have already proved themselves in the Championship. Ba fulfils that to an extent, with his lack of football in recent years still making the signing some sort of gamble, but recruits with Championship experience are needed.

If not because you are guaranteed success, then because of their mentality and physical ability to deal with a testing division. You want a mix of exciting foreign talent and experienced heads in the squad.

In fact, a considerable number of players of all types are still required to make predicting success next season anything more than naïve. Some have suggested only a handful of players are needed but, with a small squad proving costly at stages during last season and several likely to leave, you could make an argument for ten players still being needed.

Three centre-backs are an absolute must, with Andre Bikey among those likely to depart, while a full-back on either side will be required if Rhoys Wiggins does leave.

Two wingers will be needed in addition to the imminent signing of Frederic Bulot, you would certainly want another forward to allow Karlan Ahearne-Grant to go out on loan, and, while not a priority, an advanced centre-midfielder will provide something different and a bit of depth.

Finally, as much as I would like to, it can’t be forgotten that there remains doubts over the future of at least two of our players.

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With Jordan Cousins and Johann Berg Gudmundsson both having a year remaining on their contract, you fear it’s a case of them signing a new deal in the next few weeks, or being sold. In terms of the financial prosperity of the club, there is absolutely no need to sell, but I would imagine Duchatelet would rather cash in than see the pair depart for a tribunal fee or a free.

It would appear Cousins wants to stay, and the early signings hopefully show Gudmundsson the sense of ambition, dented after the Gomez sale, which he craves.

But I’ll remain anxious until they have both agreed new deals, or I’ve found a suitable box to hide them in until September.

Regardless, this is a positive start to the rebuild of the squad, and one that provides encouragement for the rest of the rebuild and the season ahead.

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