#2 – Simon Francis
Much like with my favourite Charlton XI, the selection dilemma at right-back has caused the most grief when choosing my worst side.
On the one hand, there is the man who replaced Luke Young. While Young was a consistent performer, a respectable leader, and someone who understood the attitude Charlton supporters demand, Yassin Moutaouakil was anything but.
It would be wrong of me to completely dismiss the bright start he made to life as an Addick, with his forward play especially exciting, but it would not be long before his flaws were exposed.
Decent enough going forward, yes, but he was never more than a moment away from disaster at the back. A master of the fresh-air kick, and a rabbit in the headlights when a left winger of any sort of ability ran at him.
So too was he a negative influence. Harry Arter may have been able to realise his potential in SE7 had not been for the training ground bust up he had with the France U21 international, his attitude during the 2008/09 season, like so many of Alan Pardew’s recruits, suggested he had no desire to represent the Addicks, but he was then more than happy to overstay his welcome in order to claim a top end Championship wage while the Addicks were suffering in League One. That such a poisonous figure is currently without a club is of no surprise.
But what is a surprise is the incredible turnaround in fortunes for the other candidate for the right-back slot. So much so that, despite Simon Francis’ abysmal efforts for Charlton, it is almost embarrassing to mock and goad a player who will be representing a Premier League club next season.
Francis has risen from a player who could do little right for the Addicks in League One, and an unnecessary obstacle to Chris Solly and Carl Jenkinson getting into the starting XI, to a central figure in a Bournemouth side that won the Championship in impressive fashion.
If, at the time, you had suggested to me that a single regular member of the 2010/11 squad, easily the worst of my lifetime and one that could only muster a 13th place finish, would work their way towards the Premier League, I would have laughed harder than opposition fans at Francis’ regular skewed passes.
And if you had said to me that arguably the worst regular starter of that side would be in the Championship Team of the Year as his side won promotion, I would have quickly found some medical assistance for you.
But, against the odds, Francis has managed to rebuild his career in some style. And it is the dramatic disparity in performance between his time at Charlton and his time at Bournemouth that has convinced me it should be he that is awarded with a place in this XI.
Francis certainly wasn’t as disruptive as Moutaouakil. He left his groans and grumbles until he left the club, he left the club for the sake of his career and did not milk Charlton for every penny they had, and no promising youngsters were punched while he was at the club.
However, that he’s been able to perform impressively for the Cherries has made his exploits in SE7 even more depressing. I should not have been demoralised each week by an apparently hopeless full-back when he has shown he is capable of much more.
You could argue he was merely a victim of the atmosphere at the club at the time, especially when you consider that he arrived at The Valley with a decent reputation. Southend had been relegated from League One during the previous campaign, but he had impressed in that struggling side.
Alas, he could not impress in this struggling side. Hastily put together, given the financial situation at the club and the exodus of players following the play-off defeat to Swindon, and featuring a number of players who will go onto feature in this XI, even the most talented of players would have been somewhat exposed.
But Francis could rarely blame his teammates for his struggles. So often was he guilty of comical mistakes that it would be naïve to completely deflect the blame for his dire performances away from him.
When the Addicks were poor, Francis was normally among the worst. Ripped apart by Swindon’s wide men in the 4-2 defeat that did for Phil Parkinson, inviting Ben Marshall to walk around him in the midweek defeat to Carlisle, and embarrassing while Jenkinson was composed on the left in the 2-0 loss at Stadium:MK.
In addition to his defensive incapability, particularly exposed during the second half of the season during the winless run, there was a complete inability to provide a threat going forward which the modern full-back requires. His passes regularly misplaced, his crosses never testing and certainly nowhere near the standard he has managed to produce for Yann Kermorgant et al at Bournemouth.
These failings were made doubly frustrating by the fact that the club had been forced to cash in on a very good full-back, Frazer Richardson, at the start of the season, and that both Solly and Jenkinson were kept out of the side by him.
It took until that horror show in Milton Keynes before Francis was finally binned. Jenkinson was given his chance before Arsenal made their move long before the season’s end, presenting Solly with an opportunity to impress, which he grabbed with both hands.
And when offered a chance at the start of the 2011/12 season, all Francis could do was confirm he had no future at The Valley. Gifting Preston the lead in the League Cup second round clash and ripped apart by Preston’s Danny Mayor for the entirety of the game, the right-back’s final appearance was a fitting end to a troubled time.
There are those supporters who refuse to credit Francis for his incredible turnaround since leaving the club, but it takes a talented footballer and a strong character to recover from 18 months of relative hell while an Addick.
Personally, I can only admire the way he has transformed himself. While obvious anger exist towards his efforts for Charlton, he always appeared well-liked by his teammates, and his comments in the media about his experiences at Charlton whenever he comes up against his former club shows a strong level of determination.
It is therefore quite a shame that he will be remembered by Addicks at the hopeless right-back who optimised the abysmal nature of the 2010/11 squad, while he’ll be celebrated by both Southend and Bournemouth.
There is no stronger example of a player who was ‘Charltonized’.