From the moment that relegation from the Championship seemed unavoidable, the departure of Jordan Cousins was one that had to be accepted. Consecutive Player of the Year wins evidence enough to show the homegrown midfielder deserves to be displaying his talents beyond the level of League One.
And so what appears a certain move to Queens Park Rangers does not create anger or fear in the same way that previous sales have, and should have been something Russell Slade was preparing for from the moment he arrived in SE7. At the very least, losing a player that seemed set to depart probably as far back as February should not have a detrimental impact on our chances of success this season.
An opportunity, instead, to reflect on the importance of Cousins over the previous three seasons, and applaud a successful Charlton Athletic career. A Charlton career possibly best summed up by the fact he has played 136 league and cup games out of a possible 151 since making his debut in the League Cup victory over Oxford United in August 2013.
For the academy graduate’s greatest quality in that period has been his consistency. Consistency that a man of experience would be envious of, let alone a young player in his first three seasons in the game. A drive and determination, in combination with an unrelenting ability to do the simple things well, that was particularly important during a time of crisis and incompetence.
To see academy graduates performing so admirably in a period of disconnection is so pleasing. Much like Chris Solly, there has not been a time when Cousins has looked overawed since his league debut, which saw him volley the Addicks back into the game at Barnsley. Much like Solly, his efforts have kept a connection between supporters and team, and made it very easy for the “support the team, not the regime” mantra to be abided by, at least for myself.
And so too, much like Solly, has Cousins proved himself to be an excellent performer at Championship level. That Solly remains at the club, the importance of which cannot be underestimated, does not provide reason to criticise his fellow academy graduate’s decision to move on. The Championship undoubtedly where this 22-year-old needs to be.
Even when forced out wide, a position he isn’t quite dynamic enough to operate in, there was an energy and effort that allowed him to do an acceptable job in the second tier. The frustration that existed with Cousins playing wide right came from the fact he was being wasted, and not necessarily that he was shambolic in that position.
Much better when sitting deep in midfield, breaking up opposition attacks and accurately picking out the next pass to begin new ones. Criticism existing from some over his goal-scoring record, just seven to his name and rarely a provider of assists, but Cousins was the stable base in a disorientated unit rather than someone with the technical ability to change a game on his own.
A player that, when the attitude and application of others could be questioned, was very easy to support and appreciate. He led well, and earned the right wear the captain’s armband on a handful of occasions. That consistency, drive, and possibly the fact he represented the notion of ‘proper’ Charlton in a time of apathy earning him his two consecutive POTY wins.
In fact, it was really only during this winter, while Karel Fraeye was in charge, that Cousins has had a spell where he underperformed. His performance at Burnley, for example, outrageously poor for a man who has prided himself on error-free efforts. I vaguely remember needing to remind a fellow Addick as I left Turf Moor that the Cousins we had both just witnessed is so much better than that.
He will undoubtedly, not least with a slightly more competent side around him, continue that almost uninterrupted consistency at Loftus Road, rather than spending time impersonating Yoni Buyens as he did at Burnley. I wish him well, he leaves with my blessing, and I hope he becomes another academy graduate I’m still able to admire despite representing another side.
But even from something that many, myself included, were relaxed in accepting comes disappointment. The reported fee being received, stated at between £1.25m and £1.5m from both local and national sources, far too low for a young English player of Cousins’ quality. Why has such a figure been accepted by Roland Duchetelet and Katrien Meire for a player who could surely command more?
It particularly disappointing given that my hope was the sales of Cousins, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and possibly Ademola Lookman would be enough to not only reshape the squad for the coming season, but prevent the need to let go of the players that we have a more realistic hope of keeping at the club. You worry that Nick Pope, Callum Harriott and Tony Watt, to name but a few of those linked with moves away, will ultimately also be cashed in on to cover the losses from relegation and the failed signings of the previous few seasons.
Of course, we now find ourselves in the third tier, and our position from which we can demand reasonable fees is a weak one. With clubs in much stronger positions seeking the services of players who have every right to want to move on and further their careers, there needs to be a certain amount of compromise.
But £1.5m for Cousins, and arguably £2.5m for Gudmundsson, are fees that feel too low irrespective of the circumstances. Particularly when large fees have been spent on the unproven, and proven to be useless, Naby Sarr, Zakarya Bergdich, and El-Hadji Ba among others. Cousins and Gudmundsson players that have proven themselves to be top performers at Championship level, and have long-term contracts.
Ultimately, it a frustration that Slade, finally a manager given prominence in recruitment and whose intentions are undoubtedly to be admired, may be restricted in his attempts to build the strongest possible squad to allow the Addicks to compete at the top of League One by aspects of the decision making from above that remain, at best, weak and questionable.
For it is important to remember that despite three excellent signings made, providing additional encouragement given the cohesion that was shown between Ricky Holmes, Lee Novak and Nicky Ajose during the friendly victory over Welling United, and Solly committing himself to the club, a great deal more work is required ahead of this campaign to have Charlton in an unquestionable strong state on the pitch.
Both in terms of recruitment, with Slade himself aware of the issues in defence and that now exist in midfield with Ahmed Kashi and Alou Diarra’s injuries, and maintaining those that already play for the club. The current situation showing enough reasons to feel encouraged, but it reasonable to suggest it could swing either way from this point forward.
My ever-increasing faith in Slade means I’m inclined to believe that not commanding the highest possible fees for players we simply have no hope of holding onto isn’t going to have a huge detrimental impact in the short-term, and the loss of Cousins explicitly, a player most accepted would depart even before that torrid night at Bolton, certainly not.
But equally I feel more comfortable just patiently sitting on the side of caution in general both until the beginning and end of August. Cautiously waiting to see who else is to be sold, what money is commanded for them, and how strongly that is reinvested in a squad that still requires strengthening.