Discounting those who somehow find themselves with decision making power at the Football League, have flawed masterplans on how to make the national side competent, or work in Checkatrade’s marketing department, there is universal agreement that the Checkatrade Trophy’s existence is a stain on English football.
At the very least, it’s a competition that undermines League One and League Two clubs, isn’t actually going to benefit the development of young players, and is returning attendance figures that show a rather impressive boycott by supporters. The amount of interest I have in this ridiculous competition less than the amount of hair on Russell Slade’s head.
Nonetheless, disregarding the implications of Charlton Athletic’s 2-0 defeat to Crawley Town in the Checkatrade Trophy would be naïve. A result that could be laughed off, given that it took place in this silly cup and Roger Johnson was involved in it, were it not for the overall context in which the defeat was inflicted.
For there is no denying that a loss against League Two opposition, with an XI that contained enough first teamers to be considered competitive, is particularly concerning at a time when trust in the manager is decreasing rapidly. Victory so relatively meaningless that it wouldn’t have increased belief in Slade’s methods, but it was needed to prevent an increase in the belief that those methods might well be unworkable.
If nothing else, victory was needed to stop the disconnection between supporters and Slade from growing. The number who have lost any sense of attachment to the boss, and wish for him to lose attachment with the club, certainly increasing in response to tonight’s result. We have, rather quickly, gone from unified post-game applause to a head-bowed and speedy departure down the tunnel to a chorus of targeted and meaningful booing.
You might argue that displays of displeasure directed towards a manager so early into his tenure, especially given how challenging managing the Addicks is in the conditions that have been created by Roland Duchatelet’s running of the club, are somewhat irrational. More time and patience needed.
But to suggest Charlton supporters remain calm, and allow poor results and horrendous performances to be overlooked, having endured the damage Duchatelet and Meire have continuously inflicted is quite possibly even more irrational. This sort of start to the campaign was always likely to create fan unrest.
That this despised regime have opted not to sell means there is immense and justifiable pressure for immediate success in League One, and pressure on those that they intrusted to provide such success. Slade is, unfortunately, far from fulfilling expectations.
There isn’t a strong hatred on a personal level towards Slade, I don’t feel, and that both a result of the way the summer appointment has conducted himself and the fact that other characters are absorbing such hatred. It merely very strong unhappiness with performances, tactical philosophies, and decision making.
The majority of performances under Slade’s leadership have either been hugely disappointing, the failure to show any sort of intensity, creativity or cohesion in the draw with Oldham Athletic and defeat to Rochdale the most recent examples in the league, or tainted by a certain amount of negativity, which can be seen in the defeat to AFC Wimbledon, which actually began quite well before a capitulation born out of a drop in intensity followed, and the draw with Oxford United.
Performances that have become even more frustrating and disappointing given that the same mistakes are being repeated. Unbalanced and unsymmetrical midfields, few moments of creative movement and positive passing play, and isolated strikers having to intercept aimless long balls. A feeling that Slade is stubbornly abiding by these evidently unworkable principles, which is particularly puzzling given our best performance this campaign – the 3-0 win over Shrewsbury – came as a consequence of utilising the attacking potential within the side and playing with forward intensity.
In simple terms, the way in which Slade is setting up his side is restrictive, and failing to get the best out of some talented individuals within it.
Additionally, why is there such a reluctance to introduce Jordan Botaka prior to the closing stages of matches when the winger has helped change the flow of games in his very brief performances post a rather disappointing debut against Northampton Town? Slade’s substitutions in general very difficult to understand, quite possibly summed up by Ricky Holmes’ perplexed reaction to being withdrawn during Saturday’s defeat to Rochdale.
These feelings of distrust in Slade growing at a time when managers are beginning to be sacked across the professional game. At least one gone in each of the top five divisions, with a plethora leaving their jobs at start of this week. It seems we have progressed far enough into the season for it to no longer be too early to dismiss a boss.
That might well be something the regime pick up on – a reasonable excuse to suggest a decision to depart with him is not rash, harmful or unfair – but I am convinced the bald-headed boss will be given a greater amount of time than previous Charlton head coaches, and fellow managers across the professional game.
Not because I have fallen for the meaningless support that both Duchatelet and Meire have offered Slade, what with supportive words for previous bosses quickly followed by them being sacked with a rather contradictory statement, but because confirming that Slade has failed would, rather impressively, cripple the regime to an even greater extent.
Their narrative that they have changed needs to maintain its human shield. Sacking Slade would show that, even in this apparent attempt to learn from mistakes and control the club in a competent manner, this regime cannot succeed.
Even when they appoint a manager with Football League experience and a relatively decent CV, failure follows. Even when they provide said manager with the resources to make some useful signings, they don’t provide him with enough to have a completely competent outfit.
So quickly admitting the man they appointed to oversee this change, and the appointment they simply had to get right was wrong, would see the regime shoot itself in the foot more heavily than it would appease those unhappy with events on the pitch, I think. Not that this regime is particularly afraid of shooting themselves in the foot.
I think, as a consequence, there will be a determination and persistence from above for things to work out for Slade. He will be given time, for the benefit of the regime’s reputation if not the club itself.
Additionally, from the perspective of a supporter, Slade does have some factors going for him in spite of this concerning start to the season, and not all of those are based around the notion of time and patience.
For starters, he has stood up to the regime. He has fought against having signings forced upon him, and fought to have the individuals he wanted. Even if it is becoming increasingly difficult to have trust in his tactics, I can trust him as an individual more than previous bosses. There are no strings attached, and his motivations to succeed will be far greater than his motivations to assist a poisonous regime.
Standing up, however, has only brought so much. It’s unquestionable that Slade should be getting so much more out of it, and the make-up of his starting XIs are completely his responsibility, but his squad is still weak and imbalanced. Another manager might well be able to harness the attacking potential in the side, but will still face similar restrictions.
So too, given that additional bodies weren’t added until the majority of pre-season was eaten up, is cohesion still lacking. A worry that removing Slade will actually make the efficiency and structure of the side even weaker, and send us back to square one. Slade’s struggles as much a consequence of the regime’s activity as they are his difficult to understand tactics.
There also a concern that, whether selected from Duchatelet’s pool of mates or from those desperate individuals with experience of the Football League, Slade’s replacement would cave in. Ultimately accepting the enforced signings, the enforced team selections, and the regime. Trusting Slade to be replaced in a manner that benefits the club, and only the club, is difficult.
In fact, there’s probably more blind faith required in hoping the regime make a reasonable appointment that there is hoping in Slade can find a way to quickly improve things. At least there’s a bit of evidence in favour of the latter.
For there have been moments of encouragement, determined efforts, and a sense that foundations have been laid on several occasions. The fight to record victory at Walsall, the resilience to rescue points against Bolton and Fleetwood, and the performance at Scunthorpe all genuinely promising in their own ways.
The problem, of course, is Slade has not utilised those foundations. Repeating mistakes or following encouraging displays with horrendous ones has crushed solid bases, and crushed confidence.
The failure to build on that Scunthorpe draw most disappointing of all. Aside from an unwillingness to push for the winner when on top, it was a really strong performance, but the efforts since have been dysfunctional at best.
I guess you have to hope that the next time Slade manages to get an encouraging performance out of his side, which sets some kind of foundation, he actually manages to build on it. That, however, requiring as much blind faith as is needed to trust the regime to replace the current boss positively.
So do I want Slade to remain as Charlton boss, believing he can turn around this poor start despite evidence lacking for it, or do I wish for him to be dismissed, in the hope his replacement would improve our fortunes and give us a genuine chance of being competitive this season?
My natural stance on managers is that they should be given a reasonable amount of time, and that probably more so the case in this example. My fear over what would replace Slade means I would much prefer he manages to turn this situation and around than is immediately dismissed.
But, at the same time, my faith and trust in him is decreasing at an alarming rate given the repetitive nature of the mistakes and errors being made. I guess it’s a case of wanting him to succeed rather than be quickly binned, but there a need for him to prove me wrong and regain my trust for that to happen.
Irrespective, it’s really quite deflating having to consider Slade’s future barely two months into the season, given that I would suggest there was a genuine positive feeling towards him in the weeks after his appointment. Uncertainty, born out of a disliking among Cardiff fans and a lack of promotion on his CV, became trust pretty quickly.
You consider his failings while assessing his position, but so too are you reminded of the overall health of the club. The ever-growing disconnection grows again, and the notion that nothing changes until there is change at the top is reinforced. At the very least, Slade certainly hasn’t provided a distraction that has halted the disconnection.
Christ. This is a bit bleak, isn’t it? At least the Millwall fixture originally scheduled for this weekend has been postponed.