As a disappointing season reaches its conclusion, there no question that thoughts must immediately turn to shaping Charlton Athletic’s squad for next season.
A squad that will hopefully be shaped under a new ownership regime, that take the club out of Roland Duchatelet’s destructive hands and allow for both sensible and proper investment. Not once under this current regime has the squad had enough quality or depth.
But before the process of strengthening the squad can begin, and regardless of how the potential sale of the club affects Charlton’s summer activity, there are plenty of decisions to be made by Karl Robinson regarding the futures of those already at the club.
So too are there judgements to be made over whether young players and those returning from loans away from The Valley are good enough to mean signings in their positions aren’t required, while there also a need to fight to retain the better players in this current squad, and not lose them so readily as has been the case in recent years.
A high turnover of players likely once again, but it necessary for Robinson to have some sort of base of a squad from which he can work and build from.
Those on loan
The contributions made by those that have been on loan at Charlton during this season have been relatively mixed. No one particularly disappointing, but no one excelling on a consistent basis.
And no one has mixed excellence and disappointment in more obvious fashion than Declan Rudd. Outstanding during spells at the start and end of the season, but enduring a horrid period while the Addicks went eight games without a win as mistake after mistake was made.
His performances in the final weeks of the season have reminded supporters that there is a decent goalkeeper in the Norwich loanee, and with his contract set to expire at Carrow Road I would suggest that Rudd is the most likely of the loanees to have a Charlton bade on his chest again next season.
Jordan Botaka also out of contract at Leeds this summer, but I’m considerably less convinced there will be an attempt to sign him permanently. Though sometimes offering a bit of additional pace and drive from the bench in the dying embers of contests, his bit-part role has largely been a frustrating one. Too many ineffective runs, too many poor decisions, and not enough threatening final balls.
A third player on loan from a Championship club is Nathan Byrne, who has been frustrating at right-back but generally quite impressive when playing on the wing. I think whether Charlton are able to make a permanent move for him will depend on whether Wigan Athletic somehow manage to maintain their status in the second tier. His chances of still having a future there will probably rise considerably if the Latics return to League One.
Certainly greater chance of attracting Fredrik Ulvestad to SE7 on a permanent basis. The Burnley loanee has been steady if unspectacular during this season, and has certainly been a reliable figure in Charlton’s midfield. Nothing, however, to suggest that he’s good enough for the Premier League and, at 24, time isn’t really on his side, meaning the Clarets will probably want to cash in.
No chance of the Addicks signing Jay Dasilva permanently, but you wonder whether Chelsea would be willing to send him back out on loan given that he’s broken into the side in recent weeks after such an extensive period gathering dust on the bench. It would also be nice to see Stephy Mavididi back at The Valley, having impressed prior to suffering a loan-ending hamstring injury.
Those out on loan
Among those out on loan, the main focus of attention is Nicky Ajose. Struggling to make a real impression in SE7, at the very least failing to live up to the 24-goal season he had for Swindon in 2015/16, the forward was shipped back to his former club for the second half of this campaign.
His record since returning to the Robins, with five goals in 15 games, not breath-taking, but they were important goals for a side attempting to salvage themselves from the bottom four. Swindon’s relegation at least confirming his loan deal won’t be made a permanent on.
But will Ajose, who showed some positive signs in a Charlton shirt but constantly frustrated with his finishing, be given a second chance at The Valley? I don’t see the harm in him being allowed to prove his worth, but I’m not totally convinced Robinson is a fan. Bottom-half League One clubs would happily take him off our hands, should the boss not want him.
Elsewhere, there a chance that Robinson is going to have a handful of players that were signed by the regime long before he arrived thrown at his feet. Igor Vetokele, Cristian Ceballos and Naby Sarr all set to return from spells out on loan.
Though, personally, I don’t see a future at The Valley for any of them. It would provide no surprise if Vetokele and Ceballos, both about to enter the final year of their Charlton contracts, have their loan spells at STTV made permanent, while Naby Sarr’s incompetence while an Addick means he’d do incredibly well to win the support and trust of anyone at the club. Under this regime or another, I would imagine as much lost cash as possible will attempt to be regained by cashing in on the trio.
There also a handful of youngsters set to return to the Addicks, all with a degree of first-team experience in Charlton colours and all holding some degree of potential. Josh Umerah and Mikhail Kennedy with limited game time while on loan at Kilmarnock and Derry City respectively, but rated highly in SE7 and might well be utilised next season, while Regan Charles-Cook returns from a more profitable spell at National League side Solihull Moors but with a greater sense of doubt as to whether he’ll make the grade at Charlton.
Terell Thomas also returns, having played the best part of a full National League season with Woking, but the centre-back is out of contract this summer and I find it unlikely that he’ll be kept on.
Those out of contract
One of the many positives about this season coming to an end is that there’s a very high chance these are the final weeks of Roger Johnson’s Charlton career. The centre-back not only dreadful, but finds himself as an enemy of supporters having approached fans after the defeat at Bury on the opening day of the season and told them “if you don’t fucking like it, don’t fuck come,” or words to that effect.
Having made just two league appearances all season, and not appeared since the turn of the year through a combination of injury and incompetence, it fair to suggest his contract definitely won’t be being renewed.
But a character in complete contrast to Johnson will certainly be remaining an Addick. Skipper Johnnie Jackson set to sign a new deal this week, which will seemingly combine duties as a player and a coach. His performances in the second half of this campaign, particularly during periods where the Addicks had been incredibly poor, prove he still has a role to play on the pitch.
Less certainty, however, about the futures of Andrew Crofts and Adam Chicksen, who both signed one-year contracts at the start of this campaign.
With Crofts, who has appeared in all but two of Charlton’s 52 league and cup games, being such a regular feature in the side, you would expect another 12 months will be handed to him. But the Welshman is 33 at the end of May, and has performed inconsistently. Sometimes a stable, calming influence in the centre, other times persistently losing possession and appearing very weak.
I suppose the questions Robinson will be asking himself is can I do better than Crofts and if so, can he still contribute to the squad. I wouldn’t be disappointed to see him depart, but I wouldn’t be disappointed to see him given another 12 months. He does a job.
I would, however, be a little disappointed to see Chicksen depart. That he can play at left-back and on the left side of midfield makes him incredibly useful, and he’s generally performed consistently in the appearances he’s made in both roles. Though his lack of appearances since the defeat to Peterborough United, with no mention of injury makes think he might well be on the way out.
Those from the development and academy squads
Aaron Barnes and Anfernee Dijksteel being named on the bench for Saturday’s game at Chesterfield, in addition to signing new contracts this season, suggests the pair will be the latest academy graduates to have some involvement with the first team.
Robinson has spoken highly of the pair on a number of occasions, while Barnes really impressed me during the Kent Senior Cup semi-final defeat to Welling United. Too often, with Kevin Foley, Ezri Konsa and Byrne all filling in, we’ve had square pegs in round holes when Chris Solly has been injured. It might be better if Barnes is the alternative at right-back next season.
It would also appear that, with Robinson reintroducing him to the first-team squad and handing him his first start since December 2015, there is an increased faith in Karlan Ahearne-Grant. I’m very much undecided on the forward but, given that he’s been around for so long, it’s easy to forget that he’s still a teenager and there’s still time for him to develop.
The 19-year-old is relatively decent on the ball and possesses bundles of pace, but lacks physical strength and I’ve not seen much from him with regards to finishing or a final delivery. In fact, it would be ideal if we could blend together Ahearne-Grant and Brandon Hanlan. His fellow teenage forward, who did well enough in the opening weeks of the season, possessing all the strength and ability to hold the ball up that Ahearne-Grant does not.
There’s certainly something there with regards to both of them, and while I wouldn’t want to depend on them even as immediate alternatives to the genuine first-team forward options, the pace of Ahearne-Grant and the strength of Hanlan makes them useful to have around and handy options from the bench.
Finally, if Rudd isn’t retained, I’d have no problem at all with Dillon Phillips becoming number one. The young goalkeeper really impressed me during his stint in the side while Rudd was injured, and I wouldn’t suggest it would be a lack of ambition or anything along those lines if we were to make the academy graduate our number one.
Those with uncertain futures
Let us not pretend that eyes won’t have been watching Charlton’s most impressive player during this campaign. Particularly since returning from injury, Ricky Holmes has been extraordinary even when the side has been pathetic, and there no doubt that even as he approaches 30 he has the quality to player at a higher level.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that Championship sides will show an interest, but it of vital importance that the winger is retained. He’s irreplaceable.
Let us also not pretend that the signing of new contracts for young players prevents them from being sold. Interest in Ezri Konsa and Joe Aribo has already been reported, and Charlton’s record under the Duchatelet regime when it comes to retaining young players doesn’t fill you with confidence. And even if they club were to be sold to a regime with greater footballing ambitions, it’s not always a simple equation to retain young players when Premier League teams are circling.
I do think, however, that Charlton and League One is the right place for both Konsa and Aribo to be for the time being at least. Both have already shown their unquestionable quality, but both still require a degree of development, and more game time at this level would be beneficial to them. They’re not quite at the level of Joe Gomez or Ademola Lookman.
Less terrifying questions can also be asked about the futures of Tony Watt and Lee Novak. Watt divides fans, but he’s been okay since his return from Hearts, though the point that being just ‘okay’ doesn’t justify his wages is reasonable. Novak, however, has been utterly terrible, and it might be best for both parties if he moves on.
It also wouldn’t come as much surprise to me if Jorge Teixeira finds another club. He’s been alright since returning to the team under Robinson, helped by his frequent contributions in attack, but a sense of distrust seems to remain to an even greater extent than it does with Watt. In reality, he’s also fourth choice behind Patrick Bauer, Jason Pearce and Konsa, and I can’t see him being willing to settle for that.
Finally, I do wonder what next season holds for Ahmed Kashi and Harry Lennon. There was a suggestion from Robinson a couple of months ago that he’d not had contact with Kashi, who has spent an entire season out injured having been unavailable for much of the previous campaign with the same Achilles problem. I’m not convinced he’ll be around next season, recovered or not.
In the case of Lennon, he’s had a very unfortunate season. Sent off against Oxford United on one of the two occasions he made a league appearance, and otherwise spending much of the campaign dealing with a hamstring problem. I think that, after such a frustrating season for him, he’ll want to be playing football in the next one, and that might well result in him moving on.
Either way, I hope from a perspective of the individual that both are able to resume their careers after such lengthy periods out of action.