With a month passing since Charlton Athletic’s final game of their torrid 2016/17 League One campaign, Karl Robinson felt the need to defend the club’s lack of recruitment in that period. Early additions were promised, and yet no new faces have been added to the Addicks’ squad.
The justifications offered by Charlton’s boss, though offered in his characteristic manner that makes football supporters seem naïve of all footballing knowledge, have a fair amount of reason behind them. That other football still taking place affects transfer activity is reasonable enough, agents are notoriously tricky customers, and players of top League One quality aren’t going to accept the first offer from a third-tier club that comes their way.
In fact, that a lack of early signings is considered a real concern is, coupled with the emphatic nature of last season’s failure and what has gone before, really an issue that Robinson has created for himself. A promise not fulfilled, and a bit of pressure not cooled. The lack of faith that supporters have in ownership, club and coach remains as high as ever.
But, by comparison, Chris Powell had only made the additions of Nick Pope, Danny Hollands and Bradly Pritchard by June 1st in the summer of his promotion season. Pope developed into excellent goalkeeper at Championship level, while Pritchard was a consistent performer in the first season back in the second tier, but it only Hollands who was a vital part of Powell’s title-winning group. The squad not really taking shape until the final weeks of June and the start of July.
The squad, therefore, not put together in May, but all but complete by the time pre-season started. Only Ben Hamer and a certain Frenchman of those who were regular starters arriving after early July, and a repeat this summer, with the bulk of the group in place by the time of the trip to Ireland, would be no problem at all.
And so it can be said that the extent of the problem of Charlton not making a fast start to transfer activity has been overstated. But part of the reason that Charlton’s first month of the summer has been without recruitment does highlight a concern as to whether Robinson will be capable of building a promotion-chasing side.
A problem Robinson himself alluded to. That high-quality League One players are also likely to be sought after by Championship sides. Is this football club, with its weakened and Roland Duchatelet-tainted reputation, in a position to attract the sort of talents that Charlton’s boss apparently wants, and to compete with second-tier sides for the signatures of players?
A problem that exists in a very real and practical sense, and one that hovers around the minds of supporters. Trust has been lacking for three years, and maybe an early addition would have improved it to a certain degree. A lack of trust that makes it hard to believe the club are in a position to form an impressive squad, and will need to prove the justifiably formed beliefs of supporters wrong. Something they’ve not been very successful at.
For even in Powell’s summer, on the back of similar on-the-pitch failure in the season before, there was a sense of fresh start, rejuvenation and realistic but highly motivated ambition. While Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez ultimately proved failures, they initially provided support for Powell’s plans. A plan that was easy to prove to those he attempted to sign, and as such meant he was able to attract players of decent quality and stature.
League One’s best signed, with players such as Dale Stephens, Rhoys Wiggins and Michael Morrison arriving despite interest from Championships sides. The foundation left by the previous season might not have been so great, but the club’s obvious attempt to rejuvenate, and in particular an ambition that had substance, meant good signings could be made.
But, even if Robinson might want to talk about ambitions, that is simply not a position we find ourselves in now. Besides, his words have been unconvincing at best, contradictory and concerning at worst, while the end-of-season burst was not enough to provide complete confidence in his managerial ability after a difficult season stretching both over his spells at Stadium MK and The Valley.
The point, however, is more about the effect Duchatelet’s ownership, and continued ownership, has had on the reputation of the club and what it can offer in comparison to others in better states, both in this division and the one above.
For there is little denying that Charlton as a club are in a very poor state, and will find it incredibly difficult to justify their ambitions when the same regime has instigated three seasons of discontent and failure. Apart from Duchatelet’s attraction to wasting money, there no reason why financial demands can’t be met, but much more than that is required when Championship clubs and fellow League One clubs who will be looking for promotion are hovering over players the Addicks have interest in.
Our unique selling points in the summer while Powell put together his squad that racked up a century of points was the man himself, the infectious way in which he could justify his and the club’s ambition, and a handy if not excessive budget. What, in this period while Duchatelet lingers, are our USPs to players with plenty of other options to consider? I’m not sure a six-month subscription to an online video service is going to do it.
And the worry that follows is that, as we miss out on talented players to clubs in a better state, we find ourselves playing catching up, forced to snap up the best of the rest. And in a division that will include Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, Bradford City, three very good sides promoted automatically from League Two in Portsmouth, Doncaster Rovers and Plymouth Argyle, and the likes of Fleetwood Town, Scunthorpe United and Southend United who are also likely to be competitive again, that is unlikely to be good enough.
It simply hard to believe that the club is in a position from which a promotion-winning squad can be built. Hard to believe we can compete with others in this division, and the bottom-half of the second tier, for the players required.
All this, of course, without considering possible sales and need to have a squad of reasonable size for the first time in several seasons. Club ambition not so much the problem with Ricky Holmes but, particularly as he nears 30, the concern is that he’ll have a strong desire to play in the Championship and find the offer of working with Chris Wilder again an attractive one. Club ambition would have to be questioned if, having only just signed a new contract, Ezri Konsa was cashed in on without at least another season to his name in Charlton colours.
You would hope the sales of the likes of Igor Vetokele, Naby Sarr and Cristian Ceballos, with the departures of Jorge Teixeira and Tony Watt also looking likely, will help prevent the need to cash in on anyone that has a role to play in the first team. You would hope, too, that their sales would provide the funds that increase the chance of Charlton competing for the signatures of players who will be wanted by clubs in better states.
But, in all honesty, I’m not sure finances are the main issue, even if Duchatelet and those he misguidedly places his trust have a habit of investing unwisely. The issues of reputation, and justifying our ambitions to players who will have plenty of suiters, much more important.
Something that, at this time, it’s reasonable to believe the club aren’t in the best of positions to do. Something that, in the next month, the club must prove. Over to them.