Though a month and a half into it, the arrival of a player that I was unconvinced the club would be able to attract to SE7 signals the first genuinely encouraging news of Charlton Athletic’s summer.
For Mark Marshall, a creative and direct winger of high League One standard, joins from Bradford City. A vital part of the Bantams squad that reached the play-off final, a fear existed that other interested parties would provide a more attractive proposition for a long-term target of manager Karl Robinson. To have the 30-year-old on board is pleasing, promising, and offers quite the relief.
It, in the impact had among supporters of both clubs, is in some contrast to the transfer of Billy Clarke, who also made the move from one Valley (Parade) to another.
At best, forward Clarke was a frustrating figure among supporters of the Yorkshire club, but more truthfully a figure who could no longer be trusted. Wasted chances and poor overall performances meant money were happy to see the back of the Irishman, and surprised another club were willing to pay a fee for a player who had failed to impress for several seasons. Not to write Clarke off without him kicking a ball in Charlton colours, but the evidence suggesting an average League One player signed that set a worrying tone for arrivals in SE7.
Addicks concerned that they would merely see their squad for the new season cobbled together with third tier journeyman mad enough to join a club in a desperate state, and the club’s overstating of an average signing hardly created confidence that those currently within Robinson’s squad that are attracting interest from elsewhere would still be among it come the end of August.
But the celebrations of those who supported Bradford at the thought of Clarke’s departure were brought to a crashing halt by the news that Marshall had moved on. Player of the Year for the season just gone at Valley Parade, and for good reason. Fans of the losing play-off finalists devastated to see the winger leave.
So where do we go from here? Has Clarke really set the tone, with Marshall the marquee signing and nothing else to follow? Or is Marshall the catalyst for the strengthening of the squad to a point where it may actually be able to challenge competitively for the top six?
Desperately seeking to fill the squad with those unwanted by divisional rivals, or beating clubs in better shape and possibly of higher status to the likes of MK Dons’ Ben Reeves? It seems with a player signed from each category, this a crucial point in the summer.
Of course, the Marshall signing becomes a near irrelevance if Ricky Holmes is not kept. The Jamaican a figure that should be strengthening the squad, and not a replacement for its most dangerous asset. Marshall of high quality, but if the question was one or the other, I’d want Holmes, not that it should have to be choice.
Holmes down the left and Marshall down the right is duo that will create. Marshall down the right with, well, I’m not actually sure there is anyone suited to the left wing role at the moment that isn’t Holmes, isn’t quite so threatening. It goes without saying that keeping Charlton’s 2016/17 Player of the Year is vital.
But the fact that there isn’t much cover in the wide positions at present reveals, as if there is an Addick not already aware, that plenty of work remains to be done. Work that in previous seasons has so often been left undone.
Promise last season as Holmes, Nicky Ajose, Lee Novak and Josh Magennis arrived. Two of the four failed to impress, but that not really the point. More so the fact that we’d made some interesting additions but the squad overall remained weak, lacking in both depth and quality. Dishing out rushed six-month contracts to a Kevin Foley impersonator is something I’d rather not be doing this time around.
Still required is a goalkeeper, and I’m personally happy for that to be a genuine first choice stopper or someone who will provide cover for Dillon Phillips. I have complete trust in the homegrown goalkeeper after his performances last season, and don’t really mind how that pans out.
Then with Lewis Page’s injury now keeping him out until August, there’s probably a need for two left-backs. Jay Dasilva’s return would be welcomed, but the decision to release Adam Chicksen now seems a little bit odder. Those two as the left full-back options while Page recovers would have been perfectly fine, with both able to play further forward if required.
Additionally, with no cover for Chris Solly and his injury record continuing to be less than impressive, a right-back of similar standard is required. Not simply cover, but someone that will compete with the long-serving vice-captain, and will perform as admirably should the academy graduate find himself absent at any point throughout the season. Ezri Konsa’s performances in that position last season suggesting that playing him there is firmly placing a square peg in a round hole.
And with uncertainty over Konsa’s further, Jorge Teixeira likely to leave and Harry Lennon set to be spending a few more months in the treatment room, centre-backs are also on the agenda. Not just cover for Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce, but two of their standard. Hopefully, in a shock twist, the club decide not to cash in on a young talent and Konsa remains an option for the coming campaign.
An option, too, in midfield, where he looked much more suited than at right-back. But with Robinson’s lust for playing five in the middle, Andrew Crofts and Johnnie Jackson likely to be relegated to members of the squad, and Ahmed Kashi still missing a leg, plenty of midfielders are a must. Ball-winning types, the creative sorts that fit the Ben Reeves mould, and some alternatives in the wide positions.
A midfield that will feed Magennis, but forward options are still likely to be needed. I’m not convinced Ajose has a future, Novak is Novak, I’m not totally won over by Tony Watt’s Twitter confidence, and I imagine Igor Vetokele is going to join those who also spent last season away from the club in departing the club. Cover for Magennis a must, with no player of any real quality that can play in the role he does, while a couple of more poacher-like forwards would be useful with Clarke more suited to playing between in the ’number 10’ role.
So you’re looking at, assuming those at that are likely to leave depart and those that we’d like to keep hand around, one goalkeeper, two left-backs, a right-back, a centre-back, two or three central midfielders, two wide-men, and two or three strikers. A rough estimate of 11-13 players needed for the squad to be complete, which may seem a lot but there can be no excuse for it lacking numbers once again.
As such, it’s important to remind ourselves that the signing of Marshall means relatively very little in a wider context. There still plenty of work to be done.
But what it does mean is that there’s a chance the club are capable, and willing, to attract players of top League One standard that divisional rivals in arguably better positions may also be chasing. That Marshall is the catalyst, rather than merely the marquee.
Equally, there the possibility that Marshall is as good as it gets, and the tone that many feared had been set by Clarke’s arrival has merely been temporarily disturbed.
The signings, and those retained, over the coming weeks the only way of having hopes supported or crushed, or fears reaffirmed or calmed.