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If Ricky Holmes is a match-winner, the sort of player who can make the difference in a contest devoid of life, then Roland Duchatelet is a club-crippler. The sort of owner who can leave a club devoid of life. Intent on leaving it devoid of life as he leaves.
A transfer to Sheffield United waits for Holmes. A player who only signed a new deal in the summer, fending off interest from the Blades on that occasion, but on the premises progression would follow. It fairly apparent that, in the short-term, progression for the Addicks is not to follow.
A rare provider of quality as last season stagnated; the scorer of a hat-trick in defeat at Shrewsbury Town the perfect reflection of his influence. Decisive, match-defining and match-winning moments as the Addicks enjoyed a promising first third of this campaign. And even in a period where he, and his side, lack form, it only he that provides any sort of spark.
The threat of relegation last season a more serious one without his influence? Most definitely. Points to deduct from this season’s total without his influence? Most definitely. Charlton a weaker side without his quality? Most definitely.
The nature of a football fan, demanding the same loyalty they apply to their club from each player who wears the shirt, means Holmes will undoubtedly face some criticism. Greedy, uncommitted, that sort of thing. But, ultimately, Holmes’ move to Yorkshire makes perfect sense.
A 30-year-old who has never featured above League One level, who certainly possesses the quality to do so, with the opportunity to play under a former manager at a competitive, progressive, Championship club. Escaping a club in a fragile state, that appear increasingly unable to give him a chance to play football above the third tier. He deserves a chance at a higher level, and his efforts in Charlton red mean criticism is misdirected.
Directed, instead, towards Duchatelet. It the ease with, and the context in, this transfer has been allowed to occur that both angers and concerns. No fight to retain a key player, even a willingness to sell, while Karl Robinson is denied the opportunity to strengthen his squad as takeover talks take place in the background.
Duchatelet’s care for this football, from performances to its fans, has never been at an acceptable level. It half-business, half-play-thing, that sits as part of a failed project for which his attentions are minimal. No concerns in what state the club is left in upon his departure for the Belgian.
A notion substantially increased by what would appear an equally as imminent sale of Ezri Konsa to Everton is to follow. Konsa, just as much, should be fought for, though it seems that something we don’t do for our homegrown players under this regime. Don’t simply cash in, promote the value of continued first-team football while doing so, or at the very least demand a greater fee.
Again, though, you can’t feel angered at the individual. Why, having seen that Charlton have willingly accepted the offer, would he turn down a chance to progress further at a Premier League club? One that have given an opportunity to Ademola Lookman, gradually integrating him more and more into the first team.
My knowledge of business is minimal. My willingness to read up on theories about what Duchatelet is up to even less. But to my very simple mind, it would appear a sale of assets to take a few additional pounds for himself in order to lower his substantially excessive asking price and convince potentially buyers to make an offer.
Suck not just as much life, but as much financial gain out of something he cares little for. Sell, but refuse to make any sort of investments. Leave Robinson in the most impossible of positions.
An impossible position in which Robinson is handling himself in such a way that warrants all manner of praise. Tasked with keeping a threadbare squad competitive, while being refused signings he believed would be coming his way, and hung out to dry by those above him as he deals with questions and uncertainty about the takeover situation. His openness, or more truthfully his inability to stop talking at the right moment, can sometimes be an annoyance, but here it’s a vital connecter between club and supporters; the hurt and confusion he’s expressing genuine and matching that which belongs to fans.
In similar fashion to Holmes and Konsa, I wouldn’t have any accusations of cowardliness to send the way of Karl Robinson were he to escape the near-impossible conditions he finds himself working in. I don’t think that, given his character, he will resign. But there’s a weariness, a desperation, as he attempts to contend with this impossible situation that makes you have second thoughts.
Relief comes only from the fact that it is a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Duchatelet will sell. The desperate wish to have a man who has caused so much destruction, so much disconnection, out of the club soon to be fulfilled. I wish relief would also come from a takeover being completed before the end of the transfer window, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
What would appear now to be the case is that a new owner will not only have the task of rebuilding the broken relations between club and supporters, but completely rebuilding a team facing unnecessary weakening. The task of any new owner was always going to be testing, but now even more so if January stands to be as bad as it might well be. Worse before it gets better.
After so much of this nonsense, over so many years, it’s difficult to totally commit yourself to caring. Not least when life itself has as many flaws as this football club and its current owner. Wake me up when this is all over, and I can peacefully enjoy my role as a supporter, not spending it dodging stress.
Instigating competition between each failure of Roland Duchatelet’s regime is a pointless exercise. No winner, for each one has been as misguided as the last. The combination of countless faults coming together to cause significant damage.
But if there is to be a symbol of this regime’s disastrous impact on the club, then it stands in the shape of Katrien Meire. The CEO that reinforced footballing success or fair treatment of supporters were not high on the regime’s list of prerogatives. The figure who constantly assisted in Duchatelet’s desire to turn what is a club with great history and traditions into an experimental source of financial gain.
That she now departs is worthy of a celebration as great as any victory achieved over the previous four years. In any other circumstance, consistent failure to succeed would have seen the CEO removed from her position much sooner. Duchatelet’s unbroken support for her showing that failure had little consequence as long as his experiment continued.
Meire’s main ‘achievement’ a mighty one. To create division between the club and its supporters. A special bond existing between club and supporters at The Valley, and yet she managed to break it.
An undermining of the value of fans that verged on insult. Repetitive lying, not least when it came to attempts to backtrack on her words and the appointment of head coaches from inside the regime, in order to reinforce the hurtful decisions undertaken by Duchatelet and herself. A dramatic disconnect, felt as keenly as on-the-pitch failings, that left supporters feeling like an unwelcome annoyance to the hierarchy in SE7.
There little to no division between supporters. The belief that this regime, and Meire, were damaging one shared by a vast majority of Addicks. Just between supporters and club.
The disconnect substantial enough for long-standing supporters, whose lifelong commitment to Charlton Athletic Football Club cannot be questioned, to lose love. Difficult to embrace the club, when a CEO and a regime constantly insult the club and fans who follow it. Whether by protest, staying away from The Valley, or simply maintaining a discontent for Meire and the regime she works for, passionate opposition to the regime has been as constant as its failure.
The news that she departs coinciding with Duchatelet firmly admitting he is in talks with parties to sell the club. This nightmare, this disconnect, is coming to an end. Supporters have toiled in their opposition, and they may finally be getting their reward.
A mightily unpleasant experience to have supported this club under their stewardship. And it not just because of on-the-pitch failure instigated by the appointment of network managers and a flawed transfer strategy, seeing dire players arrive and the likes of Yann Kermorgant and Michael Morrison forced out, overseen initially by the laughable Thomas Driesen. It not just because of the undermining of Chris Powell, forced to play the poor players handed to him, investment in the form of a high-interest loan that has increased club debt, or another season occurring at present in which squad depth is minimal.
It the overall atmosphere that this regime has created. At times poisonous, at others one of disillusionment, but always demoralising. Supporting the side a role not passed up, but the rare moments of success or joy heavily tainted by the conditions created.
A notion that has created division among supporters otherwise united. Over what the response to opposition to the regime should be, and what defines a ‘proper’ supporter. That such pettiness will come to an end, along with the need for many to make the following of a football club one of stressful protest and boycott, a joyous relief.
For me personally, it not simply the hope of the club rebuilding and future success that makes Meire’s departure and the sale to follow a moment of celebration, but the hope the club itself will now stop being a reason why following the Addicks hasn’t provided the distraction it used to do. An important distraction for myself, from crippling mental health problems. The atmosphere this regime has created contributing to what was previously a key release slowly fading away.
There are more complex issues as to why following Charlton has stopped being the distraction it should be, relating to moments of anxiety around leaving the house, a growing fear of crowds, and victories becoming tainted by a pressure to feel a release from a low state that I find difficult to contend with. The regime’s departure, therefore, will not address it. But I want to believe the environment will soon be one more conducive to distraction.
I want to believe the suffering that all supporters have suffered over the previous four years, through disconnection and on-the-pitch failure, will now reach its conclusion.
In the midst of the initial celebrations that followed Tuesday night’s dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Peterborough United, the chaotic scenes of pure and unexpected joy, it mattered not who the foot that had prodded the ball over the line at the far pots belonged to.
But it gained greater significance upon realising that the figure who had completed the two-goal four-minute revival was Karlan Ahearne-Grant. The Academy graduate’s first goal in 20 games this season in all competitions, and his first in 43 since scoring against Cardiff City in September 2015. Additional joy and relief on the face of a young man, wrapped up in a memorable moment, that even his most committed critics would have taken pleasure in seeing.
For there no question that Ahearne-Grant’s efforts, particularly over the course of this campaign, have gained a great deal of negative feedback from Charlton Athletic supporters. It matters not where you sit at The Valley, or what position you occupy at away games, a collective groan will be heard as the 20-year-old prepares to enter the action. Groans that aren’t irrational, or simply the result of a player being unfairly targeted without genuine justification.
Why would they be? Charlton supporters take a great deal of pride and offer the highest possible level of support to their academy graduates, whether they remain at the club or not. It’s just that Ahearne-Grant has done little to prove he has the talents of those that have come before him, those he has shared pitches and training grounds with, and his failures have become tiresome.
Failures that stretch beyond a poor scoring record, which can in part be answered by substitute appearances and often being pushed out wide. There’s a weakness in possession that means he’s so often bullied off the ball, there’s quick feet but rarely is his opponent beaten, and a combination of poor decision-making and a lack of quality means end product, weather crossing or shooting, rarely threatens. On occasions, he gives the impression that if you took his pace away, he would hold nothing at all.
A late miss in a level game against Oxford United, which really should have been finished, and a tame header comfortably saved that could have killed off Rochdale last week haven’t helped his cause. Faith in the youngster, who has been required specifically to impact on games when attacking numbers have been limited, low among supporters. Faith in himself also low, it would seem, with Karl Robinson aware of a lack of confidence and his substandard performances.
But Robinson, speaking after the Rochdale game, was adamant in his faith in Ahearne-Grant. Making it clear he needed to return that faith with productive output, but that the boss could see there was quality being restrained within the youngster. Something a manager is always likely to say to protect a player, particularly a struggling 20-year-old, but there reasons beyond “he’s not good enough” why the apparent potential of Ahearne-Grant hasn’t appeared.
In many ways, Ahearne-Grant has been a victim. Of the academy’s success, of squad situation, and of his own early success. Conditions have been against him.
To say he’s been a victim of the academy’s success, one that churns out quality graduate after quality graduate and has contributed to Ahearne-Grant’s promotion to the first team, may appear a strange suggestion. But there an expectation now in SE7 that allow youngsters thrown into the side will make an immediate impression, without teething problems or struggles. With many exceeding in their teens, that belief in Ahearne-Grant has been lost at the still young age of 20, with time still to develop, is possibly an unfortunate consequence of that.
Maybe, as is the case for Josh Umerah and Brandon Hanlan, spending a period out on loan at the start of this campaign would have been beneficial to him. To build confidence in his own ability with regular starts at a lower level. But a lack of forwards, and the restricted availability of Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves, meant such a thought couldn’t be considered, and unfair pressure has been placed on him to make positive, even match-defining, impacts from the bench.
Finally, there a certain amount of frustration and disappointment knowing that, in his early games for the Addicks as a teen, he showed genuine potential that excited. A performance against Peterborough in the League Cup and generally impressing in the Championship at the start of the 2015/16 created a certain amount of hype, but he faded quickly in that same campaign, and hasn’t replicated those sorts of signs of encouragement since. He doesn’t appear to be that same player; confidence, being transformed into a player who plays more prominently out wide, or simply a struggle to develop possible contributors.
And yet, regardless of these criticisms, questionable performances and questions of confidence, it was Ahearne-Grant that was more alert than any in Peterborough colours to the danger Naby Sarr’s knock down posed in the 94th-minute at The Valley on Tuesday. It this genuinely struggling figure able to pounce, and score a second Charlton goal in four stoppage-time minutes to equalise having been two goals down and heading for certain, and warranted, defeat. It a man without confidence, as much a man without a goal, that was able to complete an extraordinary display of character from this group of Addicks, and create an extraordinary moment.
It may, of course, mean very little in the long-term for Ahearne-Grant. The celebration in front of the Covered End will never lose its meaning, but may not create change. There every chance he continues as the same player that offered few reasons to have faith in previously.
But this a moment that will inject confidence. The confidence that Robinson suggests was required, required for a player who he has reaffirmed he has faith in. The confidence that a player whose poor decision making and hesitation in possession, making him more likely to pick out an opposition player than his own, so desperately needs.
Confidence that will be supported from the stands. The groans that have previously met his introduction will be replaced with a positive response; one that effectively thanks him for such a wonderful moment and encourages more. Whether rational faith in his ability has been gained, and as such confidence in him, support for Ahearne-Grant certainly has as a consequence of that late goal.
And so what follows is a huge period in Ahearne-Grant’s career. With injuries harming Charlton’s squad, The FA Cup tie against AFC Wimbledon and the busy festive schedule to come, the forward will undoubtedly be given game time. Possibly chances to impress from the start.
There only a certain amount of time in which the confidence from scoring that goal will last, and only a certain amount of time in which supporters will place that goal above other performances. A period, the length of which is totally dependant on how Ahearne-Grant performs, in which the forward must show something different in his overall game that what has preceded the equaliser on Tuesday night. It will be challenging for supporters to maintain faith in the youngster if, in a situation where he is supported by his own confidence and that belonging to several other sources, a return to previous infuriating performances follow.
For it will undoubtedly take more than a single goal to settle Ahearne-Grant, and remove the reservations that so many rightly have about his ability. More than a single case of being in the right place, at the right time, to spark a moment of incredible joy. Ahearne-Grant is still the player that has spent much of this season struggling to deliver, but he now holds a different mindset to deliver something different.
Supporters of Charlton Athletic were initially sat down at the finest of tables and offered an updated menu of real quality when dining at the Transfer Window Restaurant this summer.
Their meals delicious, and served in excellent fashion. Few, if any, complaints to be had with the main course. Somewhat unexpected, seen as their trust in the quality of the restaurant’s services had long faded, and they’d only continued to dine there out of loyalty.
But as they sat patiently for the waiters to return upon the completion of their meals, with some expectation given the excitement that the names on the dessert menu offered, they were soon to find themselves creeping back towards the normality of disappointment. Nothing was available on the dessert menu, because they’d run out of the resources required to produce the treats. The diners were going to depart without any dessert whatsoever until a temporary solution, sourcing some supermarket ice cream, was found.
Ultimately, as nights came to an end, there a sense it would be greedy to be feeling anything but content. The taste of your meal still running around your mouth, and a healthy feeling in your stomach. But the thought of how sweet a dessert might have tasted, served to the same standard, leaves you wanting more.
And while the heart of Charlton’s summer transfer activity has been mightily impressive, producing a starting XI of such quality that expectation and some excitement has been injected back into supporters on the Addicks, the failure to deliver the sweet additional figures that the squad required has meant the summer ends with a tinge of frustration. What has arrived, and the performances delivered thus far by Karl Robinson’s strongest side, means the mood remains a hopeful one. But the thought of how strong this squad probably should have ended up, and how fragile it looks with a couple of injuries, leaves you wanting more.
For there no doubt that, both through quality arrivals and the retention of key players, that Robinson has been able to construct a starting XI as strong as anything seen while Roland Duchatelet as controlled the club. Not that that comment holds much value, but Charlton’s current strongest XI is a very strong one for League One level, at least competing with all in the division.
I will maintain, having mentioned it several times before, that the most important pieces of business done this summer has been retaining Ricky Holmes and Jason Pearce, with Josh Magennis latterly joining the duo in signing an improved contract at The Valley. Not only because of the quality of the players, but because of the message it delivered to supporters, the squad, and elsewhere. A display of the Addicks’ ambitions, and that there was a genuine attractiveness in remaining in SE7 even for players who could command moves up the Football League.
The individual performances of Holmes, Pearce and Magennis in the opening weeks of the campaign reaffirming their importance to the side, but they performances that have been matched by the efforts of those wearing Charlton colours for the first time.
After a unconvincing start, Bolton Wanderers loanee Ben Amos has made important contributions between the sticks during the victories over Northampton Town and Rotherham United, Jay Dasilva, actually wearing Charlton colours for the second time having signed up for a second spell on loan from Chelsea, has impressed both in his defensive and attacking duties at left-back, and Billy Clarke and Tariq Fosu have been crucial cogs in the impressive counter-attacking play of Robinson’s side that has created more promise and belief than any other factor.
In addition, there hope that Mark Marshall will emulate the form shown while at Bradford City upon his return from a knee injury sustained during pre-season, while a goal for Ben Reeves in Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy win over Crawley Town as he integrates into the side following his early August arrival provided a glimpse of the ability often displayed in his time at Stadium MK. That Marshall and Reeves sit outside the starting XI is proof that there’s quality beyond it, and that it’s not in every position where strength in depth causes a slight concern.
But it’s quite difficult to fully understand why strengthening beyond the start of the season, when it remained apparent that there were still gaps in the squad as the campaign got underway, was such a complex task. Difficult to understand to for several reasons. And not just because a couple of additions, to match the quality already brought in, without any further outgoings was really all that was needed.
There the perfect foundation from which Duchatelet and chums could prove there was a very obvious goal for them this season, and that they would not be playing games to achieve it. A few further additions to rid fears over lack of depth or what might be a reliance on young players, that have seen the Addicks fail in the past, and create a squad that had everything geared towards promotion. An absolute gift for a regime that has previously done nothing but fail and disillusion supporters, but one not taken.
I find it very hard to believe that having handed the wages of Nicky Ajose, Igor Vetokele, Jorge Teixeira, Cristian Ceballos, Tony Watt and, latterly, Lee Novak to other clubs, budget was a decisive factor. That without considering the money brought in from Ademola Lookman’s sale in January, and the money that Duchatelet should be investing into transfer spending for a club of Charlton’s size and to match promotion ambitions. There surely the resources available to add the finishing touches to the squad.
The required finishing touches that are displayed quite handily as the Addicks head into this weekend’s game against Oldham Athletic without Magennis or Dasilva, who are both on international duty.
It downplayed somewhat, but I’ve found the options in reserve at full-back to be a little concerning, with Lewis Page still unfit and Anfernee Dijksteel a little bit of an unknown quality. Johnnie Jackson probably needing to fill in at left-back on Saturday hardly ideal, and it these kind of situations that you’d like a squad with promotion ambitions to be able to avoid.
But, of course, the main concern comes up top. A worry for a period in the transfer window’s final hours that, with Novak being sold to Scunthorpe United, the Addicks would only have one senior striker until January, but the arrival of Joe Dodoo on loan from Rangers merely brings levels of concern back to where they were at the start of the day. Which was fairly high anyway.
Even if Robinson religiously sticks to a formation with one up top, two senior forwards simply isn’t enough. Not least when one heads off on international duty every few weeks, and the arrival is a striker in quite a different mould. For all his struggles in a Charlton shirt, allowing Novak to leave without another target man style forward lined up is very odd.
Dodoo a young forward of promise, who would be an excellent addition if adding to an already healthy pool of strikers, to provide something a bit different. But the 22-year-old, who scored three times in 20 league games for Rangers last season, is going to be thrown straight in at the deep end on Saturday. Asked to perform the role Magennis usually does, when his qualities are more suited to partnering a forward of Magennis’ nature and running in behind.
The signing, particularly given as the loan is only until January, seems a bit rushed and panicked in response to Novak’s departure. There really didn’t need to be a rush and a panic to sign a forward that is ultimately a little bit of a gamble when there was a reasonable amount of time to attract a striker of real quality to the club from the start of August. Will Grigg, Matty Godden, John Akindie and Matty Taylor among those linked, and any of those or a forward of similar stature would have been excellent.
But the point isn’t to write Dodoo off at all, who I’m sure will have an impact and I say that with the second half performance at Plymouth Argyle in mind. A weak bench, with no useful alternatives, meant Robinson was unable to inject life into his sluggishly performing side at Home Park and defeat followed. A concern that there will be a repeat of that when Charlton are chasing games, and will be unable to break down the barriers that opposition defences have put up, but at least having a forward in Dodoo’s mould provides something useful in those circumstances.
The point, however, is that if his signing was purely as an alternative option, and not Magennis’ one and only understudy, then it would have been a very logical one. International weekends are going to be quite uncomfortable, and a huge worry if the Northern Ireland international suffers injury at any point.
Some might point to the success of young players in cup games to suggest there is adequate depth across the board, and not just up top, but we’ve been in a similar position before and such reliance hasn’t worked. There no question that the Addicks are understaffed in attack, and that this position is such an avoidable one.
Ultimately, it’s a frustrating end to a very promising transfer window. A window that saw a main serving of quality arrivals, and retentions, in SE7. But one where things got a bit sluggish thereafter.
And there no doubt that the creation of a strong starting XI has been achieved during this window, for which supporters have a great deal of faith in, and have so far been offered exciting signs by.
But knowing a finishing touch or two of quality could have, and probably should have, been added to the squad does leave you longing for more. It’s not so much concern, but maybe just a touch of discomfort as a consequence of what’s in reserve.
So often as he entered The Valley pitch, those who occupied the stands would chant his name with a level of noise and meaning that made for a genuine message. A shared knowledge that this enigmatic figure required as much encouragement and appreciation as possible, and a strong desire for him to succeed in the colours of Charlton Athletic. Receptive, if not always in his performances, but always towards those who supported him.
And yet, often moments after his name had echoed around The Valley’s structures, there would soon be unforgiving and universally shared groans of displeasure. The flashes of quality occasionally seen made you want to believe he would reach the peak of his potential in SE7, but too often were the same infuriating errors being made. Tony Watt didn’t just divide a fan base, he split the minds of individual supporters.
So as the Scot, following three separate loan spells away in his two-and-a-half-years as an Addick, prepares to exit the club on a permanent basis, there is not the anger that may exist when a key player departs, nor the sarcastic celebrations when a poor one is allowed to leave.
Instead, there a disappointment that the best of Watt, having made 53 league appearances in Charlton colours, was seen on so few occasions. A regret that the 23-year-old did not become the player for the Addicks the occasional flashes of brilliance suggested he could have been. A frustration that, having originally moved to the South East London branch of Roland Duchatelet’s network from Standard Liege, Watt heads for a second spell in Belgium, with Lierse his apparent destination, having failed to get anywhere near fulfilling his potential in SE7.
Potential that, regardless of how you feel towards the Scot as he departs, there is no question was shown. Many will point to that marvellous moment of skill that saw him keep the ball in the corner against Nottingham Forest, and I think the focus on that has left some forgetting that he did provide further contributions. His general form in that period, particularly in performances either side of the Forest game in victories over Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, was outstanding.
So too was there the sensational start from Watt to the 2015/16 season, with the opening goal of the season in a victory over QPR and a long range, though somewhat deflected, effort during a visit to Derby County. “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Tony Watt, Watt, Watt, Watt” was sung with some vigour at Pride Park. A connection with supporters always existing to some degree.
I remember, quite explicitly, Watt standing in front of the away end on his own at Vicarage Road applauding the visiting supporters following the shambolic 5-0 defeat there in January 2015. It coming after Guy Luzon, a network appointment that brought resentment and revolt among supporters, had been given the head coach gig. The sort of player-supporter interaction so desperately needed.
I don’t think, therefore, there can be argument that supporters have not given Watt the opportunity to succeed each time he returned, and each time he wore Charlton colours. An opportunity he continued to be given, in part, because of the Scot’s willingness to acknowledge such support, and as such a desire among many supporters for him to perform. Frustration a regular response to Watt’s reaction, but never have supporters turned against him, and never has his name not been sung.
But maybe there’s an argument, not least given the fact his spells on loan at Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and Hearts between November 2015 and January 2017 had just one appearance for Charlton sandwiched between them, that he wasn’t given a fair opportunity to prove himself by those in charge. Or at least, having been sent away on so many occasions, the conditions and circumstances at The Valley were not right for him to succeed. After that blast of brilliance at the start of the 2015/16 season, Watt faded at a dramatic rate, but maybe the action that would have provided the greater result for club and player would have been to stand by him.
That chance given to him by Karl Robinson upon his return from Hearts last season, and Watt generally did well. Largely utilised as a winger, and making his greater impressions from the bench, he made useful runs with the ball at his feet and appeared a threat. Not simply because he scored twice, but his overall play in the trio of home games against Scunthorpe United, Walsall, and Bradford City was impressive.
But so too were there dire efforts, where he appeared devoid of all quality, energy and intelligence. That two of those performances were against Peterborough United and MK Dons, two defeats that left the Addicks four points from the bottom four with five games to play, hardly helped his cause. Some promising signs seen, but back-to-back grim displays in these circumstances made what had gone before almost meaningless; the frustration of Watt in a nutshell.
Maybe that in part a motivation to make his pre-season successful, as it appeared it was. He certainly continued to make a point of it on social media, and given the criticism he has received throughout his career for being unfit I see no reason why he shouldn’t. Alas, after his name was sung as he stepped onto The Valley turf against Bristol Rovers, home supporters groaned as he failed to close down opposition defenders, and back to square one we all seemed to go.
Nonetheless, it a disappointment to see him depart with this season and exclusively the Watt that has been seen in mind. Regardless of whether this is a decision made primarily by Watt, as it would seem, or by club and Robinson. Despite being an inconsistent nuisance that’s going to cause enough frustration to leave your head rolling down The Valley’s steps, he has more than enough ability, even well below his best, to be a threat in League One.
But that I’m suggesting it would be worth keeping Watt because he might be able to do something from the bench in the third tier of English football is probably a further indicator of the frustration involved in this situation. The greater point is that Watt has failed to deliver on his early promise, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s for the want of trying. The early promise of his career, and in SE7.
Of course, his career will forever be defined by *that* goal against Barcelona as a 19-year-old while playing for Celtic. A goal that has placed immense pressure on him. Maybe he was never actually of the level that goal suggested, or maybe he’s not been able to handle the expectations.
From a Charlton perspective, I still don’t understand how he went from an impressive end to the 2014/15 season and start to the following campaign, to a complete collapse thereafter. A player that could seemingly do everything, to one that appeared lost on the pitch. There didn’t appear a reason for such a loss of confidence, and those levels of performance have not returned.
The, ironically, rather lazy accusation to make is that Watt is lazy. Or at least he has a poor attitude. He’s certainly not your average footballer.
But a poor attitude is not something I pick up when he plays. Poor decision making, yes, but not a poor attitude. I’d also suggest the way his teammates treat him would be very different if laziness and attitude was a greater problem.
I do, given that Watt has displayed flashes of brilliance but not to any consistent level, imagine there is some degree of mental barrier in his way. But I don’t think it’s a self-created one.
To be perfectly honest, I’m really not sure why he’s struggled to deliver like he might have done, but I feel it might well relate to a reliance on confidence. The drop in form at the start of 2015/16, coinciding with poor team displays and the sacking of Luzon, something he struggled to get over, the loan spells not providing the boost required, and a struggle to perform ever since. While others show anger towards the Scot as a consequence, I feel a degree of sympathy.
In fact, as a person, I quite like Watt. Opinions gained from how he interacts with supporters and his social media behaviour only tell so much, but he does seem like a genuinely good guy. I was certainly one of those who chanted his name, wishing him to succeed.
And as such, as he departs, I’m one of those who feels regret and disappointment. We saw quality from Watt in SE7, but were ultimately given more moments of frustration. He leaves making only a minor impression overall, but there a knowledge he could have delivered so much more.
If there is just one player within Charlton Athletic’s ranks, at least in the very short-term, who deserves to begin the season plying his trade at a higher level than it is Ricky Holmes.
This the Holmes that proved himself during the previous campaign to be a step above League One level. So often was the real difference between two relatively sluggish sides his unbelievable quality to carry the ball forward, create openings out of nothing, and produce a match-defining moment. So often he performed while others looked uninterested, lost or beaten.
In fact, it was when the Addicks were at their worst last season that the quality of Holmes became even more obvious. A mental toughness could be added to what he was capable of with his feet as, while his teammates crumbled in a fashion that left Karl Robinson to suggest they weren’t fit to wear the shirt, a sublime hat-trick was scored in the defeat away at Shrewsbury Town. It was there when you felt that it was probably best to enjoy what was left of the former Northampton Town man while he remained in Charlton colours, because a player of his talent would surely not remain beyond the end of that campaign.
Not only because he was playing for an unappealing club, and a side who flirted with the idea of relegation from League One up until there were give games of the season remaining, but because clubs of a higher level would be quite rightfully attracted to him. At the age of 30, the prospect of a move to the Championship would something he’d surely have taken up immediately. Most Charlton supporters, though undoubtedly hurting from losing a player of such quality, could only have wished him well.
And so that Holmes has committed himself to the Addicks by agreeing a new deal with the club has not only come as quite a shock, but suggests there’s an attraction in staying put in SE7 that might well not be immediately obvious to those of us who have fallen out of love with the club in recent years. That Robinson’s rather exaggerated excitement for the coming season might actually have some genuine truth to it hiding beneath his parody-like style of expressing himself. That there is a playing environment in SE7 that players of talent want to be a part of.
For while the club remains owned by a regime that continues to fail in its roles off the pitch, not least in reconnecting lost supporters, and has committed too many damaging errors to ever be forgiven, what is building on-the-pitch ahead of the new season is genuinely promising. Holmes agreeing terms with such an intention as he signed his new deal.
We have, of course, said similar before, and we certainly said this at the start of last season. Distancing ourselves from the ownership to place faith in a side that looked capable of competing successful in the third tier under the stewardship of an experienced Football League boss. So maybe a degree of caution remains required.
There is certainly still some strengthening to the squad to be done, with the arrivals of Mark Marshall, Billy Clarke and Tarique Fosu not quite enough even if Ahmed Kashi return to fitness does feel like a new signing. Ideally another six to seven players to create that genuine strength in depth that we’ve been lacking for several seasons, but an absolute minimum of a goalkeeper, a right-back, a left-back, and someone who can do what Josh Magennis does who isn’t Lee Novak. Sorting two of those areas at least, in the recruitment of David Martin, currently training with the club, and Jay Dasilva, who seems set to arrive once finished with the England U19s, seems relatively straightforward.
While there no question that, despite deserving credit for galvanising his squad to earn those vital victories at the end of last season, Robinson has a point to prove. Supporters, both on the relatively unimportant factor of character and the more important quality of managerial ability, are undecided of the former MK Dons after a very poor season both at Stadium MK and The Valley. He needs a strong start to match his confident rhetoric, because there’s no doubt he can speak.
But there’s clearly quality within the side, that will be assisted by a full pre-season under Robinson. A disconnection between boss and players in terms of strategy and identity at times during the second half of last season, and a summer for the boss to get his ideas across crucial. Though I’m not sure how Robinson will cope without a network coach enforced upon him to carry the bibs and cones.
In circumstances that appear positive, the phrase “move on”, one that has been used with connotations of ignorance and aggression since the moment Duchatelet made his first blunder in selling Yann Kermorgant, will undoubtedly appear again. It views football supporters as short-sighted robots, hosting unnatural emotions that mean any previous events most immediately be forgotten regardless of what harm they caused.
The situation at Charlton is such that a key player signing a new contract, the squad appearing to be in a healthier state and the potential to subsequently win games will not reconnect many supporters with their club. The disconnection that has been inflicted by this regime is a very strong, and will be there until they depart. Given that it has been inflicted to such an intense degree over a four-year period, the chance for forgiveness has long passed.
For myself, it’s a case of both present, as they continue to run the club in cumbersome fashion and insult both it and supporters, and past. My connection with Charlton weakening because of the actions of this regime when, because of my mental and physical health, I’ve needed the distraction of this football club the most. It’s impossible to forgive to that, and anger towards Duchatelet and Katrien Meire will always remain.
The protests against the regime are undoubtedly further fuelled by results, and results are the best presentation to a wide audience of the failings under Duchatelet, but not the basis of them. A general incompetence and that sense of mistreatment of both club and its supporters, that has left fans feeling distant and apathetic. Something that after three years can’t be put right, and still exists.
But for many, the support the team not the regime mantra is one strongly lived by, and I’d like to think the fact I showed my rather unpleasant face at 46 league games last season shows that’s the mantra I follow. Maybe because results are the best form of distraction from what has occurred at the club, or simply because victories hold the same value regardless of who controls it. Either way, success on the pitch is still craved by a set of supporters who have seen little.
And while, after some hope towards the end of last season, we remain clueless when our opposition to the regime will be rewarded, there have been tentative signs seen over this summer that our support the team may finally offer more than just wanting to bang my head against a wall in Oldham Athletic’s away end on a Tuesday night.
At the very least, that Holmes has agreed a new deal, when Championship clubs were circling, suggests the Addicks will be finishing higher than 13th this season.
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.