PAUL BREEN is back to follow up on goings on down at The Valley since the protests a few weeks ago
“People have been put in pies for less” – Dougal from The Magic Roundabout, upon finding Dylan in his bed).
Charlton are in the news a lot these days. Once upon a time we were in the news because of being a team that fought successfully for its survival in the 1980s, and punched above its weight in the late 1990s/2000s.
Much of our achievement on the pitch has been down to the youth academy that has provided players and even funds when needed.
The quality of players who have passed through Charlton Athletic Football Club’s Youth Academy since it was created in 1998 has been nothing short of spectacular. Even in the years before the academy was formally created, the club had a reputation for producing young stars.
If they were all still together in the same team, then Charlton would be in the top ten teams in the country and might well be higher if they’d kept other talented players for any team that sticks together, over a prolonged period of time, can only surely get better. Look at the Celtic team of the 1960s or the Manchester United team of the 1990s.
Down through the years Charlton’s youth system has seen the likes of Rob Lee, Jon Fortune, Paul Konchesky, Scott Minto, Michael Turner, Linvoy Primus, Richard Rufus, Scott Parker, Lee Bowyer, and it’s even sort of possible to list Jermaine Defoe, who was a schoolboy footballer on Charlton’s books for a year or two before the academy opened. More recently we have had Irish internationals Darren Randolph and Harry Arter, Jonjo Shelvey, and the now-returned (on loan) Diego Poyet.
Sadly, though the academy seems to have been one of the reasons the present Belgian owners were attracted to the club that is now languishing close to the foot of the Championship, hoping that loanees and kids can help get them out of a growing mess.
As a backdrop to this, the owners have made statements alluding to the fact that Charlton can be a breeding ground for the bigger clubs of the Premier League. Thus part of Charlton’s predicament at the present time is that we have become too reliant on youth that we probably have no intention of keeping, and without the depth of squad to support them in their development. If I was a kid who had joined Charlton to get first team football and stay, I’d be quite confused and angry right now. If I was a parent I’m not sure I would send my kids to such a set up. If little Johnny, or medium sized Ademola is going to end up at Arsenal why not send him there in the first place? Why waste some of the best years of his youth farming him out as a display in the shop window?
Okay, Alan Hansen was famously wrong when he said you can’t win anything with kids, but that context was a whole lot different to the rough and tumble world of the lower divisions. Fergie’s kids had time to get blooded, bedded in, and fine-tuned into champions.
Of course everyone accepts that Charlton is not Chelsea or Manchester United, rich enough or big enough to keep its star players forever, but they have at least shone brightly for long enough to be remembered by fans in periods from the past. Now we’re developing kids to keep our heads just above water so the owners can break even, and then probably sell them off as soon as possible.
These days it feels like the Charlton of the past is dying on its feet, headed back towards the small stadiums of League One, away from our company of this past few years – Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, and Sheffield Wednesday who came up with us when we were promoted last time around. That was the spring of 2012, as Chris Powell’s team won the League One title with over a hundred points in a closing day game against Hartlepool United. Such halcyon days seem far away on the morning after a 6-0 defeat by Hull City. The heart and soul has been ripped out of the club in a week when we have appointed our sixth, or maybe fifth, manager in less than two years.
Chris Powell was sacked in March 2014, and replaced with Jose Riga. Originally slated as a grey man in a grey suit by some sections of the support, fans warmed to his understated passion, and success in lifting the team away from the relegation zone. But the owners let him go too, at the end of the season.
Another manager came, another Belgian by the name of Bob Peeters who got off to a flying start and then saw the foundations crumble. In freefall, the team were handed a fourth manager in a year, an Israeli named Guy Luzon. Again he brought about the famed managerial bounce and got the best out of a limited squad, primarily made up of loanees and kids from the youth system.
But like Bob ‘the Builder’ Peeters, Guy’s team went on a losing run too. By the mid autumn he was gone as well, replaced by the lesser-known Karel Fraeye who had been assistant to Riga back in the spring of 2014. Fraeye was said to be an interim appointment, but there was no sign of a permanent man, or woman, being recruited. Results were okay at the start but that was a false dawn.
Things went from bad to worse, culminating in the manager’s refusal to face the press after a 5-0 defeat, sending out the embarrassed goalkeeper instead. By the end of the week, Fraeye too had joined the managerial merry go round and an announcement was made that the process of hiring a new manager had started. Tweets and cries rose up on social media. Was the interim man really interim, and if he was then why not start looking in October? If he wasn’t interim and he wasn’t good enough to be made permanent what the hell was going on?
Still the hunt was on for a new boss and rumours abounded that he may well be British, even guys like Malky Mackay and Nigel Pearson in with a shout. Then came rumours that Charlton were about to appoint the Serbian boss of Hungarian side Újpest FC, a man named Nebojša Vignjević. Funny enough, Újpest FC is part of the same ‘network’ as Charlton. Now there’s a surprise, surprise in a less friendly and not at all surprising way than Cilla Black’s 1980s TV efforts.
Finally Jose Riga, the first or second man who caught a ride on the managerial merry go round, was appointed yet again. Most supporters see him as a decent guy with a genuine belief that he can rescue the team from relegation a second time round. We all hope he does, but it feels like he has inherited a bunch of players so demoralised that it is hard to see where they go from here, shipping eleven goals with no response in two games. Most of them assume they’ll be out the door in the long term too, because the dressing room is as much of a merry go round as the manager’s office up in Sparrows Lane, where the academy is located.
We can only live in hope that the obvious signs of failure are starting to get through to the owners and that they see a need to stablilise the club with a long-term vision. But that’s just not happening with one firefight after the other, and a management change every few months.
This perpetual cloud of doubt is creeping into the minds of the players I suppose and accounts for poor performances on the field in recent times. Very soon, if the rut continues, the rest of the season is going to be academic. The only hope is change in some form, at a level higher up than middle manager, which is all that any of these half dozen bosses have been seen as, within the network of clubs we belong to. This proud club, for the last few decades, has given a lot to its community and to the country, even countries, with the production of very talented players like Jonjo Shelvey and Harry Arter.
Right now I can’t see where the next such kid is coming from, but I’m hoping they will be the ones to put the pride back into Charlton Athletic FC. They’ll be here long after the present owners have lost interest in the laboratory that they have turned Charlton into, and made us seem like a circus, a soap opera going from bad to worse every week.
And finally just in case there’s any doubt, many supporters might not like the owners but we do want to see to see our team survive. We hope the players fight their way out of relegation and realise that the supporters are fighting for them too when we are calling for change at Charlton.
Also see – http://footballpink.net/2015/11/15/the-power-of-the-scarf-everything-is-black-and-white-at-charlton/ Follow Paul on Twitter @CharltonMen