29 November 2015

Charlton 0 Similar (but with an experienced-at-this-level manager) Club 3

Losing 3-0 isn't painful any more. Apathy is a wonderful analgesic. The painful thing about today's defeat is that it was like looking into an enchanted mirror. Ipswich are what Charlton could easily be: unlikely to get promoted this season, but efficient and effective, building the foundations of future achievement, followed by a huge contingent of committed supporters. And while they might look enviously at Norwich, their local rivals, currently enjoying life in the Prem, they can at least believe that that promised land isn't far beyond their grasp.

Meanwhile we look at Palace (yes, we must) and currently can't see any way we're going to be up there with them any time soon. Palace is an even more tragic magic mirror: there's no reason Charlton couldn't have achieved what they have. They've somehow put together a team that even P*rd*w can't make a mess of.

Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat
Once again, our season is all about avoiding relegation. This wasn't how it was meant to be when the Belgian billionaire rescued us from the shady dealers who, to be fair to them, made no secret of their evil intentions.

Maybe Karel Fraeye will prove us all wrong, but he seems to have come to the end of his new manager honeymoon quicker than Peeters or Luzon did; indeed, only David Wagner at Huddersfield is doing worse (moral of the story: never sack Chris Powell, for the Fates will punish you).

Even a football idiot could see that today's defeat was down to hilariously clueless defending and a total collapse in spirit. Something that you can't see someone like - ooh, let's pick a name at random - Mick McCarthy allowing. But absolutely normal at the Valley.

As soon as Johnny Jackson went off injured after 12 minutes, the day was over. He deserves all the praise he gets for the inspiration and leadership he provides, but it's a sign of the lack of engagement among the other players that he stands out so vividly. Without him, the team is a sluggish jellyfish. If his injury is serious, heaven help us.

23 November 2015

What's gone wrong?

The breaking news that Tony Watt is off on loan to Cardiff puzzled a lot of fans last night. While there's a general feeling that his performances haven't been great lately, his early appearances were a ray of sunshine last winter. Surely that player is still there, just wanting the right kind of management to bring him out. So it seems odd to give a rival team that potential opportunity.

Gradually, though, the consensus decided that there must have been a falling out between Watt and Karel Fraeye. Rumours of Watt's difficult personality have followed him around Europe, to the extent that he denied them in some detail. My impression is that he's quite immature, even for his age, and probably a delight to work with when things are going well ... It's sad that his career is stuttering, and I hope for his sake the move does reignite his undoubted talent.

But, if the decision to send him away is justified, what does it say about the decision to buy him? Let's look at the history.

He joined Standard from Celtic in July 2014 for a "seven figure sum", which I've seen quoted as £1.25million, on a five year contract. At that time, Standard was still owned by Duchatelet, and Guy Luzon was the head coach. He seems to have played well initially but after Luzon was replaced by Ivan Vukomanovic in October, Watt's appearances were limited. He had become an expensive luxury for Standard.

Watt joined Charlton for the usual undisclosed fee in January 2015, shortly before Guy Luzon became head coach. It's hard to resist the conclusion that Luzon's name was already pencilled in when the Watt deal was made. It must have seemed as if Luzon was the right kind of management for this expensive asset. Perhaps there was still a chance to get some return on the investment.

Let's assume that Charlton paid £1.25million for him. That amounts to a transfer of that money from one Duchatelet club to another: value that Duchatelet cashed in when he sold Standard in June this year. If Watt is sold for less than that - which seems likely - it means that Charlton's finances have paid for what appears to have been a bad decision by Standard in July 2014.

A lot of speculation, of course, but it's  basically the same story as with the head coaches: if the decision to sack them is correct, then there must have been something wrong with the decision to hire them. Or vice versa. Either way, it's still more evidence of the bad football judgement of the Duchatelet setup.

12 November 2015

Countdown to apathy

Of all the recent wheezes by the Charlton management, the fans sofa seems to be the one that's most successful in annoying supporters. On Saturday before the match Katrien Meire was told in no uncertain terms what she could do with it. Jim Davidson, who was there, said she seemed scared and confused. I think the first half of that sentence explains the second. She consoled herself by laughing and taking a photograph. Fair enough: different people, different coping mechanisms.

I don't mind the fans sofa, personally. It doesn't offend my old school outlook. I have no intention of attempting to get a seat on it, but I can see it could be fun sitting there like the king of the world. But for me, it just means that while the camera pans around for a gesticulating exhibitionist, I just bury my head deeper in my imaginary American newspaper (the Boston Rag, since you ask),  and suck my old teeth.

Same for the piecam. I suppose I ought to get indignant that a club which can do this:

can also give away a box of pies to someone who has, if not for much longer, the ability to jump up and down a bit. But I like pies as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Steve Evans. When Leeds come to the Valley next month, let's hope the pies are well hidden.

What pisses me off more than these is the countdown to nothing, the would-be pearl of the quarter hour before the game. About ten minutes before kickoff the big screen is filled with a digital clock showing two minutes to go and ticking down to dramatic music. Oh my gosh the tension! Wass gonna happen? Red devils parachuting in? Fireworks? An opera singer (I really miss Victoria Stanyon) or some other show biz kids?  A personal appearance by Roland "Razor Boy" Duchatelet? (Now I'm drifting into fantasy land.) None of these: just a competent but unexciting showreel of big events from the club's history (which inexplicably doesn't include the day the yellow lines in the stands got repainted). Massively underwhelming the first time you see it, stupid and irritating thereafter.

I could claim the countdown is a symbol of all that's wrong with the club at the moment: the valuing of display over achievement, the foisting onto the fans of irrelevant fripperies they don't need and don't want. But you can work that out for yourself, I'm sure.

09 November 2015

Charlton 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Like many people I went to the Valley on Saturday for the protest but thought I might as well stay and watch the match with no expectation of anything other than a horrible defeat.

After roundly booing the ownership, it was pleasing that the crowd was completely supportive of the team. Some people still don't understand this: of course it's possible to want the ownership of the club to sell up and go away but still want the team to do well. Throughout the last two months the crowd has always given the team a fair chance, with support only falling away when the performance suggests they just haven't been trying.

No risk of that today. Charlton began the game positively, while Wednesday were pretty terrible - much worse than their recent run of results led us to expect. Everyone in a red shirt seemed to be in form, including those who've recently looked so shell-shocked. From my seat in the west the most noticeable player was Reza Ghoochanejhad, putting in by far his best performance for the team. It was a transformation close to that of Frederic Bulot last season, and when he was subbed off with a few minutes to go he got a deserved standing ovation.

The opening goal was of course scored by Johnnie Jackson. A classic Jackson goal, his sheer presence creating a space around himself as he ran onto Gudmundsson's corner. For a while I struggled to remember what to do when Charlton have scored, and found that my jumping up and down muscles had slightly atrophied.

All three goals seemed to come from Charlton's ability to outwit Wednesday's defence and get the scorer into a position where they could hardly miss (although they probably would have three weeks ago).

A late goal for Wednesday from their only real chance of the afternoon didn't diminish the enjoyment and astonishment at this change in the team's fortunes. After weeks of rubbish, this. What could have caused it? Maybe Ibi Makienok wasn't joking when she responded to her husband's goal with this (you won't see a better tweet all season, Jeff).

04 November 2015

An interim allen key

An interesting comment in the otherwise negligible post-defeat blatherings by Karel Fraeye last night.
He said: “We know at this moment there is a lot of difference in the fitness of the players and we try to manage that. But everybody knows we cannot do that in one or two weeks. “I don’t know [why that is}. That’s the stats we have. It’s up to us as a staff and management to get the players as fit as possible. [emphasis added]
The stats we have maybe shines a light into what's wrong with Duchatelet's approach. Selection based on data analysis. We've heard about his network of scouts, and imagined them gathered in a secret cavern in the Ardennes lit only by the glow of hundreds of monitors showing videos and spreadsheets. Suddenly one of them spots something: Regardez ce type-la! Quelles données qu'il a! He picks up the big red phone. A few weeks later a stocky midfielder arrives by Eurostar and the blameless Tracey Leaburn drives him to a hotel in Bexleyheath.

Analyse the data; the stats tell you all you need to know. Football as algebra, or as an Ikea self-assembly wardrobe. The manager is just the chap who wields the allen key.

No, it's worse than that. The manager (or head coach, or interim mastermind or whatever) is the allen key, cheap and easily replaceable. If you lose one, or throw it away in anger because it can't build a fitted kitchen out of the parts for a medium billy bookcase, you've probably got another one lying around in your toolbox. An allen key doesn't need experience or skill. Have you got a hexagonal 6mm head? Job's yours.

Probably the last two Charlton managers were simply not very good at their job. As I've said before, it's hard to tell. But with both we saw the same pattern: good early results followed by a decline as other teams completely sussed out and negated the team's tactics and the manager could neither offer a plan B nor motivate the team into outperforming itself. That's what good managers do. That's why they cost more than an allen key.

(PS for Chris Powell: in the extremely unlikely event that you're offered the job, for the sake of your sanity, DON'T TAKE IT. Same goes for Eva Carneiro, by the way.)