Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hard Times Ahead…

Having read through Richard Murray’s thoughts contained within the Charlton Athletic Annual Report for 2007, it is fairly obvious that the club is having to survive through a tough time. The loss of almost ten million pounds in a year is hard to contemplate, even if some of this is offset by Darren Bent’s sale to Spurs. Thankfully, some of the directors chose to offer loans to Charlton during the months when money was tight, and these totalled nine million pounds. We fans cannot thank you enough for these loans.

Overall, the club seemed to see revenues decrease in almost all areas during 2007 – merchandise sales went down even though the Bexleyheath shop seems successful; conference takings also decreased, although this was expected; season ticket sales for last year dropped 8%; and most importantly, TV revenue also went down by some 14%. All told revenue dipped by £6million. Costs however, rose by £700,000. Even if Charlton had successfully fought off relegation then, it is likely the club would have had to sell players (including Darren Bent).

We should be grateful that the directors have consolidated the club on a lower footing; sure, the redundancies were hard on club staff, and some of the players sold are very much missed (though some aren’t…), but without such drastic action, we would not have a club to support for very much longer.

It will be no surprise, therefore, that even if the team is struggling to stay near the top of the table into the new year, funds for new players is unlikely to be made available during the January transfer window unless recoverable against player sales.

Alan Pardew has tried his best in the transfer market, backed by those directors’ loans.

Not all his new buys have come off yet, but none can be claimed to be as poor as Djimi Traore, as over-priced as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, or as inept as Amdy Faye.

With Jose Semedo, we have a fine young player from overseas who cost the club very little, and maybe another in Yassin Moutaouakil. Our French full back will surely get his chance in the new year now that Danny Mills is declared wild, woolly, and unwanted! Therry Racon and Martin Christenson have yet to feature much, but they too could be good investments.

Luke Varney and Izale McLeod have great potential, which has yet to be fully exploited, and it is a sad man that rights both of these players off on the back of the first half of this season. How many times have we seen players take time to settle; not only at a new club, but in a higher league, with bigger crowds, and with much higher expectation too. Derek Hales was far from a revelation in his first season at The Valley, and neither was Mike Flanagan, yet both scored many, many goals for the club in the following years. I doubt that we have any forwards who could challenge Killer and Flash in the goalscoring stakes, or even Hunt and Mendonca, but the current crop could prove themselves yet.

We have the China captain playing in our midfield, and he is as versatile a player as you will ever see. Zheng Zhi has scored six times this season so far, some with his head, and some from long range. He has a good engine and fine skill, and if we can keep him, he could be the man to build the team around in future seasons. Mind you, Pards will have to decide if ZiZi is to play at left back, holding midfield, left wing, right wing, attacking midfield, or up front alongside a centre forward before he plans the rest of the side…

We have a good crop of youngsters and home grown players on the verge of breaking into the team and squad; Darren Randolph is a fine young goalkeeper and he is chomping at the bit to get a run in the first team. Should Nicky Weaver get injured, he will be a fine replacement. Grant Basey has already shown what a fine prospect he is at left back, and Harry Arter and Josh Wright cannot be too far off getting a chance in midfield either. Chris Dickson may not have been homegrown, but he is new and fresh, and exuberant, and he will push and push until his chance of a start comes along.

Other players to have come through the ranks are regular starters – Jonathan Fortune is the old hand nowadays; Lloyd Sam is finally getting a run in the team; and Osei Sankofa provides solid back up in defence.

We also have experienced players who have been at the club for a number of years in Chris Powell (albeit in several spells) and Matt Holland. They both help provide stability. Other older hands like Ben Thatcher, Chris Iwelumo, Paddy McCarthy, and Andy Reid haven’t been at the club as long, but seem to have learnt the ethos of what it takes to be a Charlton player fairly quickly.

So we have the basis of a good team and squad, and it is a side that should keep us in the upper echelons of the Championship. The issue, I guess, is are they good enough to get us promoted. Sadly, the realisation is that with injuries and suspensions costing us dearly, the answer is almost certainly no.

Then we have to ask the question of whether Pardew (left) and the board should try to buy in January in order to get us promoted? It is not like 1998 when Murray spent a million on Youds and Mills knowing that if the club failed, they could be sold at no loss. With Ipswich, Wolves, possibly Coventry, and others all having money available to mount a strong push from the middle of the table, Charlton could well be overtaken in the race for the playoffs, never mind automatic promotion, and left with players who cannot be sold on.

The club has seen a huge turnover in playing staff during the last two years – the Annual Report records that 18 players left at the end of last season, either through sales, being released, or by exercising contract options. When Alan Mullery bought nine new players in 1982, they took time to settle, eventually finishing seventh in tier two. When Lennie Lawrence bought a bunch of new players in 1985, we were runners up. Dowie (spit!) bought wildly last year and got us relegated. Pardew has brought in around 12 new players this year and has a good side, with spirit, skill, and endeavour.

Buying too many new players (and selling on others) in January may de-stabilise the team and undo some of the good work already done on the pitch. It may also cause problems off the pitch, which, to return to the Annual Report figures, cannot be allowed to happen, however much Richard Murray and the other directors love the club.

I hope Pards guards against this, and therefore only buys replacements when and where he thinks is an absolute must. Let's go with what we have, and see where we finish; it may not be as low in the league as you think…


well said..
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