Sunday, July 27, 2014

New Look

Let's face it, we all know more than a handful of people who could do with a new look. It's not being snobbish, some people just need overhauling. There's that ghastly Snog Marry Avoid? programme for example that finds some of this islands most disastrous creations and wipes them clean before attempting to instill some self respect into the person beneath the costume. As a less extreme variant on the theme, there are a host of presenters with their own daytime television shows just trying to wring a tiny amount of pizazz from the plainest of middle aged women. Ninety nine times out of a hundred it works, it's 'having the faith to step out of familiarity and comfort and march on into freedom'. A sentence I stole from this mornings sermon as it happens.

It doesn't need to be the whole Vincent Tanesque make over of course, that is complete misuse of the word freedom and far more steps backwards than you can count. That's when you crave familiarity, a little like the times I'm in the shop who's name I borrowed for the title of this piece. My wife, like the vast majority of young women, can lose themselves in such an emporium for days on end ogling at the sparkling delights hanging in front of them (occasionally with me traipsing behind, knuckles dragging on the ground overladen with carrier bags, and a face that looks like it's just heard Crystal Palace have won the cup).

These bargain priced goodies may appear wonderful on first impression but once they've lost both shape and colour, not to mention a handful of sequins in the drum of our washing machine, they are reallocated to the 'indoor only' slouching pile as we head back into town to continue breaking rocks  our search for glamour. It's pointless revamping without improving. It's also pointless revamping beyond your budget, but all clubs can spend wisely.

As I saw last weekend, Sutton United didn't need the whole McCoy, even without a makeover I'd have always snogged them as opposed to have avoided them. A new covered terrace and dugouts aside, just the new perimeter fence on its own would have been enough to transform the place. How many of you travel on a train every day where one commuter could really do with a bath? Small steps and all that. Last season I found myself falling out of love with the professional game, but a facelift at Charlton has really captured my interest and hopefully my heart again.

The World Cup certainly played it's part and reinvigorated my passion in the higher end of the market, but a lack of pre season friendlies that were accessible to me means I've yet to witness first hand any of what I've read. One trip to Sutton United and two Horley Town friendlies meant I've picked up pretty much where I left off in May. In fact, three days after the World Cup final I found myself at Redhill witnessing Horley run out in the same kit they've worn since the first time I saw them, sponsors names long since worn off along with any pizazz these garments may have once possessed.

If Horley had a little of the Compo about them, I'm afraid to say Charlton had been resembling Jeremy Clarkson. Never fashionable in the first place, they were now almost reveling in their dishevelment. Despite the fact they still felt they were a class above everyone they met they were, in truth, just spouting bullshit. Clarkson to a tee. Snog Marry Avoid? For the first time in my life I was drifting dangerously close to avoiding them.

Photo courtesy of Charlton Life

Roland Duchâtelet thankfully appears to have done a 'Gok Wan' and stripped us back to our naked self before highlighting the areas that needed attention and dressing us appropriately both on and off the pitch. The pitch itself, for so long a laughing stock, has been ripped up, the damaged drainage systems rebuilt and a new playing surface grown that looks in the summer sunshine good enough to grace a palace gardens. If the Wimbledon fortnight hadn't already come and gone it would have been fit to host the gentleman's final.

Surrounding the pitch the faded red seats have been ripped out (including my broken one) and replaced with new, plus a lick of paint on the staircases too. Behind the stands the concourse has a new catering company to dish out the food and beverages on a match day, finally moving us out of the dark ages with what was in total honesty overpriced crap you wouldn't feed your dog. Even the six foot club badge next to Nike's superstore has finally been given a well received spruce up and the foot of grime running along the bottom of the wall below it cleaned off. Once again it looks like we have a stadium that belongs in the top flight.

Speaking of Nike (did I mention I read the excellent Admiral kit man book this summer?), the finishing touch in appearance is the chevron inspired new home kit from their catalogue. I have to say I'm not too sure about this, not because of the amount of white, or even because of the quantity of sponsorship logos, but because it looks far too much like a rugby design for me. If that wasn't enough to stomach, we've been treated to that awful Lucozade inspired Barcelona number for our third shirt. I realise we don't carry the clout for bespoke kits but did the club even get to see the full catalogue or just the page Nike wanted us to? But it wouldn't be my blog if I didn't find something to complain about, and as mantras go, 'it's not the shirt but those that wear it' is both well used and relevent. And this is where the new look moves into overdrive.

First team wise it started with Yoni Buyens. A 'box to box' midfielder with Europa League experience, he has arrived on a year long loan deal from his native Belgium. I'm guessing it wasn't new manager Bob Peeters but our Roland that sealed the deal considering Yoni's parent club is Standard Liege. A Belgium under 21 international, Buyens has close to one hundred appearances to his name at Liege and is supposedly both very highly regarded and sought after. Quite why he has moved to our corner of London for a year seems odd unless you presume it's to see how well he adapts before a later big money move to the English game.
Yoni Buyens
Whereas last season Chris Powell emulated a thousand husbands on Christmas Eve, waiting until opportunity almost passed him by before panic buying the best of whatever was left on the shelf, Bob Peeters was quick to address the lack of firepower this summer making Igor Vetokele the second signing in a matter of days. A powerful forward he arrived on a five year deal from Danish side FC Copenhagen where he won a league title. Born in Angola, there is of course a Belgian connection as he started his career at Gent before playing under Peeters at Cercle Brugge. Another player with competitive European experience he has gone on to win full caps for Angola so be prepared to lose him from time to time for international call ups and possible Africa Cup of Nations duty.
Igor Vetokele
#WelcomeFranck became the clubs latest twitter gimmick when attacking midfielder Franck Moussa became the third first team signing of the summer. A bit of a hero in what has been of late a traumatized Coventry City and a rare shining light in the currently nomadic football club. After impressing at Southend he earned himself a deal at Leicester City but failed to make the grade and spent most of his time out on loan before switching to Coventry. Don't fear though, Franck was born in Brussels and started his youth career with Anderlecht and is therefore eligible to play for Charlton through birth. Expect him to look towards the heavens and give thanks when he scores.

Franck Moussa
Young talent seemed to be spinning through the revolving door as hot young prospects both came and went. Diego Poyet finally left the club for West Ham for which we are due some compensation. His departure, and the way it came about, divided fans but none could be surprised that the clubs current player of the year was moving on. Nobody really expected to see him pull the red Charlton shirt on again. Michael Morrison however delighted the Valley faithful by committing to the club for another two years. With Richard Wood and Leon Cort both seeking pastures new, an experienced head was needed to partner our vice captain in the heart of the defence. Enter André  Bikey-Amougou. The former Cameroon international has signed up for two years on a free transfer after being released by Greek club Panetolikos. Known to English fans from his time at Reading, Burnley and Middlesbrough, I asked Reading blog The Tilehurst End what we could expect from the big defender. They told me he'd give me plenty to write about and although decent on his day, he can be a loose cannon when the mood takes. Interestingly they neither could find the Belgian connection.

André  Bikey-Amougou
If it was experience the club looked for, signing number five took the game to a whole new level. The most famous Israeli international to have graced a field of play, Tal Ben Haim. Once moving from Chelsea to Manchester City for five million pounds, the defender had most of his success at Bolton Wanderers and then Portsmouth, before finishing his time in England with short spells at both West Ham and QPR. In the season between his time at Loftus Road and arriving at The Valley he became acquainted with Roland at Standard Liege...
Tal Ben Haim
On the same day that news broke of Ben Haim, a young winger arrived to take the place of the departed Danny Green who seems to enjoy the void that is Milton Keynes. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a 23 year old Icelandic full international was a free agent after his contract at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar expired. Having spent his younger teenage years in London with both the Chelsea and Fulham youth teams, his European connections had until this point avoided Belgium. Having committed to Charlton for two years I think he may be a prime candidate to find himself loaned around the network.

 Johann Berg Gudmundsson
Number seven in the list is a striker, and no surprise, a Duchâtelet network member. George Tucudean. The 23 year old Romanian has signed for three years from Standard Liege having failed to really make the grade there. His most successful time has come during two spells at Dinamo Bucuresti in his homeland where he tasted domestic cup success. How this form travels to England remains to be seen.

George Tucudean
The eighth and final (to date) signing is a much needed goalkeeper. After Ben Hamer's departure to Leicester the custody of the goalmouth appeared to fall to young Nick Pope. As good a prospect as the youngster is, just ask York City supporters, it was clearly evident that he isn't yet ready for regular Championship football. Whether Stephen Henderson is or not is only known at the moment for certainty to Bob Peeters. A Republic of Ireland under 21 international, Henderson has had limited experience at this level with Bristol City, Portmouth, Ipswich Town, and a couple of games for Bournemouth last season. With no Belgian connection, the keeper states his reason for joining Charlton is the chance to link up once again with goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts who he worked with during his spell at Yeovil Town.

So that's the new look side. In the same way Chris Powell took a new squad abroad, this squad has also had a short stay in Spain with a couple of needed victories after a poor time in Belgium for the Duchâtelet cup and disappointing defeats at both Welling and Ebbsfleet. With two more first team friendly trips to Peterborough and Portsmouth left before the season kicks off in less than two weeks time at Brentford you've not got long to memorize these faces and names.

The club may have had a huge makeover since you last walked down Floyd Road, but who can argue it needed it. I'm still not fully convinced about Roland Duchâtelet, and I still don't think being part of a network is the way to go unless you're the biggest fish in that pond, but I cannot deny I'm getting rather excited about the start of the season.

The World Cup was just an appetiser...

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