Wednesday, May 28, 2014

'Bobby P'

So yesterday was the day when a weeks worth of speculation was confirmed to be true. We have a new manager, in all but name, we've lost a versatile central defender and the lid has been lifted slightly on the rather more undesirable elements to the Charlton hierarchy.

Bob Peeters quit his position at Belgium top flight strugglers Waasland-Beveren earlier in the week to accept Roland Duchâtelet's offer of Charlton head coach. Peeters was at his former employers for a little over six months and before that, in charge of Gent, for only two months. I'm already thinking this may not be the long term appointment we hoped for. The former Roda JC, Vitesse Arnhem, and Millwall striker will hope to at least last longer than Riga, his predecessor, although it would appear that is dependent on being the perfect servant and playing the team he's asked to.

We all presumed that with the speed with which Riga replaced Chris Powell, the new man had to be a 'Duchâtelet empire' yes man, lined up well in advance of the Charlton hero's departure. Powell's former assistant, Alex Dyer has said this week though, that Riga too, refused to play what he and Powell before him had believed to be substandard footballers brought in against their desires.

After three and a half years at the club, it was no surprise that Dyer left when this season ended, and it was of little surprise that when he spoke to the South London Press he highlighted what so many of us already suspected. Sure enough the 'empire' loans were the work of his holiness, and these players arrived, not match fit, yet with the promise of first team football. Once they were given their chance and shown to be of little or no benefit to the squad they were quiet rightly placed back into their natural position in the pecking order. First Powell, and then Riga were both hounded by emails and phone calls demanding explanations regarding the reason for the absence of these two-bit squad players. Dyer certainly implied that everything behind the scenes has been as delicate as we thought. Two mild mannered managers may have seemed like easy targets for Duchâtelet, Peeters however looks like a psychopath, I for one wouldn't want to try and pick his team for him.

Whether the club knew about this interview Dyer gave to the SLP before announcing his departure I don't know, but I suspect he was escorted off the premises with a blanket over his head. As I said before, three and a half years service and all the media team were allowed in way of coverage was a footnote at the bottom of the Peeters story. That is beyond disgraceful, the club should be ashamed of themselves for the disservice they did the man even when he stayed on to help the clubs precarious plight after close friend Powell was ushered out the door.

I seriously wonder if people are better off out of it as it stands. Dorian Dervite has officially signed for Bolton Wanderers after being offered a contract by Duchâtelet. A huge loss for us, a great gain for the Trotters.It's possible the Bolton deal blew ours out the water, we shall probably never know, but it's also possible the Frenchman saw an opportunity to escape and took it. I doubt he'll be the last.

On the incoming front, we have been strongly linked (expect an announcement imminently) with Barnsley frontman Chris O'Grady amid rumours of a half a million pound bid. Fifteen goals last season was good return considering he was playing for a bottom two side, and it's a far better option than a disinterested Liege reserve, yet he alone won't save us. That cheque book needs to be glowing it's so hot from action if our second Belgian manager isn't going to be quickly replaced by our third. Good luck Bob, I'm afraid I think you're going to need it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Hart Of The Matter

The official club website has been enjoying an end of season break of its own of late, struggling to entice visitors with news of international youth call-ups and a half-arsed goal of the season competition grabbing the 'headlines'. It's slow to confirm anything at the best of times, even when we're in the height of the action so it's no surprise that most news regarding the club of late has been through press leaks from newspapers and other websites. Today though we got an official word on a move, unfortunately a move no true supporter of the club wanted.

With rumours flooding my twitter timeline of potential new homes for out of contract first team players and possible managerial candidates, the club announced today it's parting of the ways with Academy Director Paul Hart. This for me is potentially the most damaging thing in the long run that will happen to the club all summer, so in many ways I can sit back and think the worst is out of the way.

His assistant Steve Avory who has been involved with the Charlton academy for many years will take over as their jobs have been merged into one, and although both were invited to apply, Hart has opted for pastures new. His record for developing youngsters was second to none before he joined the club three years ago, and his work with the under 18's and under 21's here has been superb. This season alone, when the club seemed to get over excited with the use of loan players, we have seen five academy lads make their first team debut. Legacy in itself. Although I do of course wish Steve Avory the very best of luck in his new role I can't help but shed a tear on the talent that has left. Duchâtelet has made great noises about the importance of the academy, which is why breaking this team up seems so hard to understand. Surely when you've got the very best you do everything you can to hang on to it?

As predicted, José Riga's time at the club seems to be coming to an end. Distrusted at first, it would be wrong to say we had taken him to our hearts, but we all appreciated that he did the professional job expected of him and that he enjoyed his spell as the gaffer. The club of course have been tight lipped but a Belgian newspaper and even the BBC website have hinted that Bob Peeters, currently manager at Belgian club Waasland-Beveren will hold the post by the end of the week. Capped by Belgium at international level and having played for both Roda JC and Vitesse, Peeters will be more notably remembered by English fans for his spell up front for Millwall a decade ago.

Again, I shall wish the new man luck (should these reports hold an inkling of truth), and I will support him in his role if he shows he's more than competent, but I will also assume this is another part of Duchâtelet's master plan, of which I'm still to be won over. When he starts treating us like an important part of the club and not faceless customers, when he gives us answers that show honesty and personality, then I'll be more warming, but the quietness and evasiveness we've seen so far does nothing to quell my distrust. The ball is in his court as they say.

Player wise we're still very much in the dark. Hamer is supposedly off to warm the bench at Leicester, a host of others out of contract are being linked with some team or another whilst the news of contracts to the backbone of the first team is nonexistent. A week ago twitter was awash with news of Dorian Dervite's exit from the club. Now he would have been the first player I'd have coaxed into signing on the dotted line.

Oh well, at least we've signed Kurtis Cumberbatch, a winger, from Watford. Steve Avory will work well with him. Bob Peeters will have to wait a little longer I suspect to see who he'll get to work with.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Multiple Endings

Books, films, video games (I'm reliably informed about the latter) can all sometimes finish with multiple or alternative endings. That can also be said of football. Yesterday as Charlton spent a stress free final end of season day out in Blackpool others around the country were playing out these jittery scenarios.

Birmingham City, Doncaster Rovers, Brighton and Reading all saw their fortunes change in the final seconds of the season but prior to this plenty of others knew their fate was still ninety minutes away from being definitive. Whether that be safety relegation or progression as we shall shortly see.

An early kick off in Blackpool meant I was still at work during the first half and on my scooter travelling to a non league game during the second. It was only once I'd parked up at Gander Green Lane that I discovered we had won on the final day with a Callum Harriott hat-trick. I would never had envisaged a result at Bloomfield Road had our own survival depended on it, hence the Watford match being so crucial, yet retrospectively that game and it's reward of safety gave us the excuse to enjoy the football and push on to an upbeat ending. For once the Charlton nails were spared.

The biggest issue of the season on the playing field, that of goalscoring, is what eventually gave us the ending we desired. For a team that rotated front men like a carousel, Riga finally hit the jackpot with moments to spare as Sordell found the form his reputation had promised whilst Harriott must have found Billy's Boots when rummaging in his grandparents loft. After two sensational goals on Tuesday he once again showed composure to convert all three yesterday with similar nonchalance.

None of us can be sure of what the summer holds, whether the much needed contracts will be offered, whether José Riga will still be in charge of the first team or the youths, or even at a different European post of the empire altogether. Who knows which players Roland Duchâtelet will entice to the club, will they be locally (empire) sourced or from pastures new? Will he send Simon Church off to Ujpest on loan seducing them with tales of his internationally acclaimed striker? We know we've got Championship football, we know we can't endure another campaign like we just have as the standard gets higher every season, and we know we have to put our trust in what is still very much the unknown.

All that aside, we had a much better end to the season than any of us could have envisaged. Players and supporters can take a well earned break, regroup and bounce back stronger. It's the same for Horley Town.

Their final game of the season was in Cobham against Mole Valley SCR. Survival in the Combined Counties Premier Division had been hanging by a thread, yet a final turn around in fortunes had seen them discover the same winning formula as Charlton. With three below them, 18th hosted 19th knowing that a draw would see both sides safe. A boring 0-0 may have been the order of the day in other parts of the world where an ungentlemanly agreement is commonplace before the kick off (I'm not pessimistic bout the forthcoming World Cup honest), but at level nine of the football pyramid it's very much 'kill or be killed'. As keen as I was to attend, it's true to say I had brought the club nothing but bad luck all season and chose to sit this one out. It was a great decision.

The club that finished below them, Ash United, can have no qualms about the integrity shown by both sides, they fought out an incredible 4-4 draw! Even the most imaginative of writers could never have stumbled across that particular outcome to wrap up the season, no matter how many alternative endings he gave you to choose from. I know first hand how many troubles Horley have had this season on the playing front and it's of great testament to Anthony Jupp and Chris Weller who jointly stepped up to the caretaker manager post for the second half of the season. So although it took to almost the final ball, Horley Town can enjoy their summer knowing they, like Charlton, have quietened the doubters and will fight at the same weight again come August. So will Sutton United.

It was Sutton United that I chose to watch yesterday. Having finished runners up in the Conference South, they entered the playoffs with Bromley, Ebbsfleet and Dover Athletic. Sutton had drawn the first leg at Dover 1-1 on Wednesday evening, they began yesterday's home leg hoping for the ending where their season was going to continue for yet another week.

Dressed in an entirely bright pink kit and with a large vocal travelling support, Dover couldn't have had a worse start. Three minutes in they were down to ten men after a cynical challenge on the edge of their penalty area saw their captain return to the dressing room. Dover were never going to be a walkover no matter how many players they had on the pitch but in the Spring sunshine that decision could have proved vital as tiredness crept in late on. Depending of course on what ending you were reading.

They could, and perhaps should, have been down to nine when their dread-locked midfielder Ricky Modeste slid in late taking an unfortunate Sutton full back almost into next week. It was an awful challenge, the player I felt more than lucky to remain on the pitch (the Sutton player certainly couldn't continue) yet it was still to prove to be a pivotal moment of the match. Modeste struck twice in twenty second half minutes to destroy any Sutton promotion hopes when many would argue he shouldn't have even been on the field. A third was added minutes later to compound Sutton's woes but in all honesty, whether the Dover number seven was on the pitch or not, Dover certainly deserved their victory as they defended superbly. It was a Mourinho masterclass from Kent. Sutton United froze on the day, it would be unfair to say it undid their hard work of the season as manager Paul Doswell has got the very best out of his squad this season, but ultimately it will be how many will remember it. Play off defeats are without doubt the hardest of ways to finish a season, this wasn't a parade that was merely rained on, it was washed out to sea.

So all three of my clubs will continue in August where they left off in May. If I'd been in Blackpool or Cobham yesterday I'd have jumped into the Summer break with a loud splash. As it was I was in Sutton feeling far more gloomy than the weather; yet all three clubs are in the same boat, albeit different ponds. But that's football isn't it, ultimately you can't choose the ending.