With the departures of Marcus Bent and Amady Faye, neither of whom will be especially missed or lamented (but by going do limit some of our tactical options – more later), plus confirmation of Mills and Sodje coming in, there’s a fresh opportunity for taking stock – and perhaps drawing a line under what, with the exception of the Sunley takeover and near-closure, must rank as one of the most dramatic period in the club’s history. It certainly stands up against any other as the most calamitous.
Of the front-line players with a squad number at the start of last season, no fewer than 19 have now departed (all right, 18 really as one never arrived): Young, Hreidarsson, Faye, Kishishev, Bent(M), Euell, Bent(D), Lisbie, El Karkouri, Andersen, Hasselbaink, Rommedahl, Hughes, Walton, Traore, Bolanos(!), Sorondo, Myhre, Carson. And you could add another six - Perry, Jeffers, Bartlett, Johansson, Powell and Bothroyd – who left at the end of the previous season. That’s 25 players having left the club in a little over a year.
Only Andy Reid remains of Dowie’s signings (I think). And only eight - Holland, Thomas, Ambrose, Powell (again!), Fortune, Youga (just about), Sankofa, Sam – remain from the squad that ended the season before last. Actually it’s nine, but I’m not sure where to put Cory Gibbs. I still hope he will emerge and become our first-choice left-back, but so far he has what must be the unique distinction of having been at Charlton under four managers but having failed to appear for the first team under any of them.
Pardew has now brought in some 18 players – Weaver, Moutaouakil, Thatcher, Mills, Sodje, Zheng, McCarthy, Todorov, Varney, Powell(!), Iwelumo, Sinclair, Racon, Bougherra, Semedo, Christensen, Dickson, McLeod – with the total perhaps rising before the transfer window closes. What can be said is that just about the whole team and most of the squad is down to Pardew. And nobody can say that the board over the past 14 months has not backed the man at the helm.
So to recap, in just over a year 25 players have left the club, 18(+) have come in, and eight have stayed put. The numbers are truly staggering. I can’t think of any other club that comes close (maybe Leeds). Some 43 transfers negotiated – to which of course should be added the managerial changes (Dowie and Reed appointed and sacked, Pardew, Parkinson and Kinsella brought in, with Mark Robson going from junior to number three, number two, and now back some way down the pecking order). I hate to think what the agents’ bills have amounted to.
Enough of the past. Faye and Bent leaving does have implications for the composition of the first team – and for formation. Faye leaving means one less possibility in central defence and for the holding role in midfield, which now looks to be between Semedo (when not covering at full-back), Racon, Zheng and Holland.
Bent going means that Iwelumo is the unrivalled first choice as the big lump up front (this is unfair after Saturday). He can be paired with Todorov, McLeod or Varney, or Todorov could partner McLeod or Varney. I do, however, feel that were we to want to play a 4-5-1 formation again – which is a good option given the extra options now in midfield – Bent would have been the best choice. I can’t see any of the others being suited to the task. So it looks to me like 4-4-2 for the foreseeable future.
So what do the first-team options look like now:
Goalkeeper: Weaver (incumbent), backed up by Randolph and Elliot.
Right-back: Mills (incumbent), to be replaced by Moutaouakil when fit with Sankofa in reserve.
Left-back: Thatcher (incumbent), backed up by Powell and (hopefully one day) Gibbs.
Central defence: Two from Sodje, McCarthy, Bougherra, and Fortune, with Gibbs and Semedo outside possibilities. Just which two I have no idea from what I have seen, but presumably it’s Sodje plus the one who works best alongside him.
Central midfield: Semedo, Racon, Zheng, Holland, Ambrose, Reid.
Wide midfield: Thomas, Sam, Christensen, Ambrose Reid.
Forwards: Iwelumo, Todorov, Varney, McLeod, with Dickson in reserve.
I would say that at least the squad is better balanced now. The real quality is in midfield, with nine quality players competing for four slots. Getting the right mix here may well determine whether we can rebound – the other key factor being whether a capable defence can emerge from the current mess.
My dream world first-team involves a rather large element of wishful thinking – ie that some players (Gibbs, McCarthy, Varney etc) come good and prove to be as good as I hope they can, and that injuries are a thing of the past. I know McCarthy has had a bad start with us, but has he played much football over the past year or so and will he improve? I hope so.
There is also personal bias. To keep my partner happy, anyone French is guaranteed a place. And on a personal note, does Pardew have some special tie-up with my Man City mate to keep me on the defensive. Weaver, McCarthy, Thatcher, now Mills. Is there anyone else to come? If we appoint Kevin Keegan as transfers and tactics advisor I will get seriously worried.
So here it is:
Randolph, Moutaouakil, Gibbs, Sodje, McCarthy, Reid, Samedo, Racon, Thomas, Todorov, Varney. Subs: Weaver, Bougherra, Zheng, Sam, Iwelumo.
In the real world perhaps this is the more pragmatic (and likely) set-up, for Saturday at least (Sodje is apparently suspended):
Weaver, Mills, Thatcher, Bougherra, Fortune, Reid, Samedo, Ambrose, Thomas, Iwelumo, Todorov. Subs: Randolph, Fortune, Zheng, McLeod, Sam.