You take a deep breath after the final game and with some satisfaction ponder the benefits of being an Addick (including justifiable pride at the community club award, the emergence of the Trust, and the return of Voice of the Valley), especially as the post-international break mini-season proved as good as we could have hoped for. You look forward to the season’s DVD and spare a thought for those less fortunate than us, including those still holding forlorn hopes of advancement (even when all past experience suggests that promotion would only bring tears afresh to accompany a season of humiliation), plus those who have failed to hang onto their managers (yes, you couldn’t help having a high regard for Jackett; and yes, wouldn’t Dowie be a splendid choice to replace him). And rather lazily, with work getting in the way, you start thinking about maybe writing something who might have to leave us to prepare the ground fresh blood for the season ahead.
Then suddenly there’s the news that to the list of disposals to date (Sullivan and Mambo, plus presumably Wright-Phillips) have been added the names of Wagstaff, Taylor, Kerkar and Fuller. All seven go with nothing but best wishes, especially Wagstaff, for obvious reasons. He hasn’t at least yet quite become the John Robinson all-round nuisance (for the opposition and officials) on the pitch but will hopefully find a suitable home not far away (I was thinking Orient rather than Millwall). He, Taylor and Wright-Phillips made key contributions last season, but if we are looking to push on tough decisions have to be made. These clearly include the calculation over Fuller, in terms of wages per likely availability. We will remember him a good deal more fondly than Hasselbaink. Kerkar promised much with his early appearances, but ended up not really taking the chance to nail down a starting place.
The announced departures at least should put a stop to thoughts about whether the late season form might suggest we can progress next season with a virtually unchanged squad. I do remember penning something a few months ago along the lines of the squad perhaps needing to be reduced in size and a little extra quality added, which might look like the plan. We are after all letting go two of our only four players who have reached double-digits in Charlton career goals (assuming BWP doesn’t get a new contract), a sometimes outstanding forward, one who has shown he is capable of unnerving defences, plus a decent centre-back.
Any thoughts about who we might bring in have to be conditioned by the owners’ financial planning. Of this of course we know little, but it’s not unreasonable to think in terms of three broad options: first, accept a similar level of losses (and financing) as this season; second, look to at least trend towards trying to balance the books; third, spend more and target promotion. We all want attendances to rise and revenues to expand, but there’s no prospect of the club’s finances being truly stabilised in this division through substantially higher revenues, leaving aside player sales (and we all know who that would mean). The second option is probably as much of a gamble as the third, even with the phasing-in of fair play rules, given the consequences of relegation. But I’m not the one writing the cheques. I’d be inclined to expect the first option to prevail, with the emphasis on adjusting the player cost base by slimming but improving the squad.
Then you turn to the spine of a side, what you want to build on. In the promotion season just about all component parts made up that spine. Through the past season in the Championship it was refined down, but I think it’s fair to say that with Hamer, Morrison, Jackson and Kermorgant you have the essential core. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect (my partner Suzanne doesn’t like perfection, which is just as well for me; ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’), rather that they form the base. The character, spirit and determination may stem from the manager and his team, but you need it to be evident on the pitch too. This also suggests a bias when looking for new players in favour of a type who would play well in partnership with them.
Consequently for the defence, nobody (at least not me) would have any complaints if we lined up next season with Hamer, Solly, Wiggins, Morrison and Cort/Devite, or if the back-ups remained Button, Wilson, Evina and the one of Cort/Devite not in the first team. Releasing both Mambo and Taylor does suggest a new centre-back, unless one of the youngsters is deemed ready to be on standby. And clearly the imponderables are whether we will get a bid for Solly which cannot be turned down, plus whether Button, Wilson and especially Evina are prepared to wait for fresh chances. Hopefully they are.
Losing Wagstaff and Kerkar would seem to imply that Harriott, Pritchard and Green, plus Wilson, will contest the wide midfield positions absent fresh blood. But central midfield is more complicated. Hollands, Stephens, Hughes, possibly Gower too, along with Jackson and Pritchard. I thought Gower looked increasingly effective with more match-practise, but you can’t really make a case for both him and Hughes. Neither would we (or presumably they) want another season in which Hollands and Stephens played a similar number of games; they both deserve to be starting regularly for us or someone else. It’s a decision for Sir Chris to make as for me either one or both of the two become mainstays next season or we bring in another option – or perhaps of course the new ace in the pack will prove to be Rouamba; hopefully he’s been enjoying the sun of late.
Up front, shorn of Fuller and presumably Wright-Phillips, with Cook seemingly peripheral, and with it entirely unclear whether Obika might be an option, we are as things stand down to Kermorgant and Haynes. Smith might be moving up the pecking order, as might other youngsters, I really don’t know. But in an ideal world, even if 4-5-1 (or variations) is used periodically, you would want four available strikers (and in my simple world usually two bigger guys matched with two speedy goal-poachers).
So with seven down and no doubt more changes to come, you can make the case for a new centre-back, central midfielder and two forwards. Don’t look to me for suggestions beyond the obvious (seems both Baldock and N’Guessan ended their seasons looking rather disgruntled); I seldom pay attention to any of our opposition during games as basically I just want them to fall over, balloon it over the bar, or pick up a second yellow for another silly challenge. What I do hope is that the latest news heralds a better planned strategy for new recruits than appeared to be the case last time around, based on the VotV commentary. We should appear a more attractive club to sign for than a year ago, as long as the owners ensure that first and foremost Sir Chris and his team are signed up securely.