Wednesday 2 April 2008

Under Pressure

I don’t know about the club’s April Fool’s contribution being the notion we can still get in the play-offs (I know, I’m almost starting to believe again myself, but then Saturday’s a long way back now and the next game isn’t yet on the immediate radar). Seems to me it’s come a day late with the news that fans can bid for pictures of former players - Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Bryan Hughes, Hermann Hreidarsson, Radostin Kishishev, Souleymane Diawara and Dennis Rommedahl, plus Marcus Bent and Amdy Faye (who may of course return) – which come with an “inspirational quote” from the former hero in question.

This really ought to spark some speculation/competition as to what the ‘inspirational quotes’ should read like. For JFH, Rommedahl, Bent and Faye perhaps read: “I’m living proof that you can have your (very large and expensive) cake and eat it – time and time again’, or ‘feeling past it and just plain not bothered? Well so do I - and look how much I get paid’. All a little harsh on Hughes (who always tried his best for us – and may of course end up as a Premiership player next season), Hreidarsson (why did we think he was past it?), Kishishev (an unsung hero in my book) and Diawara (wasn’t his fault we paid so much for him and to such little effect; I thought he could have made the difference this season but I guess didn’t want to stay).

Surely if the club wants to boost revenues from the sales – and I assume we need every penny we can get – they could have Alan Pardew or Richard Murray write on the back of the photos what they really thought of the player in question. This would add a mystery element – and help to make the photo a true collector’s piece, rather than a piece of unwanted tat that in normal circumstances would have been thrown in the bin. I really don’t want to be reminded that some of them were ever with us.

One further thought on why this season has hurt so much – and prompted the pain and anger behind the booing debate. Being supporters of Charlton has given us many reasons to be proud in recent years, starting effectively with the appointment of Lennie Lawrence. (These years have for me at least more than balanced the accumulated misery of what went before, even if it is that period which tends to dominate my approach to games, still being a little uneasy when Charlton are actually favourites to win,) One of them has been that in just about all the pressure situations during the recent period we have come through.

The four years in the top flight under Lawrence were remarkable – and object lessons in pressure management. In each of the first three of these seasons we were among the favourites to be relegated (if not the shortest odds) but showed a steady progression: survival through the play-offs, avoiding the play-offs on the last day of the season, then staying up with a game to spare (away at Notts Forest, what an occasion). Lennie I’m sure talked of having gone to the well too many times to survive a fourth season, when the pressure just got too much and we were unable to compensate in the same fashion for a (relative) lack of ability. We know he went out of his way to find players with character who would come through for him in pressure situations (Miller, Shirtliffe, Peake, Melrose etc).

It was much the same under Curbishley. We did of course lose in the play-offs, but we barely scraped into them and that season didn’t really count. When the chips were down we came through against Sunderland at Wembley. Even though we were relegated next season we won matches at the death, especially the 4-3 triumph at Villa Park (read Steve Brown, Kinsella, Robinson etc) rather than surrender meekly. After re-promotion, fading towards the end of the season was always disappointing, but at least there were reasons for this and the trend tended to underline that we were still able to do the business when it mattered.

Last season, after all the trials and tribulations, I felt approaching the Easter period that we would stay up. It was the business end of the season – and that’s when we have come into our own. Or so I thought. Instead, starting with Man City away, we accumulated three points from the final seven games. It was something of a capitulation and showed that collectively the players lacked character. They couldn’t deal with the pressure. Indeed, Sheff Utd came to The Valley and put in the sort of performance that I thought we were still capable of.

OK, so we think we bought the wrong players, appointed the wrong manager(s) etc. And this season would be different. For a start we were better than the other teams (an assumption which proved to be wrong); and if we were not obviously better we had inner strength which would see us through. Instead, this season too we have buckled when the pressure increased, in obvious contrast to some teams now well above us. Of course we (and they) are where we deserve to be.

For next season this isn’t necessarily an argument for a team of hard men. There’s a real difference between character and being able to deal with, if not thrive on, pressure and the ability to chop an opponent in two. Ideally Charlton will play football like Brazil, score bucket-loads of goals, and run away with the league while winning the FA Cup. But if that combination proves beyond us what I want more than anything else to see is that the team is mentally up to the task.

I disagree with many who argue that too many players have simply not tried this season (I wouldn’t argue about last season). Rather pressure exerts itself in different ways. Anyone suffering from it can end up hiding – from problems or just anything that seems difficult. With some exceptions pressure is usually a constant. What varies is our ability to deal with it. We have players who have demonstrated that they are able to stand the heat (Matt Holland being the obvious example). But it doesn’t take much to tip the balance against us (including the crowd getting on the players’ backs – oh shit, I was trying not to reopen that debate) and once a few players are wilting under the pressure the team can’t function (which is something that a manager - in any walk of life - should be alert to and ready to act on). I really don’t want a repeat performance next season of us failing when the pressure is on.


Confidential Rick said...

Spot on BA

Anonymous said...

This seems the most sensible analysis I have read on Charlton's season so far. Whilst I dislike pop psychology in general, the phrase 'fear of failure' encapsulates our problem, especially at home. Too often, players have chosen the easy option, rather than taking a gamble. To be clear, taking a gamble in this context is not about having a pot shot from 30 yards, or trying backheel passes. It does involve putting a cross in early, having a snap shot if you're inside the box, or trying to go past your man if you're in the final third. A fantastic example of this was provided by Jerome Thomas against Wolves, who wasn't scared to take people on or put the ball in early. As a result, he looked dangerous and provided a much-needed creative spark.

Much has been said about Charlton supporters at the Valley. Whether right or wrong, booing during the game inevitably creates extra pressure on the players, which ironically ensures they are less likely to 'take a gamble' and cheer up the crowd with a good cross or a decent run. The end result is a player in space hesitating, panicking, and finally passing backwards. How many teams pass front-to-back as often as we do?

With the odds of Charlton making the play-offs having been reduced in recent weeks to slim to none, the pressure should now be less onerous on the players. Hopefully we can now see some more entertaining, and successful football.

Anonymous said...

Oh BA,I tell my mates to read you and then you stitch together this tripe spattered with contradictions. But a grain of hope.

Whenever you come close to reality you invariably slip into to the past and the days of good old Lennie and at times Curbs. Yes, they were just great, but keep going and you'll be like that bloke in the pub from the Fast Show ( Man and Boy).

You were almost there.....Lennie bought players of character. Curbs had players that stood up when it mattered. Your list of players from that time is the same as mine. We could trust them to produce when it mattered.

You then ramble on, up hill and down dale (the usual red wine car crash until....) The moment of truth..what BA wants most...more then anything else is "a team that is mentally up to the task"

Eureka the blogger has finally found the truth despite the many wise comments ( Even the good old Vicar) suggested in reply to your previous blog.

Your explanation of pressure and its effects is spot on.

Where is the conclusion?
Where is the suggestions as to the way forward mostly they are a giggle but you have the odd gem.

I can only assume the bottle is empty or you are conked out on the sofa with Cohen warbling in the background.

Our squad right now is mentally not up to it. Yes we have I believe five players Mattie of course top of the list who are as strong, determined and committed as any Charlton player in the past.

Next season will be like this season unless we can change it. I think there are many interpretations of the word "Ruthless" but for me this is what the previous comments were referring to, mental strength.

At least you are now tuned in! The squad has to acquire mental toughness or next season with or without pace and movement will be no better.

Cambridge Addick.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting piece and makes a lot of sense. However, if the conclusion is that Charlton's failure to secure even a Play-Off place reflects a lack of character and ability to withstand pressure, then I'm not sure I agree. I suspect that one of the key factors in the success of Alan Curbishley's teams was that each week each player selected was fired-up and knew exactly what he was supposed to do. For this reason even when the team played poorly (which was quite often) everybody stuck to their job so that collectively the team kept plugging away until it got a break (which often it did). Too often this season there has been no obvious game plan. In this situation either the team "flows" naturally or chaos quickly ensues as each individual strives to figure out what to do to put things right. This has typically meant a succession of hopeful long balls in the direction of Chris Iwelumo. How a team with aspirations for promotion can have signed a player so obviously as limited as Iwelumo by the way is another story.

Anyway, my bottom line is that Alan Pardew has failed to consistently "setup" his team correctly, has failed to get them organised and has failed to establish an effective game plan. This is the primary reason for poor results. The erratic team selection and excessive use of loan players seems further to have undermined confidence. This dynamic rather than a lack of character per se has been our undoing in my view.

Anonymous said...

Chris Iwelumo may not be brilliant , but Hull might go up with Dean Windass leading the line and Bristol City with Dele Adebola --------so Iwelumo's actually not that bad .
Pardew has chopped & changed far too much ,thats the real problem. If he had stuck to 442 with Iwelumo and Varney and kept Thomas & Sam and most importantly dropped Ambrose , we would have gone up anyway.
He over complicated it all , its just not that difficult
signed Tony Pulis, Phil Brown and Gary Johnson

Burgundy Addick said...

Conclusions? If I provided these as well you'd only disagree with them. More power to it. Now it's only 10am and I'm already thinking about being conked out on the sofa with Cohen warbling in the background.

Anonymous said...

Agree with some of the comments but it comes back to simple team basics. If your team is lacking confidence and grit, this is a direct result of poor, weak management and a % of your team simply not at the races.

Conclusion? Replace the manager with someone who has the ability to manage all aspects of a group of people (the team) and the ability to be ruthless in team selection. Half the squad can go and a wise, strong leader can build a team around the remaining squad.

Players have a responsibility also. These half baked morons get paid vast sums of money to train hard, play to the best of their ability and have loyalty\passion for their club. Thats it. No more, no less. I cannot accept that they get "scared" or feel under pressure. I expect them to react positively when they feel these emotions, not quiver like beaten dogs.

Lose the manager, lose the boys who act like men and rebuild for next year with some grit.