Friday 20 July 2012

Making The Grade

In years to come there will be a trivia question cropping up in what by then passes as a sports or social anthropology quiz show: ‘what was the difference between Salim Kerkar and a number of other footballers (possibly including Sam Baldock)?’ The answer is of course that Kerkar (along with Jordan Cook and Lawrie Wilson) was(is) an intelligent, well-adjusted, ambitious but aware young man who showed by his actions that he knew where true happiness and glory resided; the others revealed themselves to be short-sighted, money-grabbing, weak, easily-led, blinkered individuals who through their stupidity ended up depressed, alone, and full of bitterness and regret.

How do we know this? By all accounts (well, reading between the lines of the Sky Sports report) Kerkar when he got the call dropped everything and made his way to Spain as quickly as possible to try to grab the opportunity of getting a deal with the Addicks. After what appears to have been a late cameo in the victory over Sporting Clube de Portugal, even if he doesn’t end up signing he can proudly say that he wore the shirt. Hopefully he will do enough and prove to be another star. By contrast, it appears that some others have prevaricated when approached, even ended up choosing another club. I know it’s hard to believe, even in this day and age, but it seems to be true, with Sir Chris expressing some frustration in the transfer market to date.

We have to make allowances, sometimes. Some when young are misled, end up in dark places, and either see the light (like said Sir Chris, who had an utterly inappropriate start to his career) or are seduced by false promises and choose the wrong path (Pitcher). We appreciate that footballers have responsibilities and are forced to make moves that would in normal circumstances be hard to fathom (Racon). Some even sacrifice their own happiness for the good of the club (Bent). But the only possible explanation for a footballer to turn us down in favour of another is that their character flaws mean they are not suitable to succeed with us in any event.

There’s still time for Baldock (and others). Take control of your lives, call your agent, make it entirely clear that he/she will have to live with the cut whatever size it is, and hotfoot it down to The Valley. We’ll then decide if you are suitable. You know it makes sense.

As usual I’ve no insights into what might be going on behind the scenes, on the transfer front or regarding boardroom changes. It’s reassuring that all the indications are that Wilson’s arrival doesn’t seem to herald Solly’s departure; as Powell indicated recently we got lucky last season with no back-up for his position and someone who can operate at right-back and further forward looks at the least like good competition for places. I hope it ensures pressure on Green and Wagstaff to improve areas of their game. At the moment, if you could combine the merits of both (Wagstaff’s goals and effort, Green’s crossing) we’d have a shoo-in for the position. I just hope that if Wilson has to wait for a chance he, like those last season (not least Cort) is ready and grabs it. No doubt he’ll be hoping he doesn’t have to wait as long as Evina.

It seems reasonably clear from the gossip and from Kerkar’s possible arrival that we are looking to strengthen, if possible, the central spine with another centre-half, central midfielder, and forward. In each position we look well enough positioned to be competitive, and those who would drop down a peg with new signings would have a right to be miffed; just make sure that if it happens it makes them more determined. Morrison remains the go-to central defender, with either Taylor or Cort and Mambo in the wings. Same for me in midfield with Hollands (although his knock seems to be limiting his match practise), with Stephens the natural partner but Pritchard, Hughes and the developing Bover available (I’ve been reminded that Russell is currently not with us).

Up front Kermorgant’s name is pencilled in (can we please be ready with a good song for him for the visit of Leicester?) and the key decision is Wright-Phillips. His goals were massive in the first half of last season but there’s no doubt his goal drought affected the latter half. Haynes and Cook seem to be making cases for inclusion, or at least being the ready back-ups (or indeed the third option if the 4-3-3 experiment becomes a regular ploy), unless and until Baldock arrives, with presumably N’Guessan still a possibility. Unless I’m wrong (it happens), Clarke and Hayes are still on the books, although both would seem to have to do something special to come back into the reckoning.

All will take its course. Those who sign/play are automatically elevated to the Kerkar standing. What remains for me and some fellow Addicks is to formally sign off on last season with a suitable combination of wine and curry tomorrow afternoon. Seems the sun might even shine for it (better hurry up if the Heath is to dry out in time). I just hope we will be doing the same, in the same spirits, in a year’s time. May it come to pass. My only immediate concern is that the wine may not be up to recent standards. I was in Paris recently (to meet up with my partner Suzanne for a concert by The Boss) and decided to give Bourgogne one last chance. Splashed out EUR29 on a bottle of Beaune Clos de la Mousse premier cru 2008 and gave it every chance. Time to breathe, decanting with the aerator. Like Bruce, outstanding. Tonight the other bottle I brought back will get similar treatment. A 2007 Cornas. Tomorrow, or the day after, it may be back to reality. Like footballers, some wines make the grade and some just don't.

Saturday 14 July 2012

It’s Different This Time, But Much The Same

Ah, back at last to the bliss of football that matters. The traditional curtain-raiser may not exactly set the pulses racing, but it’s probably my only opportunity to whet the appetite before the thing proper has got underway. This time last year we were trying to assess the merits of a new team, in the context of a decent, early workout. This time around, aside from trying to work out who was on the pitch (Welling’s PA is much the same), and getting an early glimpse of one of the two new signings, it was more a case of ‘welcome back, guys, can we please have the same as last season’. In terms of this one game they went one further, winning 4-0 instead of by three. Only I don’t remember is peeing down a year ago.

The teams for both halves were an understandable mix of first teamers and back-ups. In the first, Pope was in goal, Cousins and Evina the full-backs, Cort and Taylor in central defence, Pritchard and Bover in central midfield, Green and Harriott out wide, and Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips up front. Despite the front two, the team drew 0-0, but should have ‘won’ the mini-game. Apart from a slippery surface encouraging a few questionable challenges from both sides, mostly it was a leisurely pace. Harriott clearly has pace to burn, but his shooting boots weren’t on. A couple of times the ball broke to him from decent crosses and he hit/placed them wide from good positions. One was from a one-on-one that BWP failed to convert, their keeper getting in a block. Welling had their best moments just before the break, from a free-kick after Cort clipped one of theirs and a subsequent corner, but it was to be honours even.

The second half saw someone called Sanz Ovejero take over in goal (have I missed something?). Have to say from behind the other goal I thought it was Hamer, but I had to check the club site for the line-ups and seems I was wrong. Solly and Wiggins were without doubt the full-backs, with Mambo and Morrison in central defence. Jackson and Stephens took over in midfield, with Wagstaff and new signing Cook the wider players, and Smith and Haynes up front. But the change on the pitch that attracted most attention was Welling starting with a different keeper, one who appears to be doing his pre-season work in MacDonalds.

This time around the goals came from early on. Solly, who I don’t think knows how to play in second gear, overlapped and sent in the cross which a Welling defender attempted to clear, only for the sliced ball to loop up comically to nestle in the top of the net. Not long after a corner was met by Smith with a powerful downward header. For their keeper it was a case of one over his head and one under his stomach. Welling did hit the post, after a bad slip by Morrison let in their forward, but before long it was three as Haynes turned smartly in the box and was held back. Jackson stepped up to take the penalty and it must have been as apparent to him as it was to the rest of us that anything low into the corner would be beyond the agility of said keeper. The job was duly done. The scoring was rounded off as Haynes met a near-post corner and deftly flicked it in.

So, did we learn anything? For me, the star of the first half was Bover. He sprayed things around, kept possession when necessary, and got up and down the pitch well. Most promising. He seems to have come on quite a bit in the past year from the rather forlorn figure out wide of a year ago. Smith looked decent enough and could be a ‘big guy up front’ back-up for Kermorgant. Both Green and Wagstaff – who arguably both have to prove they merit a starting place in the higher league - had moments, but neither were especially influential. Can’t say I saw much of Cook, but with more fluidity and movement in the second half the chances are I was often confusing him and Stephens.

Barring further signings, we pretty much know – or can rely on – the defensive starting group for the start of the season. Not sure why Hollands didn’t feature in the game (neither did Russell), but I’m assuming he’s a shoo-in for one of the two central midfield berths, with Stephens in pole position to accompany him but Pritchard, Russell, Hughes and – after today – Bover waiting in the wings. Jackson continuing on the left side of midfield, with Green or Wagstaff on the other. Up front Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips are the deserved holders of the shirts, with Haynes, Cook and Smith (and Haynes and/or Nguessan if he comes) the back-ups. Not much has changed, has it? But why should it? What is essential is that the team spirit, determination and character of last season is retained and tinkering is the order of the day.

That could be it for me until we welcome Leicester to The Valley. I’m delighted by the timings of the start this time around as my partner Suzanne will be dragging me off to Italy again for the first couple of weeks of August. Last season I think I missed at least the first three games. This time the hols rule out the pleasures of another visit to Birmingham (no intended sarcasm – OK, just a bit – as my last two trips there ended very well, the 0-0 draw when Sasha Illic performed like Bartram in his prime and kept out everything to deny them a play-off spot; before that it was the Leeds play-off final). Only problem is Suzanne’s extended bloody family. Leicester I can do, but the weekend after – and the visit of Hull – has to be sacrificed for a wedding in Lille. What has happened to French people’s sense of priorities?