Saturday 28 May 2022

We can't even get this right.

Deary, deary me. It seems we have moved on now from being underwhelmed at the choice of Ben Garner to dismayed at the cock-up over his appointment. Social media is playing an increasingly unhelpful part in how clubs are run and perceived by their supporters. Thomas Sandgaard really needs to show more discipline than responding to strangers, many of whom I am sure he wouldn't give the time of day in person. 

No doubt we will get a hammy explanation next week when Sandgaard is over and likely to announce the manager but whoever it is and whatever the explanation, it won't excuse the very basic failure to get this right or correct it swiftly enough. Where is the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer in all this?

Assuming it is Ben Garner (I am pretty sure it will be), he may feel even more disillusioned by his welcome from unhappy supporters by added doubts that Thomas Sandgaard really wants him.

If someone else is appointed, there will be some impressive finger-pointing. It really doesn't instill any confidence that the club is learning lessons or moving on from last season. 

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Ben Garner appointed manager

First, the waiting is over. Three weeks after Johnnie Jackson was told his contract wouldn't be extended, Thomas Sandgaard has appointed Ben Garner (from Swindon Town) in his place. My take is that this appointment wasn't designed to shift season tickets and perhaps we should be concerned if it had been. Whatever, I think this will pass as underwhelming and there will be a lot of added pressure on both Garner and Sandgaard when the season kicks off. Hard to argue, too, that he doesn't appear to be an obvious improvement on Johnnie Jackson.

I knew nothing of Ben Garner until he was mentioned as a possible candidate in the last week. He never played professional football and has limited managerial experience, although he has decent 'coaching' experience as part of Palace's successful set-up between 2005 and 2012, and served under Tony Pulis at West Brom for a couple of years.

His direct experience appears to be an unsuccessful year at Bristol Rovers 2019-20 and a much more successful last season as Swindon manager. Garner steered them to a late place but they lost out in the play-offs. Josh Davison will be pleased following his return from Swindon on loan but if that means we don't strengthen significantly up front, I will be picking and choosing my games once again.

I think you have to give any new manager a chance and I will do that. Perhaps more importantly now, will be the budget that Garner is given and to see what level of player he brings in. The immediate concern, of course, is that it's not got a League 2 focus or that Sandgaard is over-expecting him to get tunes out of too many Academy players. 

As I look for positives, at least it's not Hasselbaink. I also wonder what happened with Matt Taylor and Michael Beale?

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Big decisions

Pleased, if a little surprised, at the news that Johnnie Jackson has found a new job quicker than we have found a new manager. Jacko's appointment at AFC Wimbledon is a good fit, allowing him to remain in London and start again in what might be an easier division than League One. Fans are already speculating that the appointment might give Conor Washington and Jason Pearce fresh opportunities where they could reasonably extend their playing careers. 

Jackson commented that he couldn't wait to get started because "there is so much to get done." He is right, of course, particularly if he is calling the shots in terms of recruitment as well as looking at every other aspect of how the playing side of the club works. We may be utilising a wider recruitment model at the Valley but you have to hope that the new manager will be as loud a voice as any of the others and that he is in place before any heavy lifting takes place. If he is not, Thomas Sandgaard will take an ever-increasing personal responsibility for what happens next season, particularly if we recruit too many players without a manager being appointed. I really can't see him waiting too much longer...

The bookies view of the next Charlton Manager has made fairly predictable reading although the club has yet to give anything away. Ex-Addick Matt Taylor heads the list alongside Michael Beale with Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, Mark Warburton, Neil Lennon and Robbie Fowler being linked more speculatively. I look at any appointment in terms of how it is likely to play out for Sandgaard. He knows he has to get this right to arrest the decline of the club and save his faltering relationship with the supporters. For this reason, I believe fan perception will play a large part, I believe, in his decision. If it doesn't, he really is playing Russian Roulette because there will be zero sympathy if he gets this wrong.

For that reason I am ruling out Hasselbaink, Lennon and Fowler. Hasselbaink has made no real progress after eight years in management and I see no reason why that might change. Fowler has been managing in India and Australia and you have to question his motivation. He is a very wealthy individual and I suspect 'lifestyle' has as much to do with it as success. Neil Lennon does have a significant record of success but that has been with Celtic and Hibernian in Scotland. His two year sojourn at Bolton Wanderers was a disappointment. He has spoken about suffering from depression and has a short temper which would make him a bigger risk, although he handled himself well under pressure in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Mark Warburton was a manager I would have jumped at in the past after success at Brentford (promoted from League One) and more impressively at Glasgow Rangers where he won a promotion and a Scottish Cup in his first year. His record at Forest and QPR over the last four years has been less impressive and he may be at a crossroads in his managerial career. I think he would pass muster with Addick fans but would not be a first-choice for most.

Michael, Beale, 'the man behind Steve Gerrard' is a surprise favourite. He has currency from their success at Rangers and an impressive enough start at Aston Villa. However, he has never managed in his own right and I wonder if he would really want to leave what he may believe is a better opportunity as Gerrard's number Two? The glitter, at least, seems attractive to Charlton supporters.

That leaves Matt Taylor, a no-nonsense centre-half (and former goalkeeper) who Chris Powell brought to the club and made Captain. He has been at former club Exeter City as manager for four years and lead them to promotion this season. He ticks more boxes than the others, having played for the club as Captain and leading us to promotion on the field and now having lead a side to promotion as manager. He also has youth on his side (he is 40).

So, for me, Sandgaard needs to make a decision and take it fairly shortly.

Tuesday 10 May 2022

The clearout begins

The club has announced that it will not be renewing contracts for Stephen Henderson, Adam Matthews, Papa Soare, Chris Gunter, Ben Watson or Conor Washington. 

Henderson is surplus to requirement with MacGillivray, Maynard-Brewer and Nathan Harness. The club will be planning on getting better than Adam Matthews and Conor Washington. Matthews had an awkward season trying to play mostly as a wing-back, something he was unsuited to and I felt he could still do a job in a different formation. However, we conceded too many goals with him in the side and I think we can get better. Conor Washington is the most contentious one for most, but not for me. Couldn't fault his effort, unlike many others this season, but he is too injury prone and we have to have two scorers playing over 40 games a season and getting closer to one in two than one in three. It would have been a major disappointment if we had renewed contracts for Soare, Watson or Gunter and given they will be on higher money, they had to go. Pearce has been offered a coaching contract and I think that was the right decision too.

The club is in negotiations with Ben Purrington and my feeling is that he will sign. Not a bad player and has done better in a 3-5-2 than Matthews but I feel we could do better.

No surprise either that the six loanees are all gone - Famewo, Lee, Leko, Burstow, John and Castillo. I can't see any of them coming back either and they won't be missed.

One year contract extensions were given to Ryan Inniss, Josh Davison and Nathan Harness. Inniss is lucky to get an extension given his injury record and his temperament, but apparently he is a lesser earner (which I am surprised to hear) but he certainly has the capability and is a threat at set-pieces. We will be in trouble if Davison were to feature this season, so I assume he stays because he has promise or because we think someone may be prepared to buy him given his goals for Swindon (still in the Play-Offs). Harness, too, has promise and will effectively be third choice next season.

So, looking at who we are left with we have the following;

Goalkeepers; MacGillivray, Ashley-Brewer and Harness

I think we are fine here. MacGillivray showed his quality regularly enough but he also had a number of wobbles but who wouldn't given the way the outfield ten played at times?

Defenders; Lavelle, Inniss, Clare, (possibly Purrington), Elerewe and Barker.

We can't expect Inniss to play more than half the games and on that basis, he has to be a back-up player. Clare did well last season playing out-of-midfield and in an under-pressure defence but he was naive at times trying to play out and I wonder if we can't get better than him, especially if the new manager changes to a back four? Purrington may sign and Barker is still a squad player for me, so we need a new back four in my mind - two full-backs and two centre-halves. Elerewe could become a regular but not sure he's ready just yet.

Midfielders; Dobson, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey, Morgan, Fraser, Jaiyesimi, Blackett-Taylor. and still Kirk.

Depressing to realise we will still have seven midfielders after last season's shambles. Dobson is an automatic and I would like to think Fraser will be too, but I think we need another attacking midfielder who does a lot more work than Gilbey and one who is better than Morgan. Blackett-Taylor had a decent finish but he was pants before that and I really worry about his motivation. There is a good player in Jayesimi that a new manager might coax out but he has to be far more consistent if he plays and he needs to affect the game in the box, something he failed to do often enough last season. So for me, it's four new midfielders who can expect a lot of game time - two wide men and two central midfielders. I am expecting Kirk to move elsewhere.

Forwards; Anneke, Stockley and Davison.

We clearly need two more strikers who I would like to see as first and second choice with Aneke and Stockley providing back-up and something from the bench.

In summary then, I think we need ten outfield players, one in each position of a 4-4-2. We should expect most of them to be first choices and better than what we had last season. The squad cap of 20 presents challenges to that but hopefully we can move a few on. It should hopefully lead to a culture change, particularly under a new manager, and encourage the remaining players to fight for places. 

However, that is a big ask. It will cost more money that I believe Sandgaard will either want to spend or possibly be able to under FFP regulations? Almost inevitably they won't all work out either but we have to hope seven or so do and that might be enough to be truly competitive next season.

Friday 6 May 2022

Keep the faith!

Not sure we have seen a week of such rancour amongst Charlton fans before. We have been angrier for sure - Katrien Meire united us like we hadn't been since the days of the Valley Party and Matt Southall had the entire fan-base looking for blood.

We have become increasingly frustrated since Thomas Sandgaard took over and we seem to split evenly over everything that happens at the club nowadays. There is obviously some frustration that having finally rid ourselves of the disinterested Roland Duchatelet and the ESI Conmen who threatened the existence of the club, progress under Sandgaard has continued to stall and we have made some of the same mistakes the fans are already too familiar with. The decision not to renew Johnnie Jackson's contract has divided opinion and brought a host of existing issues back into focus. 

As a fan-base, we need to put a lot of this behind us and hope we can move forward as a club, although Thomas Sandgaard needs to get the next steps right. That starts by closing out some of the current hot-spots...

Jackson was a legend who deserved the close season and another go? Johnnie Jackson played 243 games for us over eight years with an impressive 51 goals from midfield. He was a leader on the pitch and a gentleman off it. No doubt he was a playing legend and that was rewarded with his assistant coaching role under Lee Bowyer and then Nigel Adkins. I think most of us would have said that there were some doubts that he was fully ready to manage the side after Adkins' departure. However, the bounce he achieved that moved us from the relegation places to 11th in a couple of months made it very difficult not to accept that he had earned a chance to do the job on a permanent basis and whilst there were some lingering doubts, appointing him was also a least-risk strategy after having to pay Adkins off after such a short tenure. 

At the time of Jackson's permanent appointment, there was a clamour from the fans (me included) to give him the job but Sandgaard hesitated and said he wanted to cast his net wider. In the end, Sandgaard had little option because not appointing Jackson would have caused a strong reaction from the fans, even if results continued to be good and there was an obvious risk that a they might drop off under any other incoming manager. What is clear now, is that Sandgaard negotiated a much better deal with Jackson than he had with Adkins. Whilst making Jacko permanent, he cut a deal that protected the Club in the event that Jackson's bounce was only that and yet left him clear to earn a contract extension through continued strong performance. 

The bottom-line is that we faded badly after the bounce and despite picking up points here and there, we were humiliated regularly in between by lesser clubs with weaker squads. The football was appalling to watch and Jackson was let down by most of his players - many of whom simply didn't look bothered. His problem was that he seemed unable to affect any change. A scrappy win when it came was followed by a couldn't-care-less performance and it hurt. He stuck rigidly to his 3-5-2 formation which everyone in the stadium could see wasn't working and he appeared too-ready to bring non-performing players back into the side a game or two after finally having been dropped. Why on earth were we not giving opportunities to some of the all-conquering U23's in the last few dead rubbers? 

I believe Jackson was still safe going into the last month of the season in spite of the six defeats in seven from early February but the manner of the defeats at home to Morecambe and away at Ipswich did it for Sandgaard. Jackson's comments after the humiliation at Ipswich were incredibly naive and suggested that he was prepared to persevere with his tactics and the core of his squad, both of which let us all down very badly. 

In summary, for me, he absolutely was a playing legend but that only gets you a chance and sentimentality shouldn't ever play a bigger role. I think Sandgaard had to act boldly after a second year of disappointment (and failure) and in our position, it starts with the manager. There is a major rebuild required and I didn't trust Jacko to do it thoroughly enough and the prospect of him losing too many games still by October, persevering with 3-5-2 and being unable to motivate the players was a bigger risk than bringing in someone with a better CV and no emotional attachment to the likes of 'Gilbs.'

Sandgaard bottled it by firing him over the phone? Yes, it would have been better to have had the conversation face-to-face. However, I can see how he may have found himself in a position whereby a phone call was the best he could do. He had been here for awhile and scheduled to fly back to the US after the Ipswich game. Jackson was attending the end-of-season POTY event on the Sunday night. It may be that Sandgaard was in two minds following the Ipswich shambles and was still reflecting on it as he left the country. Either way, we know Jackson had a performance-based contract in place and whether it guaranteed him an extension with a certain placing or not, it certainly appears to have limited the club's compensation exposure the further we finished down the table. I don't believe Jackson signed a deal that only compensated his end-of-season departure without a forward-looking reward for success - he was in too strong a position when it was signed to have done that and if he did, it was his own fault. So I think it should have been very clear to Jackson just what was at stake and I have no doubt that he wasn't having easy post-match conversations after every disappointing performance because Sandgaard was getting dog's abuse on social media for them. The phone call can't have been a big surprise to Jacko.

Sandgaard micro-managing the club and interfering in team selection? This has been boiling for awhile. The management of the club has certainly been a big disappointment after the experiences of the last few years because Sandgaard appears unwilling to heed the lessons of the past or listen to those best-placed to give him advice. The marketing and commercial activities (with the notable exception of Charlton TV) have been laughable and a tragic missed opportunity at the same time. However, Sandgaard ultimately pays the price for this because he foots the cost of the failure. He has moved, reluctantly I believe, to appoint a Chief Operating Officer, in Brian Jokat. It's too soon to see what difference this might make but the very fact that Jokat is COO and CEO tells you that Sandgaard intends to continue to be more heavily involved in day-to-day decisions that either he is not best-qualified for or which can't be done as effectively from Colorado whilst he is also running a multi-national-company.

I don't believe for a minute that he has been interfering in team selection. If he had we might have seen a change in formation or the blooding of youngsters in the final weeks of the season. Let's face it, he has even been paying for PL loanees who Jackson has decided not to use. What hasn't helped Sandgaard here is his attempts to appear more knowledgeable about the game than he really is. The "high press, low block" comments were naive and made it look like he is keen to play at manager, whereas I think he was really trying to say he wanted to see more positive attacking football. No-one would have called him out if he had said that. 

His comment over recruitment timescales was also open to misinterpretation. Some read it as him not being concerned whether a replacement is found now or closer to kick-off because they won't have much say in player recruitment. We certainly have a broader recruitment model now and it didn't work well last year but I put much of the failure down to timing, a mistake I don't think we will make again. Some don't like the idea of data-informed recruitment or even anyone else having a say bar the manager. Both models can work equally successfully as we can see all around us, especially at the top of the game, so why not have more information if you are prepared to collect and consider it? No-one wants to see players being brought in purely on data but that would be foolish, as would even an over-reliance on it but that is only likely to be a risk if it proves successful. 

The choice of new manager may also put some of these concerns to rest, so you have to hope the incomer is someone we all recognise as experienced, with a recent track record of success and a mind of their own. Nothing can be guaranteed, of course, but that might help calm the waters.

Sandguard is Duchatelet with a guitar! Jimmy Stone's well chosen phrase encapsulates what many are complaining about. Well he is a wealthy businessman owner with a big ego and a stubborn streak - not uncommon among successful businessman and certainly not amongst football club owners. He also understands far less about the game than he purports to and he is originally a mainland European and he does play guitar. Both have a record, so far, of getting through managers but both have experienced failure and it would be very harsh to compare Adkins or Jackson with Luzon, Fraye or Slade. Beyond that the comparison doesn't fare as well. Duchatelet practically never came to London and hardly ever saw us play. Sangaard has made huge efforts to be here and see games live. Duchatelet managed the club through Meire and she didn't care about the club's history or the supporters. Sandgaard has been very open to everything about the club and regularly plays guitar to the fans in the local after the game (however naff it may be). He and his partner have tried to be as open as possible and engage on social media although they appear to have learnt lessons with that and are toning it down. 

Beyond that, Sandgaard is still in decent credit with me for rescuing the club at a time when we were desperate. He has put reasonable money in to clear debts, lift the transfer embargo and remove the threat of Administration. He has invested in players, even if this might have been below the level some expected and if we have had as many disappointments thus far as successes. 

The jury is still out though over Sandgaard and he needs to make a number of good decisions now. The whole Women v Ladies thing was poorly thought-through and roughly executed. I can't see what it gains him but it's very obvious what it's cost - huge goodwill in and outside the club. Given his willingness elsewhere to listen, I am surprised he has chosen to continue with that one. 

The choice of manager is critical as is the depth and quality of squad rebuilding. I think he also needs to focus on rebuilding some bridges with and between supporters ahead of next season. If the recruitment decisions are viewed favourably, he should look to build on that with some imaginatve and progressive initiatives around the club to excite supporters. The return of a family open day at Sparrows Lane in the Summer? An imaginative and attractive pre-season tour? Even a more imaginative package of incentives to encourage people to renew their season-tickets. He has to get this right and he must unite the support-base behind him and the club.

Tuesday 3 May 2022

Jackson's contract not extended.

Thomas Sandgaard hasn't wasted any time in beginning to make the changes desperately needed at Charlton Athletic. Following Saturday's 4-0 embarrassment at Ipswich Town, he has informed Johnnie Jackson that his contract will not be extended.

This will divide supporter opinion but I believe it was the first step needed to affect the real change we have to see. Sandgaard dithered over Bowyer and left it too late with Adkins last year. Jackson's bounce earned him the job until the end of the season but the last few months have been painful to watch. Unable to get two performances in-a-row and stuck with a 3-5-2 formation that everyone else could see wasn't helping us win games. Bottom-line for me was that he couldn't motivate these players from one week to the next and his comments after Saturday's game set alarm bells ringing. There will be voices saying he 'wasn't given enough time' but he has been here for years was assistant to Bowyer and Adkins.

I am pleased Sandgaard has acted so swiftly and am surprised at the same time that he has been bold enough to do it. I thought he would maintain the status quo with Jackson who was clearly angling for more modest player change going forward. The new manager will be another risk but one worth taking in my mind given the anticipated squad rebuilding. I have been having nightmares of watching the same football in October, with the same formation and a side with the same core of players getting the same results. This club has to be competing for promotion next season or it will suffer a major downgrade next season in terms of the supporter base and our diminishing profile in London (if we haven't already).

Sandgaard now needs to back his decision by supporting the new manager in the transfer market. We need to be much closer to what champions Wigan did in the transfer market last Summer. If he does that and we don't make it, at least we can say he tried everything.