Wednesday 29 June 2022

Four weeks Saturday and we kick-off!

Thomas Sandgaard and his recruitment machine need to get their skates on if we are not to repeat the mistakes of last year. He has already said we are likely to wait on loan players but you had to think his stated intention not to repeat last season meant having our permanents ready well ahead of 30th July. The three defensive additions of Wollacott, Egbo and O'Connell (we are still short at left back) do nothing to add to the attacking threat which Ben Garner and Thomas Sandgaard have been trumpeting. 

Last season we managed only 54 goals, worse than all but six other sides, four of whom went down. Our goal difference was a relatively healthy -4 which tells you just how important more goals would have been to us in terms of points.

I have said for the last two seasons that if we have serious ambitions to be promoted, we have to have a central striker who can be relied on to bang in 20-plus and is assisted by a couple of others who both get into double figures. We have failed to find that 20-plus striker and as things stand we are still well short. Stockley and Aneke have never done it and they both miss too many games a season to have any realistic chance of doing so. As things stand, Josh Davison may still be lurking around the starting eleven given he found his feet in League Two with Garner. That would look like an obvious mistake if it's their plan.

In midfield we appear to have bodies to cover the centre and you would like to think Dobson can make it work with Fraser or Forster-Caskey with Morgan and Gilbey as options from the bench, although I don't see either of them as consistent enough performers for a promotion push. Ideally we need another strong central midfield. 

Our real problem is the wings. Cory Blackett-Taylor finished the season well but he has also proven that he blows hot and cold. Hot when his contract is running out and cold at other times. I hope I am wrong because he has the talent. Speaking of which, some people are convincing themselves that Kirk will suddenly become a world-beater playing 'Garner-ball.' Again, we would all love to see it but during his spell with us last season he seemed to be unable to do any of the basics, let alone provide a threat from the wing. On the other side, we are really light with only Jaiyesimi to choose. I think there is a great player in him but he has much to work on and like Blackett-Taylor, Gilbey and Morgan, we can't be carrying players who don't contribute enough on too many occasions. 

My other observation is that last season's side lacked winners. Far too often, for long periods we looked content to run the clock down when we were drawing games or lacked the fire to fightback quickly when behind. These are the times in matches where you need your larger characters to step up and rally those around them. I am hoping O'Connell may provide that in defence but we still look well short elsewhere.

It's not all about money but what you spend is indicative and so far it looks very much like Sandgaard is being too conservative again. I believe he has set a target to trim the playing bill which effectively means hoping to throw a double-six looking at the squad we currently have. 

The Garner factor could also make a significant difference but this is a guy who has had only two seasons as a head coach, both in League 2, a poor season at Bristol Rovers and a decent one last year with Swindon. Promotion from League One is a lot to expect, especially with the squad he currently has. 

Elsewhere, still no official news on Brian Jokat's departure. The rumours are he didn't see eye-to-eye with Sandgaard's partner and that was him out, although others who know him from his time at CACT aren't too surprised. The club also managed a very clumsy sacking of Jokat's relatively new sales team, recruited to 'fill the Valley.' That suggests a change of tack - it's a hard cold sell when your team is performing as poorly as ours did last season and when there is nothing yet to shout about. Even so, I would have thought they would have been better managing them out over a longer period of time based upon non-performance rather than create a negative story all of their own making? They also sacked the Supporter's Liaison Officer who appeared to have made himself very popular with many of those he had come into contact with in a relatively short run in the job. I understand that's a position every Football League club has to have, so I assume they have plans to share that role or get someone to do on a voluntary basis.

Finally, on a more positive note, it was great to see Jason Euell snapped up as Assistant Coach at Championship Bristol City. I am sure Jason would have been disappointed to have been shown the door but new managers have a habit of wanting their back-room team around them, so not a huge shock to Euelly.

Thursday 23 June 2022

Day 4 of the Summer Revival and we drop our ice-cream

What a day we have had. The fixture list failed to throw up any big fixtures on key dates and since then there has been more news, not all of it positive.

The whole Swindon thing is threatening to sour after Scott Marshall was brought in to replace Jason Euell (who was shown the door) and we have announced the signing of their goalkeeper, Jojo Woolacott, which means one of our keepers, probably McGillivray, will be making way. 

That's not all. Strong rumours that the new COO, Brian Jokat, has been fired after barely three months in the post and word that we are behind with lease payments to Roland Duchatelet. We don't seem to retain anyone in the senior team for too long, do we?

I am sure most will be sorry to see Jason Euell go, in similar vein to Johnnie Jackson as a long term former player and coach. Though you could see a clear case for Jackson given performances and results, Euell looks to be making way purely to accommodate Ben Garner's mate from Swindon, Scott Marshall. That probably wouldn't feel so awkward if they hadn't announced Jojo Wollacott from Swindon on the same day or had managed a keeper out before recruiting his replacement. I am prepared to wait and see before I judge but I hope this ends the Swindon Town moves because I have never envied them.

On a personal note, I think McGillivray has all the makings of a top keeper. He has made more than his share of point-winning saves this season and though he needs to work on commanding his area, I wouldn't have been looking for a replacement. The club website tells us that Wollacott was named in the League Two Team of the season, but McGillivray played all year in League One with a hesitant and often struggling defence in front of him and still managed 16 clean sheets as he reminded us today in a Tweet.

The club is going to need to explain Jokat's sacking very convincingly because something has obviously gone wrong. The rumour on the Duchatelet lease is that we may be three months behind - no great drama on it's own and there may be a perfectly plausible explanation if that proves to be true, but could be the tip of an iceberg too. 

The lease issue could be leverage with Duchatelet but the immediate conclusion many will draw from it, is that there may be wider financial worries. Sandgaard is expected to fund a much stronger squad this season but so far, every new face (Garner, Marshall, O'Connell, Egbo and Wollacott) has cost us nothing up front and it's reasonable to assume they will be cheaper than those they have replaced. Plenty more to do but with at least £2m likely to come in from Nick Pope's departure from Burnley, Sandgaard might not have plans on putting his hand too far into his pocket, if at all. If the quality is there, none will care, but if we are left short again, there will be a far bigger price to pay.

No doubt the club will sally forth tomorrow with explanations, at least about Jokat, but I am guessing we won't get a funny video clip to accompany it.

Tough start, easier finish...

Excited Charlton fans were slapped around the face today with a disappointing opening game away at Accrington Stanley. No disrespect to Andy Holt's admirable club, just that most would have preferred a plumb opener at a new ground against one of the promoted or relegated sides. I guess our poor season last year meant that we weren't held up as a particularly attractive fish for any of the new boys. Sad, but that's what happens when you get settled in a division and have a mediocre season.

At least we will face Wayne Rooney's relegated Derby County in our first home game, unless they are wound-up in the courts today. They could survive today and still be docked 15 points for effectively going into relegation, depending on whether a buyer can cover all of their debts.

Our second away match at big-spending Sheffield Wednesday will be an early test of our promotion credentials and then we face Plymouth Argyle at home. Wednesday were beaten Play-Off contenders last season and Argyle missed out finishing seventh.

The flipside, is that our run-in looks decent from here. The last six home games are Accrington Stanley, Wycombe Wanderers, Shrewsbury Town, Burton Albion, Morecombe and Port Vale. We finish away at Cheltenham Town.

October could be a crucial month for us with Oxford United, Portsmouth, MK Dons and Ipswich Town all visiting the Valley. 

My only other observation is that we appear to have only five midweek (Tuesday) fixtures - last season I think it was double that. Perhaps this has something to do with World Cup in November/December and a reduction in international weekends as a result?

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Mandela Egbo, number 2

Quick on the heels of Eoghan O'Connell comes the signing on a two year deal of 'attacking right-back' Mandela Egbo. 

Another player I haven't heard of before but his CV is interesting. He left Palace's youth team (obviously a Garner choice) at 17 and made 83 appearances for Borussia Monchengladbach. Has since had a season at New York Red Bulls and made 9 appearances for our new feeder club (STFC) last season.

At 24 he will still see the peak of his career ahead of him - let's hope it's with us and he can offer more than Matthews. 

I have been quick to criticise the Club's communication in the recent past, but O'Connell's introductory video and today's snippet of Egbo responded out aloud to a supposed text from Garner offering him a job, were both well done. Both players were word perfect on rationale, excitement and eagerness. 

Monday 20 June 2022

No Scott Lindsay but Eoghan O'Connell signs

Swindon Town quashed any hope of Scott Lindsay potentially joining Ben Garner at the Valley by appointing him Head Coach. I will assume from this that Scott Marshall will stay with him in Wiltshire. 

There was clearly something in the possibility of the pair joining us with Garner but for whatever reason that hasn't worked out - perhaps the pair were leveraging us to secure better positions at Swindon? Whatever, as long as it's not a disappointment for Garner, then I guess we are no worse off. 

Breaking news this evening is that Eoghan O'Connell has been signed from from League Two Rochdale. The former Celtic centre-half (7 appearances) captained Rochdale last season and obviously has leadership qualities. At 26, he has time on his side although I suspect there will be questions asked about his pedigree. I am always prepared to wait and see for myself, as Harry Arter proved last season. 

I was pleased to see that Sandguard confirmed the pre-season training camp will go ahead, when he spoke to the Fans Forum on Thursday evening. There had been scurrilous rumours on Twitter by Charlton fans that the tour had been called off because we don't have enough players. That's incorrect, of course, although I think it's fair to say we would have to play players out-of-position as things stand. 

Perhaps we will see a couple more announced this week to freshen things up in Spain?

Thursday 16 June 2022

Six weeks to go...

Player news this week has been limited to Ben Purrington being told his contract won't be renewed. He had been made an offer to stay but that clearly didn't do it for him and the club has chosen to let him go. Purrington was very gracious in his leaving statement and we wish him well. 

BP was one of those players who, for me, sat in the 'ok box.' On his day he was perfectly competent in League One and wasn't out of his depth in the Championship, even if we did get relegated that year. He wasn't hugely comfortable across the halfway line so didn't really fit Jackson's preferred system although he got his fair share of goals for a defender, including that one he will never forget. I always felt that a better positional player with more attacking intent than Ben wasn't beyond us, but it didn't turn out to be Papa Soare in spite of his CV. That for me is the rub in deciding to let Purrington go - will we start the season with two better left-backs than him?

With Pape Soare already being released along with Matthews, we find ourselves without any experienced full-backs at the club - perhaps Garner will be playing with wing-backs? That will surely be remedied before the 30th July but we have work to do in all areas of the first team and there is an increasing concern that we may be making, at least some of the mistakes we made last pre-season. Sandgaard has already said we will take our time and that he expects to back-end the recruitment, although I think most of us took that to mean before the season starts rather than when the transfer window closes on 1st September.

We were also told when Jackson's contract wasn't renewed six weeks ago that it wouldn't hinder our recruitment plans because of the model we have in place i.e. an ongoing team effort, including the manager, but which could continue even in the absence of Jackson, although we have yet to announce anyone.

Perhaps they will unveil a flurry of players next week ahead of the pre-season tour of Spain. Given the importance of this to team-building, you certainly hope so. On the basis we need a minimum of eight first-team recruits, if they all join after the tour, it will be something of a missed opportunity. 

They say the early bird gets the worm and I think there' a lot of truth in that when it comes to player recruitment. Wigan did it last season and stormed up as a result. Our waiting game ended-up with a disappointing late two loan signings, of Arter and Lee. We really need to have a settled first-choice eleven for the kick-off and ideally you want them to have had a couple of weeks to settle into the area and have played some competitive football in their new side before the opening day - that is mid-July and only a month away.

We have to hope that our negotiation is a lot crisper with players than it was with Garner (and possibly other management targets pre-Garner and maybe his side-kicks Scott Marshall and Scott Lindsay). We could also do without building a reputation as a club looking to drive too hard a bargain or looking to get players on the cheap. It really is a false economy if you end up without the players you need. I have said it before and will continue to say it but we have to be serious promotion contenders for much of this season. A repeat of last season or anything like it and I believe the club will effectively become a run-of-the-mill League One club, with even smaller gates, poorer commercials and without the financial muscle or appetite for risk to get out of this division. It would also make a mockery of Sandgaard's initial ambitions when he took over the club.

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Ben Garner appointed after 15 day delay

Finally, confirmation on the Charlton website that Ben Garner has been appointed to succeed Johnnie Jackson on a three year term. No mention of the delay in getting the deal over the line but it does look like a marriage proposal stalled by the unseemly haggling over a pre-nup.

A source from Swindon suggested the deal would be announced today in a Tweet yesterday, when he said the delay was caused by negotiation over £80,000 of compensation to Swindon. If that proves to be the case, then the actual sum in question would have been the difference in the two positions which I suspect was less than the £80,000. Charlton might have saved as much in not paying Ben Garner two week's wages in the meantime. It does begin to look a bit small-time, especially as there is no news of appointment of Garner's two sidekicks and further rumour that we are continuing to negotiate their deals.

Much was made in the announcement of a desire to have attacking football played throughout the club. No-one is going to argue with that but it's hardly an objective ambition. They might as well have said 'winning football' as the only stats that will matter at the end of the season is the league table. Swindon may have had the most impressive set of stats in their division but they finished sixth. Logic suggests their stats at the other end of the pitch weren't the best in the division.

No mention either of Ben Chorley, Swindon's Director of Football who resigned shortly after Garner was linked, although Sandgaard's appetite for haggling with the Swindon Chairman might not extend to a fourth person.

More encouragingly, the update reinforces that Garner will now work closely with the rest of the recruitment team in bringing in the players we need for next season. Ultimately this is how the pre-season will be judged, so I hope they do this early and put together a squad we can all have confidence in, unlike last Summer.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

It's all-go at Welling United

After a relegation scrap last season that went to the wire, Welling United are beginning to execute on some ambitious plans to turn the fortunes of the club.

Owner and one-time manager, Mark Goldberg, has stepped away from the day-to-day running of the club to concentrate on plans for "new ground development at Park View Road." To be fair, I think he has been pre-occupied with this for a couple of seasons and the club has suffered as a result. 

Local businessman, Paul Whitehead, has stepped in as Chairman and a revised management board now includes long-term Wings supporters Gary Fiore and Matt Mein. Paul Whitehead outlined some ambitious plan on their You Tube channel and they seem to be working at pace to make as many improvements as they can ahead of the start of the new season.

Already they have had a clean-up day when supporters helped remove tons of old equipment and rubbish that has built up around the ground of the last few seasons. Urgent work to fix broken terracing at the Danson Park end is planned and a new pitch is being laid with plans for a 3G.

There is even talk of moving the pitch back ten yards and building a covered stand on the Park View Road end if I understood that correctly. I assume that will be subject tom planning permission and likely to form part of Goldberg's wider development ambitions. 

The commercial team has been strengthened and are ambitious to further extend hospitality facilities from the already successful Wings Bar. 

More encouragingly, since the end of the season there has been a steady stream of decent new signings on contract terms as well as some extensions which suggest that the ridiculous merry-go-round of players seen last season may have come to an end. Manager Warren Feeney has signed-on for another year and there is every reason to be hopeful that Welling can compete at the right end of the National League South once again.

All things being well, I will get over to more games at Park View Road next season. That might be a lot more games if Charlton don't get their act together.

Monday 6 June 2022

Communications disaster

The statement from Charlton Athletic yesterday concerning speculation around the appointment of a new manager attempted to absolve Thomas Sandgaard from any responsibility for the ongoing failure to name anyone and perhaps, unhelpfully, confirm that Ben Garner has not been appointed (yet?).

Social media has changed the game in terms of communications and managing it is critical, especially for big businesses with high numbers of interested 'customers.' Done well and it can be a powerful medium - but done badly and it can ruin you. The WIOTOS acronym (When It's On The Official Site) is often cited amongst supporters but the club has a responsibility to manage communications before anything is finally confirmed on it's website or else it ends up in the position it has found itself in.

What is clear is that champion local journalist (SLP) Rich Cawley had enough evidence to announce the impending appointment of Swindon's Ben Garner on 25th May as the next manager. With hindsight, he may have jumped the gun but if he has two good sources confirming the same thing, then he is safe to go. The speculation that has followed, largely from supporters, has not helped but the club has allowed this to happen. Where was the cast-iron Non-Disclosure-Agreement (NDA) that should have prevented the few people in the know from leaking anything about his possible appointment or invoked a quick end to negotiations if they did leak anything?

Since then we have had fans telling us that the delay is over Swindon's compensation, Garner's salary, bonus or exit terms as well as his desired management team. Speculation over the possible appointment of Swindon's Director of Football who resigned suddenly last week has also stoked the fires. 

Unhelpful Tweets from Thomas Sandgaard and Raelynn Moroney haven't helped, even if what they have said has been factually correct i.e. no final decision has been taken. All that has served to do is strengthen the rumours as to why not.

This failure now leaves us in a position where Sandgaard may now be forced to ditch the manager he had chosen (possibly after being rejected by his preferred choice/s) because he decides he now needs to bring things to a closure on the Garner front or possibly complete his appointment which could look reluctant. Neither outcome is a winner for Charlton Athletic. 

Confirming that Garner won't be the new manager might mean we have lost a candidate he was convinced by and/or result in an ongoing delay to appoint someone else which threatens to disrupt our pre-season preparation for a second year. Appointing him would need a pretty good explanation to accommodate the delay and that would likely confirm at least some of the speculation which really wouldn't be helpful. Did he really lose Michael Beale or Matt Taylor over his preferred recruitment approach? Is he expecting to get someone on the cheap or on unrealistic exit terms? Are we focused more on avoiding failure than achieving success?

Do we really want to appoint a manager who believes he has to compromise too much over recruitment, who can't have the team he believes he needs to be successful around him or who will start the job unhappy with his remuneration or the clubs ability to tear-up his contract without any significant costs? Any of those issues would inevitably affect player recruitment too and that doesn't bode well for a happy ship.

In the wider world, we look like a club in permanent turmoil. One that continues to lose and who makes a hash of nearly everything it does. Supporters increasingly lose interest and the decline of the club goes on. Most of this could be avoided if the club was properly managing comms, but it isn't. Mr and Mrs Owner need to stop replying to supporter Tweets about sensitive club negotiations. 

Finally, we are reminded once again that what we need is an experienced CEO who is at the club everyday, providing hands-on leadership and co-ordinating the various teams running the affairs of the club. Brian Jokat clearly isn't doing that in his COO role and perhaps it was never his remit although he was offered up as a part-solution when Sandgaard appointed him. 

This is the sixth week since Jackson was told his contract wouldn't be renewed. The players are due back to pre-season training next week and the fixtures will be out too. Sandgaard will be in town this week and I expect a new manager to be appointed whilst he is here if the turmoil is to be ended. The club needs to fully answer a number of questions when it makes that appointment in order to draw a line under all of this and try to get everyone looking forward and moving in step. Perhaps, some really positive and timely player recruitment can get a squad up-to-full strength before the season starts on 30th July and to get us off on a winning start this time. We live in hope.