New owners putting long-term plans in place
9 August ~ One thing that all Charlton fans can agree on as we start the season is that the pitch at the Valley has been transformed – visiting teams can expect a carpet rather than a swamp. However, with the opening game away at Brentford, not even that single point of consensus will be relevant. Charlton supporters are not so much divided as clueless. So much has changed this year – new owner, two new head coaches (Jose Riga was replaced by the Belgian Bob Peeters at the end of last season), a mass exodus of players and a hatful of new recruits mostly new to English football.
Where some see hope, others see fear. Pre-season reveals little. The truth will only start to emerge at 3pm on Saturday.
Brentford, like any newly promoted side on their home ground, are likely to be a tough test. To their impressive team of last year manager Mark Warburton has added players such as Moses Odubajo, Andre Gray, Marcos Tebar and Alex Pritchard. Even if star man Adam Forshaw does leave, most pundits expect them to survive fairly comfortably in the division. They will, presumably, be going all out for three points against a Charlton side picked by many for relegation.
But Brentford should beware of over-confidence. The Addicks, despite all the changes and uncertainty, are not the club in crisis that some have suggested. Whether you agree with the appointments and signings or not, they are part of a long-term strategy from owner Roland Duchatelet who owns several other clubs, including the notably successful Standard Liege.
Signings such as striker Igor Vetokele and winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson are young and (relatively) highly rated. Homegrown players like Jordan Cousins, Morgan Fox, Callum Harriott and Joe Gomez should all emerge as significant talents. Throw in a few older heads such as Tal Ben Haim and Yoni Buyens and there could be the makings of a decent team.
Peeters has experience playing in England, as a striker with Millwall, and has earned his coaching badges in the Belgian system that has produced so many good players in recent years. Under him Charlton will play from the back and seek to utilise speed rather than strength. It remains to be seen whether the team will prove too lightweight and can succeed where they failed most of last season and actually score some goals. There is also the question of the defence being able to contain teams like Brentford who, at home, are likely to commit heavily to attack.
Financial stability, youth development, building home support – all are admirable long-term objectives for the new Charlton owner. Come Saturday afternoon, however, only the very short-term will concern supporters at Griffin Park. And for most Charlton fans a point would be a decent start. Tom Green