Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Time to Blow Off the Cobwebs for Another Season

While my blog has certainly not been updated over the last few months, with the exception of a brief hiatus at the end  of last season, the goings on at Charlton have ensured that there has been no time for cobwebs to settle at the Valley.

Much has been said on the subject of the new owner and the changes that took place at the end of last season.  Over the summer we’ve witnessed a number of changes that have started to put the owner’s intentions for the club into force.  Many believed that Charlton might become a cut price club, lacking in investment, with a head coach forced to field players sidelined by other clubs in the network.  While some beneficial elements of using the network are there, this is looking far from the case as recent spending reveals quite a different approach. 

While a new pitch was clearly a top priority it looks like we’ve ended up with a £1m investment in a pitch of Premier League quality, with state of the art drainage and under soil heating.  This along with other ground improvements such as replacement seating and pitch side astro turf will continue to make the Valley one of the more pleasant grounds for visitors in the Championship.  While a pitch renovation was required, the rest of the spending is perhaps more cosmetic but to me shows the intentions of the club to provide a quality match day experience for the fans.  The only downside I can see came from Twitter where an apparent ban on high heels on the pitch side artificial turf has meant a wardrobe rethink for certain stylish members of staff.

I wasn't expecting much of a spending spree this summer so the signing of Ivor Vetekeleh for a fee believed to be around Eu3m was a surprise.  However, I'm not expecting much more of the same and the recent signings while exciting have shown as much.  Feedback on first impressions of Bob Peeters is that he is likeable and gets on well with the squad.  I'm pleased to see his comments on certain players in the development squad and a decent complement of younger players turning out for the Welling game.  Duchatelet has also committed the club to its youth policy with Charlton’s ambitious plans for the new training ground complex to go ahead.  Some might say this is just a good excuse to get a cheaper squad but no manager or coach will play academy players if they are simply not up to the job. 

Having said this it looks like player wages are being firmly capped.  I have no idea as to what salaries players are on but we all remember the rumour of Ricardo Fuller being on £13k a week.  With Kermorgant and Stephens who were arguably our top wager earners gone, the number of younger players coming up from the development squad and cheaper (not my words) foreign players coming in I suspect that salaries are around the £3,000 a week mark.  While this helps in terms of the bottom line it does mean the Charlton will be one of the lowest paying teams in the Championship.  Other teams have not been so quick to adapt and are likely to breach Financial Fair Play rules as a consequence but may have the talent to propel them into the Premier League.  The alternative is that we become a club in a similar vein to Peterborough where they have a great ability in finding cheap but talented lower league footballers that subsequently leave for larger clubs who can afford to pay them higher salaries.  The good news is that the transfer fees effectively pay for the upkeep of the club.
The recent run outs at the Philips Stayen Cup and at Welling gave the fans a first chance to witness the players live but give us just a glimmer of new coach Bob Peeters thoughts on the first team line up.  A couple of players were missing from the Welling line up though.  While I presume that Reza is still enjoying a much deserved holiday after his world cup campaign there was no sign of Piotr Parzyszek (Belgium press reports him going to Sint Truiden)  The squad is not complete and clearly need more games under their belt, but there are rumours of another striker coming in and there are a couple of other obvious holes in the squad that need filling.  However, I am sure we will see a marked improvement as the July amd August friendlies go by and Peeters finds his ideal formation.  The Welling game showed Solly and Wilson pushing forward deep in to the opposition territory if that offers any clue as to current thinking.

It is pleasing to see that the club has maintained certain standards by continuing its family policy of not allowing a gambling outfit to sponsor its kit but there is clearly a harder nosed attitude to making the assets work for the club. Further sponsors on the mtach kit in addition to to the main shirt sponsor is an obvious example of new revenue generation.  It appears that a full review of contracts and services has been undertaken and changes have been made internally with director Katrien Meire taking a more hands on role. 

Recent contracts with the same outsourced caterers used by Arsenal and Wembley show the shape of things to come, but we should not read this as bad news for fans.  The partnership with IT company ITRM clearly states that is to "create better opportunities for fan engagement".  We have had a recent glimpse of the intentions of the board with the introduction of the excellent Fan Wall on the Charlton website, the introduction of free broadband at the Valley and the free youtube streaming of the recent tournament in Belgium.  I see this as a long term drive for a better game day experience that should ultimately attract and keep fans.

On the subject of fan engagement, the summer so far has been especially annoying from the mindless and crude drivel posted by those brave smartphone warriors claiming to be fans on various social media every time Charlton post an update. Calm down boys and girls, stay out of the sun and think before you tweet abuse.  How about providing some constructive criticism or at least giving the players a chance in an Addicks shirt first before you burden the rest of us with your refined and experienced three word opinions? You could do something useful like joining the supporters trust www.castrust.org.

Of course the real test is when we start to play in the league.  While there are a number of veterans in the squad, many players have not tasted Championship football and it does remain to be seen whether they can cope at this level but with the spread of youth and experience I am cautiously optimistic.  That’s not to say that I’m expecting miracles this year but it all looks like the club is starting to shape up for both the financial rigours and the pitch battles of the Championship.

Just one small selfish plea from me - please can we have proper pies back at the Valley?  I’m sure these nice people www.pieshop.co.uk would be only too happy to assist.