With Josè Riga having been in the job almost a month now, and with the January transfer window having slammed shut over two months ago, it seems like a good time to assess the effect that Standard Liege have had on Charlton Athletic.
Since Roland Duchâtelet bought the club in January, it is not just behind the scenes that the Belgian influence has infiltrated the club. Whilst the smell of Belgian waffles is not yet wafting through the concourses, numerous Liege players have arrived on the pitch, and most recently ex-Liege boss Riga has taken charge of the team.
But what influence has each made on the club? Well firstly, Duchâtelet has brought much needed investment to the Addicks. The previous regime had clearly lost interest. Contracts were coming to their end, the team hadn’t been improved, the pitch was unplayable and budgets were being tightened across the club. Duchâtelet came in, and within a few days a had brought some reinforcements in, put a protective dome over the pitch and made it clear that contracts were his priority.
Everything seemed exciting, but as the weeks and months have progressed, many fans have become more cynical of the start of the Duchâtelet era. Stephens, Kermorgant and Alnwick were all sold fairly swiftly, followed just a month later by the manager Chris Powell. With the Addicks hovering above the relegation zone, and rumours that Charlton would become a feeder club for Standard Liege, early optimism had given way for realistic concern of the near future of the club.
The mixed start for the owner has been mirrored by mixed displays on the pitch by some of the Duchâtelet signings. Thuram-Ulien came in on loan, and immediately was handed some starts between the sticks. Dodgy decisions and some soft goals made him an instant target of the fans. Most were therefore relieved when Hamer returned from injury in the form of his life, and so far he has kept the number one shirt.
In defence, Négo has only made one or two appearances. With not much to assess, he seemed to look relatively solid, and it is something of a surprise that he hasn’t been handed more opportunities to play with Solly injured. The problems on the right side of midfield would be solved by pushing Wilson forward, and Négo could then play at right back. With both Powell and Riga ignoring this option, perhaps Négo isn’t ready.
Meanwhile, Koç and Parzyszek have yet to be given opportunities. Parzyszek has been assessed as too lightweight, but at 20 years old he certainly appears to be a player for the future.
Perhaps the two most interesting players to have come in are Reza and Ajdarević. However, despite their prolonged spells in the first team, their impacts have been vastly different. Reza has looked very soft. His energy and pace cannot be underestimated but he has been muscled off the ball too often and too easily. He went some way to winning favour with the fans with a stunning goal against Leeds last week, and made a reasonable cameo in the defeat to Reading, but he’s going to have to show more of that for the rest of the season.
On the other hand, Ajdarević has looked a class above. His assured touch and arrogant character has controlled lots of Charlton’s good attacking play. As his fitness has improved, he has looked more and more dangerous, and he would be the one player that the Addicks would like to sign on a permanent deal in the summer. His creativity has filled the void left by Stephens’ departure, and he could be an asset heading into the final few games of the season.
The final Belgian influence has been Josè Riga, who took over from Chris Powell three weeks ago. Since arriving the Addicks have won three 1-0, drawn two 0-0, lost one 1-0 and lost two 3-0. Charlton have pulled themselves off the foot of the table and have looked phenomenally solid at the back. Despite this (and the arrival of Obika and return from loan of Piggott), goals continue to be an issue. Riga has experimented with a number of different forward lines, and none seem to be working. Against Reading, for the first time he looked tactically short, electing to play Church up on his own, and changing the game too late. Harriott was given the full 90 when he wasn’t having much of an effect, and both Jackson and Ajdarević were replaced when they looked dangerous.
However, Riga talks a good game. He is a calm figure in the dugout, and he is very aware of the importance of survival. He has asked for efficient football, and his defence have certainly responded. Charlton have looked more creative going forwards as well, but are yet to get into goal scoring form. If Riga can solve that final piece of the jigsaw, it would be a huge step towards survival for the Addicks. As it is, Charlton are still in a dogfight, and the battle shows no signs of relenting!
By Tom Wallin