The primary silver lining to the cloud that has been the 13/14 season for Charlton has been the promise shown by our young squad members. They have all proved themselves when called upon and seized the opportunities given to them as a consequence of the need to rotate the squad. In this article, I'll be analysing each of the members who have contributed in different ways this season and what they offer for the future of our great club.
It seems fitting to start from the back and move through the positions. It is therefore important to look at the keeper who is looking more and more likely to be Charlton's number one if and when Hamer leaves in this transfer window. Pope has been in superb form for York City, playing a vital part in guiding York to the League Two playoffs this season. Despite not appearing for the Addicks this season, his 15 clean sheets in 21 league appearances for York leaves us with a decent alternative to our current number one if he leaves in the Summer. It certainly isn't going to be Thuram after all..
At the tender age of 23, Solly would still be eligible for Young Player awards, and so needs to be considered in this article. Despite a serious lack of playing time this season, Chris 'better than John Terry' Solly still has a lot to offer for the club. His performances, albeit rare, against the likes of Barnsley and Blackburn show that he is more than capable of holding his own against any team in the second tier. His commitment to the club has been confirmed by penning a four year deal for the club at the start of this season and, once he is back to full fitness, I believe he is capable of regaining his status as one of the club's best players.
As someone who has seen Rhoys Wiggins be consistently excellent in the last few seasons, it is needless to say that I was delighted to see him sign a new four year contract with the club. Originally, I saw the left back spot as one in dire need of strengthening. With Wiggins injured, we would surely be left exposed and vulnerable down the left with Ceddy Evina proving rather a liability every time I have seen him. But since making his way into the first team ranks, Morgan Fox has been nothing short of a revelation. He is only 20 years old, yet plays with the same cool head and maturity as Poyet. In the games I have seen him in, I have honestly preferred him to Wiggins. Don't get me wrong, I still highly rate Wiggo and think he should still be the starting left back next season. He's far more experienced and could prove to be a handier player in the context of the whole season. But the way that Fox has thrived since entering the first team in Wiggins' absence must surely give Riga (provided he is still with us next season) something to think about. Another youngster with a four year contract, I have no doubt that this position is suitably catered to at least for the next few years.
Not such a consistent performer, Harriott is perhaps the most interesting of the youth products. His dire performance against Barnsley, twinned with the way the fans got on his back when he regularly gave the ball away, really epitomised his season for me. He looked out of his depth, desperately lacking in confidence and deeply unsettled as a player. However, his last few performances towards the end of the season, particularly in away games, have really silenced some of his biggest critics. He scored 5 goals in 2 games at the end of the season (2 of which were in the crucial game against Watford) and he looks like a different player. The faith Riga showed in playing him, despite his awful previous performances, really demonstrates the manager's eye for talent. We can only hope that Harriott's form continues into next season because, like Sordell, he is a confidence player and, like Sordell, he can be lethal when it matters most. Overall, he is a hugely talented prospect as he grows in confidence for the future.
At 20 years of age, Cousins has been the lynchpin of our centre midfield this season. For me, he is understated as a player and yet his contributions to each game are pivotal. He has been consistently combative this season, combining strength and passion with awareness and vision. Cousins can easily be looked over because he is not such a flashy figure as Poyet, but he is another lad with an incredibly bright future and I hope he can maintain his form for next season, particularly as he may well be paired with a much less talented colleague in the centre of midfield.
Poyet's contribution to this season speaks for itself. Winning the Player of the Year award after having played only 20 games this season, he has been a class above the rest of the team in terms of ability. He is only 19 years old and his contract unfortunately runs out this Summer. Since his contribution this season and his general skill need no discussion, all that is left to think about is the renewal of his contract with the club. I have always been a great admirer of his Father, particularly with the way he has (probably) steered Sunderland away from relegation in the Premier League and I think, based on the evident closeness the Father and son have, Gus may well advise Diego to stick with Charlton for a few years and mature as a player. We saw how Scott Parker chose money over his own player development, moving to Chelsea for 10 million and eventually becoming something of an understated journeyman (despite his England caps and occasional captaincy). I personally think Poyet is the best of all the future talents we have seen at the club and I hope he realises three things: 1. His family is not exactly strapped for cash, so there is no real need to make a big money move yet. 2. For the sake of his own career as a footballer, which should be at the top of his priorities, he should stick with us and continue to excel and lead the team with his class. 3. The fans, players and manager all love him to bits. There is no real reason why he should leave and I hope that his decision-making in the next transfer window mirrors his attitude while playing for the club. That is, he bleeds Charlton and shows commitment, passion and loyalty to the club who helped mould him into a world-class prospect for the future. I have little doubt that he will play for England when he is older and would be a real asset to any club. He really is better than Gus..
Piotr Parzyszek/Anil Koc/Loic Nego
Understandably, before we were finally greeted with a frenzy of goals at the end of the season, many Charlton fans were left wondering why our 'Polish starlet' from De Graafschap was not being given a chance for the club. After banging in goals for his former club, it did seem like a bizarre decision. Well, from what I gather, he is similar to Reza in that he has not quite got used to the intensity and ferocity of the Championship. As Mark Gower pointed out when he arrived at the club from Swansea, the Championship is arguably a tougher league than the Premier League. It is generally a raw gritty style of football with no one team easily the best (although Leicester fans would probably have something to say about that). It is unpredictable and claustrophobic, with every team fighting tooth and nail to win. So it is perhaps understandable that the likes of Polish Pete, Koc and Nego have been given little or no playing time. They are all young and show promise but they have to be given time to adjust to a very tough league before they can show us what they can really do. Give it a few years and I'm confident they'll get there.
The future looks very bright for our club. We have had an extremely tough time this season, with a change of ownership, manager and necessary squad rotation. Not to mention a dire pitch for the first half of the season. So it has been a real relief for Addicks fans to see that our young team have really pushed the boat out and given everything to keep us safe from relegation. The likes of Harriott, Cousins and Fox in particular give me real hope and, with savvy investment from our Belgian owner this Summer, I honestly don't see why we could not be pushing for the playoffs next season. As Riga pointed out to the players, never mind ability, you'd struggle to find a better team in terms of togetherness and fighting spirit. Let's hope that the youngsters, with Jacko as their leader, can hear these words and believe in themselves enough to build on the passion and fight which Riga has brought to the club.