BY ALESSANDRO SCHIAVONE
Cristian Ceballos blames managerial instability for Charlton’s ill-fated 2015-2016 campaign which ended in relegation to League One.
Ceballos joined the Addicks on a free transfer in the summer of 2015 following his release by Tottenham Hotspur but was limited to only seven appearances in total, five in the Championship, as injuries derailed his time at the club.
Now the 27-year old Spaniard, who plies his trade at Al-Wakrah in Qatar after three largely prosperous years in Belgium, has lifted the lid on why an inconsistent and disjointed Charlton side failed in their bid to maintain their Championship status despite the presence of numerous talented players in their ranks that year.
And the left-winger has pulled no punches, criticising the club’s board for their propensity to relieve managers of their duties before they were given time to get to know the squad and address the situation.
Charlton had started the season under Guy Luzon before a poor run of results meant that he had to clear his desk in favour of Karel Fraeye, who did not do much better, only for Jose Riga to then pay the ultimate price after only four months in charge.
“We had many good players that year like the experienced Alou Diarra who played in a World Cup final and Gudmundsson who had a terrific left-foot. We had everything to stay up but there had been too many changes. How can a team stay up if it changes three or four managers in only one season? It was too difficult for us go into games and give 100% to stay in the Championship. The club should have been more patient.
“In January the club signed new players and it was too difficult to (get on) with all these changes in just one year and whenever we players went into a game we were not free in our heads.”
Ask him whether he feels he could have been the difference between Charlton staying up or going down had he been fit and the reply is honest.
“That I don’t know,” he said with a smile.
“Maybe we could have stayed in the Championship but overall we had too many injuries that season, which was another reason why we went down.
“Overall, injuries were my biggest problem and when I returned(after nursing the injury) they changed the coach and brought in many players and then it was difficult for me to enter again into the team.
“This was ultimately also the reason why I decided to move on to Belgium. I wasn’t playing much and I did not want to play in League One.”
Al Wakrah in Qatar and London might be 4,202 miles apart but Ceballos has revealed that he still follows his former club whenever he can.
He said: “ I still follow Charlton, like I do with all my previous clubs like Tottenham and St Truiden in Belgium. I remember the play-offs against Sunderland, I was so happy for the players and the club. There are good guys working (behind the scenes) at the club who protected me a lot and were always there for me when I was injured. That I will never forget.”
Ceballos was only a teenager when he was catapulted to fame after a video went viral of him juggling with former Brazil superstar Ronaldinho at Camp Nou.
Ever since, the weight of expectation on his shoulders has been unbearable. The academy coaches and people who work behind the scenes at FC Barcelona that saw him stroll his way through the vaunted La Masia’s different age groups predicted a rosy future for the young boy. They singled him for stardom, but that never materialized and the video with Ronaldinho could be a key reason for that.
“Yes, a little bit”, he said after being asked if he started to get extra attention in Spain when the video with Ronaldinho was shown every Spanish television sports channel.
“ I played in Barcelona a long time and everybody in the city started to know me after this video with Ronaldinho, it put a lot of pressure on me.
“Barcelona is the second best academy in the world after Ajax but I left because I wanted to change something. I wanted to change the city and Tottenham gave me more opportunity to play regular football.
“In 2010 I trained two weeks with Barcelona’s A team because they needed players and it was unbelievable to train with guys like Iniesta and Ibrahimovic. Zlatan is a very good guy with the young players like me. If he had any problems with Guardiola? I don’t know that but maybe joining Barca was not the best decision for him but for me he stays one of the best strikers of all time [even if he failed to live up to his billing during the 2009-2010 season].
“I have a lot of talent but I don’t know if it would ever have been enough to make it at Barcelona even if people thought I would.”
But what about Nick Pope, did he ever envisage that his former Charlton goalkeeper would go on to scale such wonderful heights after being Stephen Henderson’s understudy at the club upon Ceballos’ arrival in July 2016?
“What Pope did is great. When I arrived he was the number two behind Henderson but you could see during training how good he was. He was so quick also.
“I am not surprised about how far he has come and he deserves to be England’s goalkeeper and to play at such a high level in the Premier League because he trained so hard to get to where he is now. Nick is a very good guy and great goalkeeper.”
After parting company with Charlton after an injury-strewn season, Ceballos kickstarted his career at Belgian Jupiler Pro League outfit Sint-Truiden were he spent three highly productive campaigns in which the clubs always managed to stay in the first-tier.
Ceballos cites financial reasons behind his decision to go to the Middle East at the age of only 26.
“I received a great financial offer and I could not say ‘no’ to that offer. I accepted it for the future of my family. Besides I wanted to play for Tintin Marquez again, who I had at St Truiden, the best manager in my career.”
When asked if he eyes a return to England one day he said: “I am happy in Qatar but I don’t know what is going to happen in the future.”
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