BY BENJY NURICK
The January transfer window can often feel significantly longer than the one month it’s named for, and in Charlton’s case, it really was. The window essentially kicked off in SE7 on December 12 when Ronnie Schwartz was pictured at The Valley and finally, 16 minutes before February 3, Charlton announced their last signing, Diallang Jaiyesimi.
Over the course of those 52 days, Charlton added five players and let go of six from the first team squad. Now, as with the conclusion of every window, Charlton have two questions they must ask themselves.
Question one: “Did we improve our squad?”
The obvious area of weakness in this Charlton squad when the summer transfer window ended was their lack of firepower up front. Lyle Taylor was long-gone and Macauley Bonne joined him out the door. Charlton were left scrambling for replacements, bringing in Conor Washington and Omar Bogle. Washington’s CV includes 29 caps for Northern Ireland, but he has never been a clinical goalscorer, finding the net 16 times in 122 games before joining Charlton while Bogle was still without a club just one week before the close of the window.
Paul Smyth arrived on deadline day to provide another option while Chuks Aneke’s emergence has offered some relief. Still though, by January, Charlton’s four strikers had combined for just 15 goals, Aneke and Washington getting 12 of them. The need for a consistent supply of goals up front was made more desperate by Bowyer’s careful handling of the physically fragile Aneke and Charlton set about addressing their blunt tip as soon as they could with the signing of Schwartz at the start of the window.
After not playing at all for Midtjylland leading up to his move, Schwartz has racked up 277 minutes so far as he gets to grips with his new team. It was imperative for him to get off the mark early, something he did with an excellent curling finish against Rochdale, while another goal was wrongly disallowed against Swindon. The early signs are mostly promising as long as one recognises the type of player Schwartz is. He’s a striker who is in the team to finish and not much else. Charlton simply aren’t creating enough chances for Schwartz to flourish at the moment, but he’s still done fairly well with his limited opportunities. The main issue is that Schwartz is averaging just 0.7 shots per game. There’s reason to believe he’ll finish the chances he’s presented with but currently, that’s very few.
Preferring to use a ‘big-man-little-man’ strike partnership, Schwartz’s arrival didn’t alter Bogle’s role too much, but Charlton were clearly on the look-out for an upgraded alternative to Aneke, eventually bringing in Jayden Stockley on loan from Preston. Dubbed a “Championship” striker by director of football Steve Gallen, Stockley’s arrival signalled the near-certain end to Bogle’s already dwindling minutes and the former Cardiff striker left for Doncaster on January 29. Bogle was brought in as a last-ditch option with little else available and there’s no doubt Stockley is a clear improvement. As well as scoring Charlton’s lone goal against Portsmouth, Stockley put in the kind of complete striker’s performance that will leave Bowyer feeling much more comfortable when he has to rest Aneke in the future.
Even after Smyth’s somewhat surprising recall and further move to Accrington Stanley, Charlton’s options up front look far healthier than they did before the window. Stockley is the perfect foil for Aneke, capable of wearing defences down so that Charlton’s top scorer gets unleashed at tired backlines, but also equally adept at causing his own problems as he showed at The Valley on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Schwartz may touch the ball less than Smyth but he should be a more reliable source of goals and has signed on for two-and-a-half years.
Of course, Smyth’s late departure exacerbated another of Charlton’s major issues coming into January; their total lack of pace and direction on the wings. In the months following Alfie Doughty’s serious injury Charlton constantly struggled to get the ball up the pitch quickly. Smyth, Jonny Williams, Marcus Maddison, and even Alex Gilbey were thrust out wide, while Bowyer has also relied on a diamond midfield without wingers on numerous occasions. But at no point has it truly worked.
Just 29 per cent of Charlton’s time has been spent in their attacking third, 18th best in League One, but after averaging 51 per cent possession this season, they clearly haven’t been forced deep while their opponents dominate the ball. Instead, they’ve had lots of possession, but have found it immensely difficult to move the ball from defence to attack.
Liam Millar was brought in to remedy that issue and has already established himself as one of Charlton’s most important players. Millar’s rapid ascendance is in part down to his own impressive form, but it’s also a reflection of how desperate Charlton have been for someone with his attributes. Millar stretches the game, adding a whole new dimension to Bowyer’s team, helping his side counter at pace while making them much more difficult to defend against.
Since arriving on loan from Liverpool, Millar has averaged 47.5 touches per game in his six starts, the most of Charlton’s attacking players, while a quite absurd 45 per cent of his team’s attacks have come from his favoured left side in that time (compared to just 22 per cent from the middle and 33 per cent from the right). Charlton have immediately developed an intense reliance on Millar, something that was extremely noticeable in the first half against Portsmouth when Bowyer chose to rest him, and after Smyth was recalled, the Canadian was left as Charlton’s only pacy option out wide.
Deadline day moves for Charlie Kirk and Josh Morris were ultimately unsuccessful, but with time about to expire, Charlton secured their man, Diallang Jayeisimi joining from Swindon.
Jaiyesimi’s signing can not be understated, with critical importance for both the short-term and long-term. Charlton’s latest arrival should take some of the burden off of Millar’s shoulders, while the addition of a second winger, particularly one with the speed of Jaiyesimi, completely opens up Bowyer’s options.
In a ‘flat’ 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, Bowyer wants his attackers to be fast and direct, able to help Charlton counter at pace and beat defenders one on one when needing to break down a stubborn defence. Jonny Williams excelled in a diamond during Charlton’s 2018-19 promotion campaign, but he just doesn’t have the speed and quick movements to play as a winger in Bowyer’s current preferred systems. Marcus Maddison too, doesn’t fit the mould for what Bowyer wants in his wide attackers.
Now, Charlton’s manager has two real traditional wingers which should allow for successful flexibility. Much has been said of Bowyer’s many formations this season, but the unavoidable reality is that he will continue switching things around depending on the opposition. Now though, he has a squad that will enable him to do that in a balanced and sensible way.
As well as being a crucial addition tactically, Jaiyesimi’s signing is important for more philosophical reasons. Of the 32 signings made by Bowyer prior to Thomas Sandgaard’s arrival, 31 had been free transfers or loans, with Macauley Bonne’s signature the only accompanied by a significant fee. By the end of Charlton’s mad scramble to close out the summer window that number had reached 41 signings under Bowyer, with still just the one transfer fee paid.
It would be foolish to suggest signs of a long-term plan weren’t already visible in the weeks immediately following Sandgaard’s arrival, but after years of surviving rather than truly pushing forward with their recruitment, fans needed to see that Charlton could now be aggressors in the market. Schwartz arrived on a fee signalling the start of this new approach, but by deadline day the only other additions were loans. Finally, though, just as supporters were starting to despair, Charlton made their statement.
Needing someone with Jaiyesimi’s qualities, Sandgaard instructed Gallen to make sure Charlton got their man, eventually paying his release clause according to Swindon assistant manager Tommy Wright.
Signing a three-and-a-half year deal, Jaiyesimi is someone Charlton can build around for the foreseeable future, not just in the immediate. The move gives further belief that this ownership has the means and ambition to build Charlton up the football pyramid and that element of Jaiyesimi’s signing simply can not be ignored.
With six departures for the five new arrivals, Charlton’s relatively slender squad has shrunk further in numbers. But in reality, the squad has grown. Doughty is unlikely to play for much of the rest of the season so he almost has to be ignored, while none of the other departed players were set to have significant roles moving forward.
After playing more than 75 per cent of Charlton’s minutes in his first seven games, Bogle’s usage dropped off a cliff following his removal 34 minutes into November’s disastrous defeat at Burton. From that point on he played just 28 per cent of his side’s minutes and that number didn’t look like rising.
Maddison hasn’t been seen since Bowyer ripped into him after defeat to Accrington Stanley and his exit feels necessary for all parties. The former Peterborough attacker was a gamble for a team desperately lacking creativity, but there is a reason Charlton were one of very few to offer him a deal in the summer. Regardless of his talent, Maddison’s relationship with Bowyer had seemingly reached an irreparable breaking point and had he stayed, it’s very unlikely he would have been regularly utilised.
Williams’ departure is emotional due to his popularity around the club, but he started just seven times this season. As previously discussed, Williams doesn’t have the right skillset or consistency for what Bowyer wants in his attackers and there was no certainty he would be given a new contract this summer had he stayed. The club simply couldn’t stand in his way when a Championship move became possible while the six-figure transfer fee is satisfactory compensation.
Smyth started just two of the 10 games before his departure, causing QPR to rethink the viability of his loan, while Dylan Levitt had long been deemed an afterthought by the time January rolled around. So six players have left Charlton, but six players who Bowyer felt he couldn’t, and largely didn’t want to, rely upon.
In their place, Charlton added players who can seriously challenge for the first team, and in the case of Jaiyesimi, have an extended future at the club. They’ve seemingly remedied their lack of pace on the wings and firepower up front while Matt Smith gives Bowyer the energetic ball-playing midfielder he’s craved. Meanwhile, they lost no one who was truly needed. It’s hard not to argue that Charlton’s squad has improved over the last month.
So question number one: “Did we improve our squad?” ✅
Question Two: “Did we do enough?”
Now, this second question Charlton must ask themselves is far less straightforward. To answer this, first, we have to understand what “enough” is for Charlton. The aim of this transfer window was to boost the squad in order to become a play-off-level side while starting to build for the medium and long-term future.
January always provides a difficult balancing act between short-term and long-term ideals, a delicate line Charlton straddled over the last month. Priority was set to the urgent target of a promotion push as seen with the three six-month loan deals, but multi-year contracts for Schwartz and Jaiyesimi shows ambition to build for the future as well.
But did Charlton actually do enough?
Steve Gallen was asked the same question by Scott Minto prior to Charlton’s defeat against Portsmouth and he responded with a chuckle, saying; “We’ll only know in a month…” This inescapable truth is one reason why it’s so hard to answer the transfer window’s big second question.
Despite making five signings, Charlton could yet see this season defined by their inactivity as much as their activity. After numerous internal conversations, Charlton decided against pursuing another centre-back and with their defensive frailties once again exposed on Tuesday, this decision could prove costly. With Akin Famewo returning from injury the situation looks better, but still, the lack of reinforcements at the back will raise eyebrows until Charlton’s leaky defence gives reason not to.
With the transfer window now closed, Charlton are stuck with their decisions. And as with every window before it, the last month (and a bit) has ended with two questions of self-reflection:
“Did we improve our squad?”
“Did we do enough?”
The first question can unequivocally be answered “yes”, Charlton’s squad has no doubt improved with their January transfer dealings.
The second question is tougher to answer. Ask me in a month.
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