Life in ‘The Valley’ is great for Charlton’s Mikhail!

Mikhail Kennedy in action for Northern Ireland Under 18s in 2014. (Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)
Mikhail Kennedy in action for Northern Ireland Under 18s in 2014. (Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)

Mikhail Kennedy needed only three minutes of his first team debut to provide Charlton fans with a glimpse of his huge potential.

Having scored seven times for the Addicks’ under-21 side the previous season, the 19-year-old forward seized upon a mistake in the Peterborough defence to announce himself to the club’s supporters in some style with an accomplished finish that set up an emphatic 4-1 win. The Culmore youngster also won his side the penalty that was converted by Karlan Ahearne-Grant to double Charlton’s lead.

Charlton Athletic's Mikhail Kennedy. DER2116GS058

Charlton Athletic's Mikhail Kennedy. DER2116GS058

That was September 2015 and the first of four first team appearances for the Championship club which brought with them a new two-year contract which ties the talented teenager to the Valley until June 2018.

That was the positive. The negative was relegation for the South London club and Kennedy admits he looks back on the season with mixed emotions.

“I am there for another two years which is great but this season didn’t exactly go to plan for the club,” admits Kennedy, whose goal won St. Columb’s College the Northern Ireland Cup back in 2011.

“I got my début which was fantastic but unfortunately the manager was sacked and we were relegated so it was downhill for the whole club. In a way, though, relegation might be a good thing.

It was so noisy but that is how passionate the fans are and what these types of games mean. It is why Charlton are such a big club and these are the games you want to be involved in.

Mikhail Kennedy

“It’s a chance for us to regroup and rebuild as a club and hopefully we can come back stronger for the experience.”

Despite relegation to League One, Kennedy said he was more than happy with his own progress and was keen to build on a positive year when the club appoints a new manager.

“If someone had said to me at the start of last season, I would play four games and get my first goal for the club, for any 19 year-old, they are going to take the arm off you for that.

So looking back, yes, the season was a success for me but that has to be taken within the context of the whole club.

“There were players who didn’t perform as they should have done last season and there will be changes with the playing staff. Relegation means the club won’t be paying Championship wages and might have to put their faith in some of the younger players coming through which offers a chance but you have to be ready to take that chance. It is up to the young players like myself to show the new manager, whoever that is, that we are ready to take the club forward.”

It has been a turbulent time to be at Charlton with the club having no fewer than three managers last season. Israeli Guy Luzon started the season in charge after a positive end to the previous year but he was sacked in October and Belgian Karel Fraeye announced as ‘Interim Head Coach’ but his tenure lasted only 14 games, only two of which were won. He was sacked in January 2016 with the club second from bottom in the Championship and Jose Riga was appointed Head Coach for a second spell but he resigned at the end of the season.

It doesn’t sound an environment that young players would flourish in but Kennedy says the club deserves credit for trying to blood a number of Academy prospects in a difficult season. One game stands out in particular for Kennedy.

“We went through three managers last season and every time you are trying to win them over only to see them get sacked and you have to prove yourself all over again. With where we were in the league table, it was not easy to give chances to young players, it is a difficult, hostile environment.

“The Championship, in many ways, is the toughest league in England and one of the most competitive in the world. It can be hostile to play in with pressure coming from fans who expect a club the size of Charlton to stay up.

“We played Crystal Palace in the Capital One Cup and the atmosphere was unbelievable. Palace are the biggest of rivals for Charlton and all week and you could sense things building.

“I started that game and you couldn’t even hear a thing. It was so noisy but that is how passionate the fans are and what these types of games mean. It is why Charlton are such a big club and these are the games you want to be involved in.

“You want to be involved against big teams, in atmospheres like that, and around London there are so many rivalries. It is an opportunity now for us to take stock and hopefully we can rebuild and come back stronger.”

Kennedy is currently home for his summer break and is delighted to see an old manager of his doing very well at Brandywell Stadium.

“It’s great to come back for the summer,” he adds, “You catch up with people and I always try to get to the Derry City matches. There is no place like home, especially when you are living in the hustle and bustle of London.

“I love going to the Brandywell when I’m home and was at the Finn Harps game last week. I was surprised. I know Kenny Shiels quite well. He took me to Kilmarnock when I was 15.

“I was surprised with how good the football was. After last season, I was thinking, ‘Will they do well?’ and there were some questions being asked but they are doing brilliantly. I was really impressed with them.

“Against Harps they didn’t play that well but I listen every game on radio from England and they have been playing some stuff. They have quite a young team with the likes of Aaron McEneff.

“It shows people are not afraid to come back from England now if things don’t work out and rebuild their career. Derry has really appeared on the football map, especially with players like Paddy McCourt about.”

Kennedy admits he is curious to see who the club appoint as their new manager and wants to make a good first impression when he returns for pre-season.

“First and foremost I want to come back really fit and show the new manager what I can do. That’s what I did last season and I think it helped me get a chance with the first team and I would be hoping to get a couple of games in League One next season. If it doesn’t happen, then maybe I will go out on loan again. We will see.

“For the club, it has to be promotion, whether it is automatic or through the play-offs, it doesn’t matter, but promotion has to be the goal for a club the size of Charlton. it is too big for League One.

“If it is a loan it would probably be League Two but at 19 years of age you cannot be expecting to be a first team regular. I think in terms of development I am ahead of where I’d thought I would be because there are not many players who get chances in the Championship at 19 years old. That’s not me blowing my own trumpet but it shows that at Charlton, they will give you the opportunities if you work hard enough. It is up to me to take them.”