Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Charlton Athletic in 2011: Revival

Former Chairman Richard Murray welcomes
successor Michael Slater
New Year’s Eve, 2010: Charlton Athletic had just been taken over by a mysterious new company, fronted by businessman Michael Slater (no, not the former Australian opening batsman) and Tony Jimenez. Slater became chairman and made positive noises about manager Phil Parkinson, though it became clear very quickly that Parky was living on borrowed time. After a 2-4 home defeat to Swindon (who were struggling in the relegation zone) the Chairman moved in for the kill, and removed Parkinson of his duties. 5th position was not good enough, clearly.

One question had been answered – that regarding the confidence of the board in the manager – but another raised: Who would replace him? The fear (and yes, it was definitely fear) was that Jimenez’s best mate Dennis Wise would be installed as manager, and Sky Sports News were quick to report this. Constant checking of betting sites became habitual. Speculation spiralled out of control. Wind-up merchants and spam posters on Charlton Life were verbally crucified. It was, evidently, an uncertain start to the year. There was hope when it became clear that Dennis Wise would not become manager. Furthermore, ‘Our Lord’ Alan Curbishley was among the top candidates for the job. For me, this promised a return to the good old days, and a club legend’s return would have an undoubted positive impact both on and off the pitch.

However, it was not this club legend that was appointed, but another. Chris Powell joined the club for the 4th time, following 3 stints as a player. He was a hugely popular choice, but did not come without his doubters. Many said he was too nice. Others said we needed a more experienced manager. But most were thrilled we had him back, and gave him time to succeed.

Chris Powell sent off, but the fans still show their love for him.
Powell’s impact was immediate. He won his first four games in charge, much to the delight of the fans. However, this was as good as it would get for the rest of the season, as the team slumped to finish mid-table. There were a number of frustrating team performances in some games, and things just seemed to go against us in others. A prime example was the 2-2 draw away at Bristol Rovers. Charlton were 2-0 up early in the second half, before Kyel Reid and Jose Semedo were both sent off. From the away end, these both seemed harsh. Powell was sent to the stand for voicing his opinion. We sang his name as he walked past. He’s learnt to keep his emotions in check a bit more since then. The nine men couldn’t hold out, but the equaliser was, even from 100 yards away, a clear hand-ball to control. Not only did the ref not give it, and the goal was given, but the Football League show didn’t pick up on it either. The injustices of football...

13th position finish: definitely not the aim at the start of the season. Powell was criticised for the severe drop in form encountered after January. However, a remarkably high proportion of fans stayed loyal to our new manager. I was one of them. I’ll give you my reasons:

Powell brought in a new style of football. He wanted us to pass it, not lump it forward like we’d done before. This confused many simple supporters at The Valley, who every time the ball was passed backwards in order to retain possession, would scream “FORWARD”, and boo rather unsupportively. It’s taken a while to coach these minds that having the ball is indeed a good thing. However, last season, it didn’t really work. We had no natural passers in midfield. As much of a hero Jose Semedo was, he’s no Iniesta. This played a part in why form dipped significantly – we were playing a style of football that didn’t suit the players we had. Powell was criticised. A few said he was out of his depth and should go in the summer. But he didn’t have his own players. This was key – ‘once he had his own team, then we can judge him’ was the view of many.

Michael Stewart was offered a new deal, but thought
he could hold out for a better offer from elsewhere. 
I think that the failings of last season were vitally important to the successes of this. It not only has taught Chris Powell a number of tactical lessons, but also the importance of playing as a team. The club needs players to be there for the right reason. Powell has said recently that a number just wanted to reach the end of the season and move on. He didn’t want players like that, but those who wanted success. That has been a key driving factor behind the signing of new players, and has emerged from a question-and-answer session with Powell. Michael Stewart, signed on a 3-month deal towards the end of last season, was offered a longer contract in the summer. He said he wanted to see his options, waiting for a Championship club to come in for him. Once this didn’t materialise, he came back and said he wanted to sign. But Powell said no. He only wanted players who were there for the right reasons, and Stewart was clearly not.

This, amongst other things that emerged over the summer, has increased my admiration of Powell further. His squad is now both full of quality and high in team spirit. He has brought back confidence to the club. The fact that we find ourselves 5 points clear at Christmas, ending Huddersfield’s (disjointed) unbeaten run in the process, is a testament to the job Powell has done since he arrived less than twelve months ago. Yes, he’s been helped by having a solid financial footing in order to sign new players. But the style of football, the quality of player, and the morale of the players, staff and fans has gone to show that you should never write a manager off so soon. Within a year, his critics have been well and truly silenced.

2011 saw the revival of our club. Chris Powell has got us moving in the right direction again. We’re a club on the up. Finally, our fans have got something to make them smile. Here’s to 2012, the year all us Charlton fans hope sees us promoted.

Merry Christmas. 

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