I’ve found it difficult to write a regular blog on Charlton’s season this year. After five years of less than mediocrity, I expected to be shouting from the rooftops about our achievements, the continuity of the team, the tactical nous of Powell, and the determination of the board, team and fans alike to see that one aim – promotion – achieved. The truth is, when you are as far ahead in the league as Charlton, with managers across the division suggesting we are Champions Elect, it’s difficult to comment without sounding smug.
For those fans who like to delve deeper into the minds of those in charge of their favoured football club, we inevitably come back to the same questions. Why, and how, did we manage to get in this position?
For a start we’ve finally done away with the journeymen, the parasitic leaches that demand high wages for less than average performances and bleed a club like Charlton dry. We’ve also brought in a hungry, young, passionate manager with Charlton running through every part of him. It shows too.
This new squad has reacted to Powell’s vision far better than anyone could have dreamed, especially given the less than impressive end to last season. Every player is now pulling in the same direction. Powell has picked the same team week in week out. If you’re good enough, you’ll play. If you play well, you’ll stay in the team. Players like Scott Wagstaff and Paul Hayes – both of whom started the season very well, have found themselves harshly frozen out following a slight drop in performances. Couple this with the consistency of the replacement players and the head of steam built up, Powell has allowed players across the pitch to flourish and continue this remarkable season. To coin a cliché, it’s clicked.
Please don’t kid yourselves though. There does seem to be a ruthless, darker side to Powell. Famed for being one of the nicest men in football (and with a wardrobe that would make Mourinho stand up and take notice), Powell runs his team, his club with an efficient, calm and controlling manner. Cross Powell at your own peril – he has shown that he’s not afraid to show his ruthless streak.
It seems recently that too many managers are the play toy of the owners, or subjected to unjustified scrutiny of their players and fans. Just look at Gary Megson. Sheffield Wednesday made a massive decision in sacking Megson, but to what avail? It’s the same with Huddersfield, Cardiff, Chelsea, QPR – the list goes on. There are too many managers who are sacked without sufficient time to build a team. Equally, there are too many who are sacked when doing well. You can understand why the likes of Tranmere, Wolves or Sunderland sack their managers when they are struggling – but when you’re pushing for promotion?
Most of the time this doesn’t go well. The club fail to get any real momentum going, particularly when the decision is taken at the tail end of the season – the damage is done. A lot of people reading this will be thinking of one name – Charlton’s very own Phil Parkinson.
I was not a fan of Parkinson – I’m still not. He did relatively well with little resources but his blind faith in players who turned in poor performances week in, week out meant he lost the respect of better players, the fans and ultimately the board. I’ll never forget meeting Chris Solly – an exciting youngster eager to make his breakthrough in the team, shirking away from a comment on the performance of his rival for the fullback spot, Simon Francis. When asked what was going on and a suggestion that Francis was not good enough, Solly rolled his eyes, put his head down and said “I know. But he keeps playing him”. It’s probably worth noting that Solly, in his first full season, is seen as a shoe-in for the fans Player Of The Year award this year.
What was perhaps more telling was after another hefty defeat at home, prior to new money invested in the club, when suggesting to Charlton’s then owner (and saviour) Mr Murray that Parkinson had to go, that he’d start passing around the bucket – i.e. We want to, but can’t afford to.
With these sentiments, and new money in the club, it surprised a lot of us that Powell was still there at the start of the season given his awful start to management in the latter half of last year. What surprised us more was that the money from the Jenkinson sale (reported to be £1million) was largely given for reinvestment. It’s a credit to the board that they understood Powell’s situation when he took over, and have had faith in the man to come good. He’s not disappointed.
With some tactical offers, some persuasive conversations and a charm that most people fall for, Powell was able to build a team – his team – capable of challenging for the league. We did not know quite how this season would go. Most of us thought that it would take a while to gel, and a play-off place would be a good season in the circumstances. Boy how we were wrong.
With 12 games left of this remarkable season, we find ourselves sitting rather pretty at the top of the table. 13 points clear of second, a whopping 17 points clear of third. Most impressively, the team shows no sign of letting up. They want the records. They want the trophy. Most of all they all want the chance to prove themselves. The majority of the first team are young and talented. They were also largely unproven until this season.
Powell has shown that he can build a club with his ethos, his desire and his passion.
That club is Charlton Athletic. It won’t be easy or simple. There will be problems along the way. Just make sure you remember the name, because this great club is finally on the right path, heading back to where it should be.
Written by Sunny Seabrooke, We Are Going Up’s Charlton Athletic blogger
Sunny tweets at @sunnyseabrooke