I know this blog is devoted to my year abroad (and there’ll be another post about Naples in the next few days). But this morning’s news that my football club, Charlton Athletic, sacked our wonderful manager Chris Powell made me so incensed that I felt the need to write a quick piece about him and the direction English football is moving in general with the new generation of owners.
It’s easy to see why so many fans – of all clubs – are turning their backs on English football. Owners – like Charlton owner Roland Duchatelet, who owns 5 football clubs in total - swan in, change the team name (Hull), the stadium name (Newcastle) or the team colours (Cardiff), sack the immensely popular manager (Cardiff, Charlton and many others) or even move city (Wimbledon, now Milton Keynes Dons).
They tend to either be failed politicians (like Duchatelet), dictators (like Shinawatra, ex-Manchester City), fraudsters or tax-dodgers, like the recently-jailed Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung, Leeds’ Massimo Cellino, and QPR’s Flavio Briatore. The problem is not just that they don’t know much about football. It’s that the likes of Roland Duchatelet are convinced that they do and undermine managers’ authority by insisting. It was this – Duchatelet wanting to pick the team – that led to the row which brought about Powell’s sacking. However successful Duchatelet may be in the world of business, how can you expect anyone to know who to pick and which formula will bring success for teams in 5 different divisions? Surely that's what a Manager is for, especially one like Powell who saw for himself in his 3 years bringing Charlton from struggling in League 1 to The Championship what works and what doesn't.
But sadly, it’s a rarity nowadays to find a Chairman, like Middlesbrough’s Steve Gibson, who is both prepared to give managers time to build teams and prepared to leave them to it, not interfering in tactics or team selections. It’s especially depressing for my club to be in the hands of control-freak owner unwilling to do either of the above given how long we were lucky enough to have a board who backed Alan Curbishley for long enough for him to become the 3rd longest-serving Premier League Manager ever.
Powell didn’t just bring us two seasons of exceptional results. He brought more positive, attacking football than under his predecessors Alan Pardew and Phil Parkinson. And he also made us feel proud to be Charlton fans again, following an embarrassing period of disastrous transfers and 2 relegations in 3 years since Curbishley’s departure, by reviving the fight in his players that saw them grab countless last-minute equalisers and plucky away wins. Proud not only when we were the only Football League side to get over 100 points, beating Cardiff 5-4, Barnsley 6-0 away or enjoying similarly special results. Even when I saw us lose 4-0 to Fulham in the FA Cup in 2012, I was proud of how much the players put in and matched opponents who were then 2 divisions above us, even if the scoreline suggested otherwise.
After masterminding our 9th place finish in our first season back in the Championship, Powell told us in his post-game speech: ‘We’ve got our Charlton back’. We did indeed have our Charlton back. The Charlton grabbing the kind of results and showing the kind of spirit we hadn’t seen since the Curbishley era. Powell kicked every ball from the sidelines and showed how much the club meant to him, crying tears of joy on the pitch after promotion and swinging from the crossbar to celebrate reaching the FA Cup Quarter Finals. But then this new owner arrived. Lots of fans like myself gave Mr Duchatelet time. Even after selling our star player on transfer deadline day for a cut price without leaving time for a replacement. Even after bringing in a hopeless goalkeeper from Standard Liege (another club he owns) and insisting that Powell played him ahead of our long-trusted number one. But this is the final straw.
You might point to our current league position, say ‘Ultimately it’s all about results’ and that I’m being overly sentimental towards someone who I admired even before he became our Manager after 9 seasons with us as a player. But we're just 4 points from safety with 5 (!) games in hand and have been steadily improving since Xmas (the Sheffield United game aside). Even if this new manager does keep us up, things won’t be the same. If he keeps us up, it’s likely to just be short-term success built on loan signings. That's what Duchatelet has made it clear he foresees, as well as Charlton becoming a feeder club for Liege, who he has already warned we might sell our best players to. Charlton fans know only too well from our time under Parkinson that you cannot build a successful (or even surviving) Championship team around loan players. It was building a team of young, hungry, home-grown players plus the odd experienced one (Captain Johnnie Jackson, Yann Kermorgant and Andy Hughes) that transformed fortunes at the Valley and got us promoted. Integral to that was one of the brightest, most promising managers in the country. Now, however, no longer with us not because a bigger club snapped him up (as I worried) but because our owner sacked him. Absolutely shocking!