In a week that has seen so many fans of a variety of clubs calling for their respective managers heads, I would like to send a word of warning to said fans. As a Charlton fan, it is fair to say that over the last few years, we have had some of our darkest days, losing our ground excluded. It certainly hasn’t been a great time to be a Charlton fan, and finally, after five or six seasons, it finally doesn’t feel too optimistic to look up the leagues instead of down. Our dramatic slide all started with a change of manager.
Some of the managers that fans are suggesting they would like axed include Steve Kean, Arsene Wenger, Alex McLeish and looking down to the Championship names like Paul Jewell. Whilst I understand that the respective clubs have had their managers for a varying number of years, have different aims and goals, and certainly different money with which to act, I think that the Charlton story of the last few years can be linked quite closely to each and every one.
After seven successful years in the top flight, with Alan Curbishley, manager of fifteen years, slowly building the team year by year, with little money, Charlton were becoming established in the top flight. Seasons went by where they dominated many of the teams, one season in particular where their record against the other London teams, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal especially, was very impressive, and slowly but surely they were creeping up the league. Similar to Stoke or Fulham of recent seasons, they slowly built up the calibre of players that were playing, combining them with some youth talent, and were shaping into a side that could perhaps push for Europe.
The board decided that a change was needed. Being a younger fan I don’t know exactly why this was, but they wanted a change. Perhaps the visions of the owners and manager were different, perhaps they felt that Curbishley had run his course or perhaps they simply wanted the club to have a facelift. Whichever of the above, or any other reason for that matter, Curbishley left at the end of the 2005-2006 season, and was replaced by Iain Dowie. Dowie was given more money that season than Curbishley had had for many years, possibly ever, and began spending that money almost immediately.
By November, 12 matches into the Premier League season, and with only two wins, Dowie was shown the door. Rightly or wrongly, his managerial career at the Addicks was short lived, and with only Darren Bent to have scored more than one goal, Charlton were languishing at the bottom of the league with only eight points. So began a horrible slippery slope, made similarly famous by clubs such as Leeds, Manchester City, and more recently Southampton and the two Sheffield sides. After Dowie came Reed, Reed gave way to Pardew, and Pardew gave way to Phil Parkinson. Five seasons and four managers later, Charlton found themselves in league one again, and somewhat surprisingly, allbeit after a couple of dodgy results, Phil Parkinson was sacked in January, and a few days later, Charlton legend Chris Powell, a novice in managerial terms, took the reins.
It’s fair to say that Powell limped through to the end of that season. It’s even fairer, for those who know the team, to say that it was the team that limped through, many aware that they would not succeed in the plans Powell had for the club, and were just looking ahead to May when they would be shown the door. And so was the case, with tens and twenties of players arriving and leaving the club in a huge summer overhaul with very little money. All positions were replaced, many positions were covered by a second player, and Powell began the difficult job of shaping together a completely new set of players. But they were his players.
This season has so far been a complete revelation. Perhaps the most important characteristic that separates the Charlton squad of 2011-12 from the previous few seasons, is they look like they care. This feeling is shared with the fans, who also can see that feeling radiating through the squad. This was no more apparent than when Charlton played Fulham during the FA Cup. 7000 fans made their way across London, fully expecting a loss. 4-0 was a flattering scoreline for Fulham, and the Charlton players more than held their own for large parts of the match. At the end of the game, Powell collected his players in the middle of the pitch, and together they walked over to the away fans, not one of the 7000 had left, and the fans and players shared a moment of mutual acknowledgment. The fans acknowledged that they finally had a set of players that cared for the club, whilst the players realised just how much their effort was appreciated. Perhaps now, a new era for CAFC begins.
Now despite the fact that Charlton are finally looking up again, I think many things that have occurred since Curbishley’s exit, should act as warnings for some fans calling for their managers heads. Wenger, like Curbishley, has brought some of the biggest success to the club he manages. At Arsenal, he has built up an ethic of great flowing football, and the team continue to perform to a high level. Whilst there are issues at the back, and the calibre of players this year perhaps looks at its weakest for a while, they are still in the Champions League, and are still in the fight for fourth spot in the Premier League.
The question Arsenal fans have to ask, is what will a new manager bring? Apart from disrupting a squad that are clearly working hard for the manager, can he really bring in such a strong new method or new players that it’s going to make a huge difference? Whilst Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for a few years now, and this is clearly something they aim to get to every year, the squad is reforming. Wiltshire is still to return, Song is looking stronger in the middle, and Van Persie continues to work wonders up front. Wenger has worked miracles for the club, and perhaps it’s not time to say goodbye just yet.
Villa fans were certainly never keen about the Alex McLeish appointment anyway. A similar scenario to Dowie taking over at Charlton having been at Palace. However, results have not been too bad, and with limited resources and a fairly limited squad, he seems to be doing okay. Of course, for a few years Villa have beenin or pushing for Europe, and this doesn’t look like happening this year, but give him another summer, whilst you’re not in any danger, and like the title says, be careful what you wish for. Continual changes of management could simply disrupt the little rhythm that does currently exist, and suddenly drag you into a relegation fight that at present you’re not in much danger of being in.
Throughout this season, Steve Kean has handled some of the most disgusting abuse with the most professionalism I have seen from a manager. I am in agreement with many of the fans, that he is not a proven manager, and Allardyce would have been more successful, but through the most horrific circumstances, he continues to hold his head high, the players are rallying for him, and Blackburn, for the most part, have played a very good standard of football for their position in the league. Once again, you must ask what a new manager is going to bring to that squad. Blackburn have a young set of players who are learning the game together and playing a good style of football. With the defence strengthened, and Robinson continuing strongly in goal, there’s no reason they won’t climb the league with Kean.
Ipswich have seen an awful slide down the division through this year. With the leakiest defence in the league, and a group of experienced players on decent wages failing to perform, it’s hard to see where their success is going to come. But with the end of the January transfer window fast approaching, isn’t it now too late to be calling for Jewell’s head? The team is not good enough. Over recent games, he has selected more of the youth players, in a decision similar to one Lambert made at their neighbours Norwich City. The youngsters look more hungry, more passionate, and perhaps with them now taking the reins, Ipswich will drag themselves back out of trouble.
I’m not saying that sacking a manager is never right. I just think that in their current situations, these clubs need to be careful what they wish for, because the slide down the leagues can be quick and unforgiving.
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