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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 1 day ago
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By ESPN Staff
Dec 18, 2006

The Charlton corporation

No news was good news. For 15 years, Charlton prospered outside the limelight with the sort of quiet consolidation and admirable industry to confound the headline makers. They were easily forgotten, often underestimated and all the more successful for it.

Then the Alan Curbishley era ended. Paradoxically, they are far more newsworthy with an unknown at the helm. Tempting as it is at Upton Park now, particularly after his remarkable managerial debut there, to regard Curbishley as a miracle worker, his time at Charlton was a tale of incremental progress that many a small business would be eager to emulate.

Without him, Charlton eyed European expansion. There were suggestions that their ambitions extended beyond the Premiership and that a first UEFA Cup campaign was feasible. Hence, perhaps, the decision to allow Iain Dowie to spend two years' transfer budget at once. With the stakes raised for a second time by the £1.7 billion television deal that comes into effect next season, a club that could budget for relegation in the past became deeply fearful.

So they took the only logical course of action: panic.

An internal review couched in the vocabulary of middle management, which Dowie apparently encouraged, resulted in the 41-year-old's departure. Les Reed was therefore promoted to implement vital procedures, or something such. Except that this middle manager's coup left him somewhat uneasy; when Dowie returned to collect his belongings, he was escorted around the premises while Reed was conspicuous by his absence. While manager and captain (Luke Young) apparently wished each other well in a phone call, there were no such fond farewells between Dowie and his usurper.

After his appointment the menaingless business jargon continued. Following a 5-1 thrashing by Tottenham, Reed described a dressing-room debate as 'an interactive discussion'. That all suggested that, say, Djimi Traore brought a flip chart or Amdy Faye highlighted the rapid growth in defensive errors on a graph. It hardly sounds like the hairdryer treatment.

But perhaps an aura is required to dispense managerial wisdom with such ferocity. In Reed, it is hard to think of a Premiership manager of comparable anonymity; perhaps Steve Wigley or Stuart Gray, but the former was culpable for Southampton's relegation in 2005 and the latter, but for his sacking, might have been responsible for demotion sooner. For Charlton, the omens are not good.

Their attitude this season appears to have ignored one fundamental feature of last season: Curbishley preserved their Premiership status by playing some defensive, attritional football in his final few months at The Valley.

So, convenient scapegoat as he made, it was simplistic to regard Dowie's dismissal as the answer to their ills. Instead, the former Crystal Palace manager himself may have been part of the problem; his signings certainly were.

Traore may have been unfortunate to receive a red card on his debut against West Ham, but he has scarcely improved, and a typically clumsy challenge presented Liverpool with an early penalty on Saturday. Matching him blunder for blunder at the back is Souleymane Diawara, a common denominator in all too many goals conceded. Faye, another to fit the template for athletes that seemed to suit Dowie, was recruited to be the midfield enforcer and has ended up a rare player booed by a tolerant crowd.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, signed to partner Darren Bent, appeared to have vanished under Reed before reappearing against Liverpool (though it is intriguing to ponder what the opinionated Dutchman could have contributed to an 'interactive discussion').

The only exceptions are Scott Carson, without whom the goal difference would be still worse, and Andy Reid, an oasis of creativity. Nonetheless, the use of the Irishman as a second striker, at the end of a midfield diamond and as both a left-sided and central player highlight the continuing search for a successful formula in midfield.

Dowie can be blamed for their arrival, but Reed's record is no better than that of his predecessor. He has only taken four points from six games, compared to the Ulsterman's eight from 12. However, while there is a sense Charlton were unfortunate not to take more points in matches under Dowie - especially against Watford, Fulham and Aston Villa, they have been increasingly abject under his successor. Eight goals have been conceded in their last two games and, in particular against Liverpool, it could have been more.

It is utterly bemusing, therefore, that Reed has just been given a new contract. Baffling, but not quite inexplicable given a need to suggest his regime would have longevity. The sudden availability of Alan Pardew, the former Charlton player who could offer a combination of continuity and the strong leadership of an established manager, was in turn a consequence of Curbishley's return to football. The new deal given to a man many regard as an interim manager was overshadowed by unflattering headlines; though Reed had praised Steven Gerrard, it certainly wasn't a mutual appreciation society.

And for many among the supporters at The Valley, however, Reed's signature to stay came as more unwelcome tidings. No news was certainly preferable.


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