Evening Standard

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Chris Powell has been a manager barely a month but one thing is certain: he is not for turning. There is no question of abandoning the football principles for which he was considered to be a very cultured left-back, nor his reputation as the nice man of football.

Last week could not have been rougher. After starting with four victories, Saturday’s home defeat by Exeter followed the loss at Hartlepool, pushing the side out of the play-off places.

“League One teams are terribly fit and can be quite physical,” the managerial rookie tells me. “I want us to play football in the right way, to pass the ball, and look after that football. Because, as Xavi said recently, what’s the reason for being a footballer if you don’t want to pass the ball?

“English football has been built on effort and hard work. That will never change because that is our culture. What is changing is people believing that you can actually play football. You can’t just walk in and say: ‘Right, let’s just play like Barcelona or Arsenal’. Coming halfway through the season it can be hard to impose on the players straight away because the games come thick and fast. But you can, through repetition, instil that confidence and belief in players. If you can pass that ball to a red shirt in an advance position along the ground, great.”

Nor will Powell change his management style which will be tested again tomorrow night, when Charlton travel to Notts County. The match will pit the only two black managers in the top four divisions against one another as Powell comes up against Paul Ince.

“A lot of people have said I’m a good man and will give you the time of day. I won’t change from that, absolutely not. That’s who I am, that’s my personality,” says Powell.

“Players can always walk into my room. I’ve said: ‘If you have anything that you want to ask me, knock on the door’. I can’t do my job without them. I want them to work hard, be disciplined and be happy to come into a good working environment. People have this template of a manager who throws cups and snarls – I am not a cup thrower.”

But the 41-year-old warns his players should not be fooled into thinking he’s a soft touch. “I’ve said to them: ‘I’ve got this good personality but I will tell you in no uncertain terms what I want’,” he says.

Not a surprise then that he does not draw his managerial wisdom from Jim Smith, who managed him at Derby and regretted selling him to Charlton.

“Jim was a cup thrower,” recalls Powell. “With Jim it was sink or swim. If you couldn’t take the harsh words from him, then you would sink. Not many managers have that style now.”

One who does not is Sven-Goran Eriksson. The Swede may not have taken Powell to the 2002 World Cup but did call him up for five friendlies leading up to the tournament.

“He is my mentor,” adds Powell. “His style was totally different to what I had been accustomed to. He was organised and very studious. Everyone thinks managers should be loud, very prominent on the touchline, having a go at the fourth official and the referee at all times. He wasn’t like that.”

Powell was first struck by Eriksson’s style when he called him up to play Spain at Villa Park in 2001, the first Charlton player in 30 years to wear England colours. He says: “Normally you’re used to the dressing room being very loud, the music playing. At Villa Park it was so quiet. It was Sven’s way of saying to everyone: ‘You just take care of yourself. I will leave you with your own thoughts until you go out and warm up’. He made everyone feel at ease. It was a great experience.”

And it was Eriksson that Powell turned to last month when the new Charlton owners and Newcastle came calling.

Powell had gone to Leicester to work for Nigel Pearson and was happy to continue as Eriksson’s first and reserve-team coach, after a brief spell as caretaker manager between the two regimes. After listening to Eriksson’s advice, he decided not to join Alan Pardew at Newcastle.

“Sven didn’t want me to go,” he reveals. “Then, just before the Sheffield Wednesday game, on January 12, I got a phone call saying that Charlton would like to speak to me. I never applied for the job. Sven said: ‘If it is as manager, go and speak to them. I know it’s a club that’s close to your heart and, if you can start at a place like that, fine. As a coach, no. You’re doing that here. And I want you here’.”

The next day, there was an interview lasting an hour and 15 minutes at the new owner’s home in central London. “I met Tony Jimenez, then chairman, Michael Slater, the new chairman, and the chief executive, Steve Kavanagh,” says Powell. “I sold myself to them, they sold themselves to me.”

Powell clearly did an excellent job for, after the interview, the new owners told him: “We’d like you to stick around so, if we decide on you, we can start talking about the contract.”

Powell, who had planned to get the train back to Leicester, decided to walk round the shops in central London. Within half an hour he got a phone call saying he’d got the job and a contract until the summer of 2014 was quickly agreed.

“I was stunned, ecstatic, nervous. So, instead of going further north to Newcastle, I’ve come home. I suppose it’s fate,” he says.

His and Charlton’s stars are so clearly aligned that this is his fourth spell at the club, the previous three having been as a player. And, while some do not like starting their managerial career at the club where they were revered, Powell feels this is an advantage.

He explains: “I’ve looked at it and said maybe it was right that I start here because I may get a bit of time initially. What you also need is understanding upstairs, which I have.”

Powell and the Charlton owners agree that the club’s problems cannot be solved by a quick fix.

“The long-term strategy is to get this club back to the Premier League,” he says. “But you have to get out of League One first. If it happens this season, great. It will take a lot of hard work. Brighton have set the standard. Southampton will be strong because of their squad, their resources and their stadium. But we’ve got to play them home and away, crucial games.”

Powell is well aware of the weight of history he carries because of their achievements under Alan Curbishley, the man who brought him to Charlton in 1998 and transformed the club’s fortunes before leaving in 2006.

He says: “The second season back in the top flight, we finished seventh and people were saying: ‘Wow they’ve arrived’. We all grew as men, as a team, more importantly we grew as a club. And that was fantastic for this club after being nomadic, moving to Selhurst and then Upton Park. The beginning of the end was when Curbs said: ‘I need to move on’. That really hit the club because he was, as much as the supporters, the heart and soul, really Charlton. The rest is history.”

Yet, as Powell seeks to right Charlton history, he cannot help but reflect that his own might have been very different but for Jurgen Klinsmann.

“In 1994 I was out of contract at Southend and Steve Perryman [then assistant to Tottenham manager Ossie Ardiles] called me the morning I was going on holiday to Portugal,” reveals Powell. “He said: ‘We’re very keen on you coming to White Hart Lane’. To hear that from such an iconic Spurs player, I had the best holiday you could ever have. Sadly, they didn’t go for me and went for Klinsmann instead. They had ideas of getting three or four players but in the end went for the marquee signing.”

Although the Lambeth-born defender grew up in south London he was drawn to Tottenham because “it was the first major football stadium I ever saw in my life”.

He has fond memories of his first game there in 1982, a 1-0 win over Notts County, with Steve Archibald scoring.

Ironically, in his first spell with Charlton, the only two goals he scored were against Spurs, one at White Hart Lane in a 1-0 win. Powell has watched Tottenham’s “remarkable progress” this year with great interest.

“It’s amazing what’s going on there. But I’m more inclined to worry about Charlton,” he says. “If we do well and stay in the top six and Spurs get in the Champions League Final at Wembley, it would be an ideal double.”


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