Bob Peeters' instant connection turns Charlton into surprise packages in the Championship

Life Beyond the Premier League: The London club are faring much better than expected

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The Independent Online

Bob Peeters has not got much wrong since taking over as Charlton Athletic manager, yet there was one awkward moment after a game at Rotherham when he forgot to shake the hand of the combustible home manager, Steve Evans. “Afterwards I went to his office and said, ‘You’re angry because I didn’t shake your hand, sorry’. Here, you have a beer and you talk about it.”

The post-match custom of a drink with the opposition manager is something the former Belgium striker admires about the English game and there is much else to enjoy right now with his seventh-placed Charlton side unbeaten after 11 Championship matches.

It is not bad for a 40-year-old in his first managerial job in England and a team who were, in Peeters’ words, “one of the bookies’ favourites to go down”. And it is even more impressive when you consider the recent upheaval at The Valley, with Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet’s January takeover, Chris Powell’s sacking in March, replacement Jose Riga’s brief tenure and a summer influx of nine new players.

Peeters, sitting in his office at the club’s Sparrows Lane training ground, reflects that early home wins over Wigan and Derby were key to building confidence in his newly formed team, but he adds: “We have to be realistic. If you compare our budget with the teams aiming for promotion there is a big difference, but as long as we’re up there, we’ll try to stay with them.”

Peeters was working for Belgian top-flight club Waasland-Beveren when the offer came from Duchâtelet in May to manage Charlton and he did not think twice. “There was a click on both sides,” he says of his first meeting with his compatriot.

Charlton fans might have more reservations about a man who also owns Standard Liège in Belgium, Spain’s Alcorcon and Germany’s Carl Zeiss Jena. Some fans had feared Charlton could be used as a feeder club, yet Peeters is relaxed about Duchâtelet’s way of working.

“We have a big scouting network,” Peeters says. “I always have my say about players coming in or going out, but in the end it is the owner who has the last word because he has the money.” (His own word was evidently heard, though, in the summer signing of striker Igor Vetokele, with whom he worked in his first two coaching posts at Gent and Cercle Brugge and who has scored six goals for Charlton.)

What is encouraging for Peeters is Duchâtelet’s wish for sustainable progress. “The goal is to go back to the Premier League,” says Peeters. “We are building a good, solid foundation.” The club have spent £800,000 on a new pitch and are planning to redevelop the training ground. Peeters is impressed by the quality the club’s academy produces and has already given first-team debuts to England Under-19 defender Joe Gomez and 17-year-old Karlan Ahearne-Grant.

As for Peeters’ own adjustment, it helps that he knew the Championship from two years spent playing for Millwall between 2003 and 2005.

He is a burly figure yet there are brains to go with the brawn. “I was not the quickest player so I had to think quickly,” continues Peeters. “I am only 40, I’ve been coaching for four years and still have a lot to learn. I have just finished reading Alex Ferguson’s autobiography and you see the way he progressed as a manager through the years.”

He is learning how best to handle his players. “You sometimes need to kick their arse and sometimes you need to cuddle other people,” he says. Right now he seems to have the balance just right.

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