Motivator Dowie had no margin for error

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The Independent Football

Alan Curbishley spent 15 years in charge of Charlton Athletic. Iain Dowie leaves the club after just 15 matches. The symmetry could not be starker. For a club renowned for its considered approach, its family-orientation and its desire to do the right thing, it was an apparently shockingly premature decision to award the Irishman first prize in this season's Premiership sack race.

But Dowie was not just under pressure because he took on the considerable challenge of replacing the man who had, by Curbishley's not unreasonable claim, built Charlton. The legacy, with seven successive seasons in the Premiership and an impressive stadium at The Valley, with ambitious plans to expand both the ground and the training facilities, appeared rich.

Except, perhaps, that it wasn't. The squad Dowie inherited did look short of quality and numbers. The departures of Alexei Smertin and Danny Murphy during the last campaign did not help while there appeared to be few options in attack or central defence - especially as Dowie wanted to reshape the way the team played to make it more expansive. A fateful decision was taken. Charlton, so careful for so long, went on a spending spree. The new broom would be given new tools to do the job. Maybe, also, this had as much to do with the curious management structure the club had put in place following Curbishley's departure as the desire of his replacement.

A football agent, Andrew Mills, came in and was given the title of general manager while Les Reed returned to The Valley as senior coach. Immediately, it raised questions as to whether or not the personnel were being imposed on Dowie - and whether it would work.

After all, the 41-year-old did not appear to have been Charlton's first choice. Numerous other candidates were interviewed with, at one time or another, three other managers favourite to take over. There was Peter Taylor (ironically now fighting for his future after replacing Dowie at Crystal Palace), Billy Davies, who eventually joined Derby County and Phil Parkinson - who was denied permission to speak to Charlton by Colchester United and is now at Hull City.

For Dowie, a forward-thinking, innovative manager - and a hands-on coach - it might have appeared logical and certainly Charlton put their faith in what they had created. No fewer than 10 deals were completed before the transfer window closed. They included £3.7m for the Senegal defender Souleymane Diawara, £3m on Andy Reid, £2m each for Amdy Faye and Djimi Traoré - and £1m to bring Simon Walton from Leeds United, who has since been loaned to Ipswich. Charlton, who had been so careful in nurturing a wage structure, also dramatically increased their salary bill. Free-transfer signing Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and on-loan Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson came in, while Luke Young and Darren Bent were handed lucrative new deals. It was an expensive summer and one that probably had Curbishley raising his eyebrows.

To do this Charlton, however, made a bold decision - they spent a large portion of next year's budget, taking on far greater debt than they had previously risked. At such a well-husbanded club it meant one thing: relegation from the Premiership was simply unthinkable, especially with a new television contract kicking in next year. It was, according to the chairman, Richard Murray, a "risk worth taking". It also meant there was no margin for error, and that Dowie had to hit the ground running. But Charlton did not. Injuries struck hard, Dowie could not get his first-choice team on to the pitch, and results were poor. Suddenly, Charlton were shipping goals and losing points and although they have made it into the last eight of the League Cup - a cup run always eluded Curbishley - that pales into insignificance.

Inevitably, stories started to circulate of player unhappiness. Only four turned up to what was claimed to be a bonding session - but that was mischievous as it took place during an international week and was far from an organised night out. Nevertheless there were grumblings at Dowie's methods even if some staff at the club believed he was a breath of fresh air. Dawn swimming sessions, boxing and hour after hour of video analysis were new to Charlton. And because the team were losing the methods brought in were questioned.

Some complained they simply did not spend enough time with the ball. It was paralysis by analysis. Dowie is also an intense figure, he speaks well and is passionate. He has an expansive mind - but there are those in the game, including other Premiership managers, who seriously question whether he is little more than a good motivator. And when those motivational skills waned, there appeared to be little else. They point to what happened at Palace.

Maybe it is a harsh assessment but it was also interesting to note that Charlton were tipped by many - this reporter included - to be relegated this season. It is an indignity that they have not had to put up with for the last few years under Curbishley. But, right now, those predictions look like coming true and that is a risk Charlton cannot take.