It was a parting shot, but a telling one, at the end of Alan Pardew's first post-match press conference as the manager of Charlton Athletic. The question was whether, like his two short-lived predecessors, Iain Dowie and Les Reed, he would be called "head coach". The answer was accompanied by the hard glare that disconcerts those who have marked Pardew down as just a nice guy. "I think anyone who knows me will know I'm a manager," he shot back before a smart exit stage left.
Fools will not be suffered gladly or otherwise by the new incumbent, and those who do not shape up will be shipped out in what promises to be a busy month of transfer activity. What Pardew has been looking for in the few training sessions permitted by a hectic fixture schedule is the sort of character required for a relegation fight. He found some deficiency in that area at West Ham, and although that is now a problem for his successor in the musical chairs of London management, Alan Curbishley, Charlton's third head-man in seven weeks, acknowledges that in an era of football millionaires, motivation is harder than ever.
"If you look through society you could argue that in a lot of trades perhaps the world's an easier place," he said. "There's more money around and that hunger and desire has to come from within. I'll quickly find out with the players here whether that's in them. For example, someone like Matty Holland could inherit £40 million tomorrow but the hunger and burning desire in him to win games will never cease. It's those characters that you want in your team and the ones who are not so strong will go."
Like Gilbert and Sullivan's Lord High Executioner, "He's got them on his list/And they'll none of them be missed"; least of all those extravagant signings of Dowie's who have failed to live up to reputation.
The period immediately after Curbishley left, when a new manager was required for the first time in 15 years, always carried the potential for difficulty, all the more so given how poorly Charlton played in the last three months of the season. The club were convinced that the way forward involved a change of structure, with the former agent Andrew Mills brought in as "general manager, football". As the chief executive Peter Varney explains it: "There's so much involved in running a Premiership club now, we wanted the coaching staff to be able to concentrate on working with the players. Secondly, it's such a global market with so many agents involved that [chairman] Richard Murray wanted help in that area. Thirdly, each game and the intensity of it is so important that youth development can get a bit neglected. So we came up with a new structure which we thought would work, with a head coach, an assistant and a development coach."
No fewer than 20 applicants for the top job were interviewed, but the chosen candidate - believed to be Billy Davies, now of Derby - unexpectedly turned it down. On the same day, Dowie left Crystal Palace and was quickly appointed by Charlton, leading to a writ from the Palace chairman, Simon Jordan. Much to the surprise of Curbishley, who believed there was little money in the kitty, Dowie was given an unprecedented £11m to spend but of his 10 recruits, only Andy Reid (currently injured) and Scott Carson, the young goalkeeper on loan from Liverpool, have been a success.
It has emerged that there was much more than bad results behind his dismissal. The chairman was sufficiently concerned to order an internal review, and Varney admits "there were lots of issues" but will not confirm or deny allegations that Dowie allowed his brother Bob into the dressing-room, or as part of his unorthodox coaching methods had the squad playing cricket when Reed was insistent they should be working on their defending after conceding three goals at Chesterfield.
The board's clear mistake, after sacking Dowie 12 League games into the season, was to appoint Reed on a permanent basis before discovering that too many of the squad would not play for him, resulting in performances at home to Wycombe and at Middlesbrough that Varney called "totally unacceptable".
So Pardew became the acceptable face of the Valley, realistically offering the best chance of either escaping relegation, slim as that is, or earning promotion next season, as he did for both Reading and West Ham. "The scenario in terms of the squad is probably as good as West Ham's if not better," he said, "but of course it's the status that's the problem, so the challenge of keeping Charlton in the Premiership is probably greater than I've taken on elsewhere.
"But there are so many games to play and three or four quick wins can change things. My philosophy is a much more positive philosophy than most managers', and I hope to bring that to this team. We need to stop conceding goals obviously but the big thing for us is to score more, whatever that takes. We're gonna have to put our foot on the pedal and have a go."
Pardew added: "The one thing this club has always been about is honest commitment. I think that's what the fans of Charlton want, whether you're a silky wide player or a tough-tackling centre-half, and that's what we need to show them."Reuse content