BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Charlton are a big fish in League One – but that still hasn’t put them at the top of the food chain in the division.
The list of managers who have not been able to catch a break under the ownership of Roland Duchatelet is an extensive one. Russell Slade and Karl Robinson, experienced and savvy operators in the English lower leagues, were not able to win promotion back to the Championship.
Can it be third season lucky for the Addicks under Lee Bowyer? Even just the next few months will tell us if he has been handed the tools needed to land the big one.
Takeover talks have dragged on and Duchatelet – who wants out – has cut the budget. Bowyer, 41, was caretaker boss from March when Robinson quit to take the Oxford United job. Once again he has stepped into the breach with the club’s long-term future not exactly clear.
The former Addicks youngster – who had a stellar playing career at Leeds United, Newcastle, West Ham and Birmingham – is back. And that means less time for fishing.
After retirement the keen angler bought a 12-acre lake in France – which holds 200 carp – that he renamed Etang De Bows. He then purchased another site, Lac Des Lesmont.
It was only after his crash course in management last season – hauling around Charlton’s play-off fortunes before they lost in the knockout to Shrewsbury Town – that he realised it could fill a post-retirement void.
“I loved playing and training every day – the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the travelling,” said Bowyer, who hung up his boots in 2012. “I was in Europe quite a lot. I’d only be at home one or two days a week.
“That half put me off coming onto this side, because you are not getting that reward of playing on a Saturday or Tuesday.
But I am seeing players improve and passing my knowledge on – you can see with someone like Joe Aribo, he is coming on so much.
“That’s kept me interested – and winning.
You have to be a winner. When I was playing, I had to win. Fishing, for me, was just a release. I could get away and hide, recharge the batteries.
“The reason I went into fishing – the business side of it – was because I was just sitting at home. You can’t just watch TV all day.
“I used to go out to France every two or three weeks – to show my face – now I can’t do that. It’s had to adapt, but there are people out there who run it for me. I don’t have to be out there.
“In the summer I was meant to have two weeks fishing but I cancelled one because I had to go on a coaching course in Wales. I’m losing that precious time – but I’d much rather be doing this [managing].
“I’ve seen the team improve so much in a short space of time. I’d be silly really not to want to carry on after the positive things that came out of it. But it is a new season, that’s all gone now, and we’ll see where we go from here.”
Bowyer has been unwavering in his belief that Charlton can have success on the pitch despite the rift that exits between a substantial section of the fanbase and Duchatelet.
His appointment, coupled with Johnnie Jackson as his sidekick, instantly generated good will and support – something Robinson was never able to truly achieve despite his attempts to ingratiate himself.
Bowyer is accepted as a Charlton man.
“I genuinely love the club – it’s where I started as a kid. Promotion would mean a lot.
“I want to do what Curbs [Alan Curbishley] did – take them to the Premier League. You need backing, I understand that, but that’s my aim. That’s why I’m here. It’s what I want to do. Is it possible? I don’t know.
“If we add a few more to the squad I believe we’ll have as good a chance as anybody else in the league.”
Ezri Konsa and Josh Magennis have been notable sales – bringing in money for Duchatelet during the financially lean summer months.
But Bowyer has already stated he expects Lyle Taylor to provide a sharper edge in attack, along with cuter hold-up play. The snapping former Swansea and Bolton midfielder Darren Pratley has also been picked up on a free.
“That’s what we missed last season – a player like Pratley,” said Bowyer. “A man in midfield. An experienced player who is going to work hard winning the ball back and is physical.
“No disrespect to our players, they are all nice footballers, but you sometimes need an aggressive, horrible player. Don’t expect him to go past three or four – he won’t. But he is going to win it back a lot quicker than we did before. We lacked that against Shrewsbury in the play-offs.”
Curbishley’s success at Charlton was achieved during a sustained period of stability.
The Valley had been the backdrop to numerous protests and that unrest has arguably only lacked the same visibility due to dwindling crowds and a large portion of regulars staying away while the Belgian businessman is still at the helm.
Bowyer’s focus remains steadfastly on first-team matters.
“I can only talk about the short space of time I’ve been here. I’ve seen the fans protesting and a hell of a lot of negativity around the place – the professionalism got worse.
“All I’ve done is try and recreate what I had at previous clubs, like bringing everybody together.
“All fans ask for is that you give 100 per cent. I’ve witnessed that throughout my whole career, because I wasn’t the best player in the world. But every fan, if you asked them, would say they liked me – because I gave 100 per cent.
“When you can see players not giving that, it brings negativity.
“That ain’t acceptable. You’re either all going in the same direction, or the ones that aren’t prepared to go in that direction you leave them behind. Simple as that.
“I tidied up things I didn’t think were professional around the place.”
The League One fixture schedule waits for no team. Charlton get an early indicator of how prepared they are for the challenges that lie ahead with tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off at Sunderland.
Bowyer admits most of his starting line-up was in place by Monday morning. He added: “I had 95 or 96 per cent of it. There were maybe one or two things I needed to look at this week.
“ We’ve done a lot of work on the training pitch this week regarding our shape.”
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