BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Furlough, Total embargo. Wage cap. Even an experienced football operator like Steve Gallen was faced with some new things in 2020 – none of them pleasant.
No wonder the 46-year-old, who has been at Charlton Athletic since April 2017, has described the last transfer window as his most testing yet.
Gallen had to deal with the stress and strain of East Street Investment’s sham of a takeover in January, their ‘sale’ to businessman Paul Elliott – which ended up in the courts – and fears the South London club could go into administration before Thomas Sandgaard acquired it in late September.
That last paragraph doesn’t do justice to all of the craziness that went on. The Addicks also suffered relegation from the Championship.
Director of football Gallen – responsible for the club’s recruitment – was pulled into it all, whether he wanted to be or not.
Until a recent short break in Tenerife, he had not had time off since mid-March.
“We had all the months before that with the ownership – Matt Southall, Lee Amis and all these other guys,” said Gallen. “It took its toll – mentally and physically.
“Do you know the word that comes over in all of this? It might come over as arrogant – but I don’t mean it that way at all. It is resilience. Just keep going. You’re well aware about the previous owners [Elliott’s consortium] and Dave Jones…he was coming in to replace me.
“I don’t ever lose sight of my job. I honestly felt if they wanted to sack me after the window closed – Thomas Sandgaard or anyone else – go on then. Now that I’ve done my job – with blinkers on – do what you want.
“I don’t get to speak to my kids or my missus as much because I’m always working in that period. I don’t really give them the time. I feel bad about that, but it’s just how my brain works. And we don’t have a recruitment team. It’s me, and the manager backing me up.
“Nothing was going to get in my way – Dave Jones, Chris Farnell or even Thomas – of me getting the players. The only way they could do was if they sacked me. It sounds bold – it sounds ridiculous – but it’s the only way I know how to do it.”
In the end, it all worked out.
One knock-on effect was that by the time Sandgaard’s deal was done a salary cap had been voted in by League One clubs. It left Gallen little financial room to manoeuvre with an annual player wage bill limit of £2.5m.
“I will never stretch us, that’s one thing I’ll never do,” he said. “When I came in we were in League One and [Igor] Vetokele was on 10 grand a week. Other players were on seven-and-a-half and stuff like that. You wouldn’t believe what our players are on now.
“We’re in League One and three or four of them are playing on a grand a week and some of them are on two grand a week.
“When we got promoted our budget must have been around £7million – we must be £3m now. Sunderland’s is probably £9m or £10m, but because they got most of their business done before the vote they go down as [spending] £2.5m.
“We only had nine players before that vote.”
Charlton had managed to squeeze through the signings of Alex Gilbey and Conor Washington before the spending restrictions were enforced.
Eleven more deals were done. Both Gallen and manager Lee Bowyer have mentioned more than once about ending their high squad turnover – something that looks far more achievable under their super-wealthy Danish backer.
“That’s why I’m really pleased I got Ryan Inniss, Chris Gunter, Alex Gilbey and Conor Washington on longer contracts,” said Gallen, who had been head of recruitment until a promotion in January.
“But with some it is one year because it is all they want. Other times I’m thinking that’s all I want to commit to here because there is risk factor with certain players. You try and find a middle ground. I’m glad I’ve put options in some players’ contracts.
“A good example is someone like Ben Watson. He’s a great player and a great lad. He wanted a two-year contract, of course he did, he wanted security. But I’ve got to protect the football club and think ‘in a year’s time you’re 36’. So he will basically get another year if he plays a certain amount of games. And if he does play the games then he fully deserves it.
“What made it [the window] complicated – number one – was the ownership issues. Trying to persuade Ben to come join us when we’ve got no chairman and he’s reading about different things every day in the media.
“I had three or four ready to go but then we had a total embargo. A total embargo – I’d never heard of that before. Then after that it was just a regular embargo, £1,300 a week, and we signed Dylan Levitt and Akin Famewo, they came in under that sort of bracket.
“Then the wage cap, which is approximately two grand a week.
“There is one particular club who has pulled out a loophole. They signed someone for £1.2m and you really think that £1.2m striker is on two grand a week? I don’t get involved in that. If we’re good enough, we’re good enough. We’ll play by the rules and do what we can. If we can’t do it, we can’t do it.”
It’s been a rebuilding job in the most challenging of circumstances. The farcical scenes at boardroom level prior to Sandgaard’s arrival played a major part in the club losing their Championship status.
“I don’t look back too much – I look forward as much as I can,” said Gallen. “But there was not much opportunity to be disappointed after relegation. There needed to be a week where you could get away and reflect, but it just didn’t work out that way.
“The day after we got relegated at Leeds I got home at something like half-past one in the morning and we had a Zoom call at 11am with the senior management team. It was painful.
“It was about getting relegated to me and Lee. But it wasn’t just about that for other people at the club like Tony Keohane [chief operating officer], Emma [Parker] in finance and Ravi [Patel, commercial manager]. It was about keeping the club afloat. There was a lot of focus behind the scenes on that.”
This might be a quieter period for Gallen, but the planning never truly stops.
Young keeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer recently signed a new long-term deal.
Gallen has not given up hope of keeping Alfie Doughty, inset left, the subject of bids from Celtic and Luton before the last window closed.
“We’re going to offer him another contract and I’ve told him and his representatives that,” explained the Addicks chief.
“I told him that during the window. I said: ‘Give me a bit of time – I will come back to you. Let me focus on getting players in, but after that we will make you an offer’.
“Thomas Sandgaard wants Alfie to stay. So does Bow, myself and the fans. Everyone does.
“We’ll try and find a way forward. We’ll have to improve his contract to extend his contract.”
The club looks in safe hands.
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