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‘Talent is already in the building’ – Charlton Athletic head coach Michael Appleton talks to the South London Press


Michael Appleton has talked about not always doing proper due-diligence when it came to taking managerial posts, but he has a number of reasons why he feels Charlton Athletic is a good fit.

The former Manchester United midfielder, 47, was appointed as the Addicks’ head coach a week ago, signing a two-year contract.

Appleton has managed more than 400 matches, with successful periods at both Oxford United and Lincoln City.

His U’s side finished second in League Two in 2016 and also reached back-to-back finals in the EFL Trophy.

Some of the players he nurtured there include John Lundstrom, who played for Rangers in the 2021 Europa League final, Kemar Roofe, Ryan Ledson and Joe Rothwell, who signed for Premier League AFC Bournemouth in June.

Appleton’s Imps reached the League One play-off final in 2021, losing 2-1 to Blackpool – a youthful Brennan Johnson, on loan from Forest, enjoying a breakout campaign.

The interview and shortlist process after Dean Holden’s dismissal was led by Charlton technical director Andy Scott, supported by managing director Jim Rodwell and Simon Lenegan, sporting director of Global Football Partners, who acquired the club off Thomas Sandgaard in July.

There is a feeling that the players and resources at Appleton’s disposal now are not dissimilar to when he got Oxford out of England’s fourth tier and then finished eighth in their first season in League One.

Asked if he saw a parrallel, Appleton told the South London Press: “I do, but the difference with this job is that a lot of the talent is already in the building.

Oxford United manager Michael Appleton celebrates winning promotion to Sky Bet League One with a fan after the Sky Bet League Two match at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford.

“I’ve almost got a starting point – whereas at Oxford there was a lot of work that went in to bringing young talent into the building from top Premier League clubs who never had a pathway there.

“We brought them into League Two, or League One, and gave them an opportunity to kickstart their career, which they did. There are a lot of players playing in the Premier League and Championship now, even in European leagues.

“Whereas here Steve Avory has done an incredible job at the academy – continually producing players. We have to have a balance where we pick the right moments to introduce them and then if they have been over-introduced and need a bit of time to come out of it, I’d like to think I’ve got enough experience to see that and manage them properly.

“When a job comes up you think, first and foremost, is that attractive from the outset? Clearly Charlton Athletic is a massive football club with great support. You look at the squad and think ‘there are a lot of young players there – loads of potential’.

“We probably need a few older heads as well, a bit more experience, which I’m sure we’ll address over time.

“What I did know, from an ownership point of view, is that there were a couple of people on the board I was aware of previously. I know the struggles and problems with the previous ownership, the ownership before that and even the ownership before that.

“I come into it with my eyes wide open. What suits me more than anything is that there looks like there genuinely is – and I’m cautious with this word – a ‘project’. Something that people are working towards. Andy is driving that from the board’s point of view – I need to drive it for Andy from a football point of view.”

Appleton’s first match in charge is a tricky one – Stevenage away.

Picture: Charlton Athletic FC

A defence which has looked highly vulnerable from set-pieces is set to be tested time and time again at the Lamex Stadium by the hosts, with the combustible Steve Evans favouring a direct approach.

Stevenage went top of the table after a 2-2 draw against Carlisle, taking advantage of the fact most of the League One fixture list was postponed due to the international calendar.

Charlton’s schedule up until the end of October looks tough. Their home games are Wycombe, Exeter, Blackpool, Reading and Bolton.

“I look at the league and I think it is so open,” said Appleton, whose coaching was influenced and shaped by Roy Hodgson at West Brom.

“You probably wouldn’t expect the likes of Stevenage, Exeter and Cambridge to be in and around where they are.

“A lot of people argue over 46 games that might be different, but I genuinely think they are there on merit. The gap between the so-called bigger teams and so-called smaller teams is a lot smaller than what people think.

“It’s almost similar, dare I say it, to the Covid year where spending had to be put on hold for a lot of teams. The financial gaps between maybe teams in sixth to 18th was almost next to nothing.

“I don’t look at the fixtures thinking ‘oh, we’ve got a group there where we should get this amount of points’. We need to focus on us, make sure we allow the players to express themselves and be harder to beat.

“Ultimately you have to create momentum from somewhere and the best way to create it is winning games. If that is having a couple of scruffy wins to get us going and get everyone feeling super-confident again, so be it.”

Global Football Partners’ target for their first season in charge is to reach the play-offs.

Blackpool manager Michael Appleton before the game against Southport. during the pre-season friendly match at The Pure Stadium, Southport. Picture date: Saturday July 2, 2022.

Charlton are 17th with a six-point gap to Cambridge and Portsmouth, sixth and fifth respectively. With 40 matches to go, are the play-offs still realistically achievable?

Appleton said: “It’s not out of the realms of possibility, is it? There are loads of clubs over the past four or five years that maybe even after 10 or 12 games found themselves down in the bottom six or seven positions and then, when the league levels out a little bit, go on great runs and get in and around them.

“This club and group are capable of doing that. There is a lot of attacking intent in the team. We just have to make sure we get the balance between not being over-zealous and over-confident in the opposition’s half, which leaves us wide open on the counter.

“If we can get that balance right there is no reason we can’t win a lot of games out of that 40.”

Appleton’s appointment was not met with universal approval by Charlton’s fanbase.

But he believes stability and time, both in short supply in recent Charlton history, will allow him to reaffirm his qualities.

Oxford and Lincoln account for 316 of his 423 matches in the dugout – with Portsmouth (51) the only other posting where he racked up a half century.

“Sometimes you need to have challenges on your CV and places where it has not quite gone well for you – because ultimately it is not all rosy,” said Appleton.

“You go into management and coaching knowing you’re going to get sacked. That’s an absolute fact of life. What you’ve got to try and do is make decisions so you get to clubs where they allow you to implement what you want to do.

“If I hang around long enough, I’m very, very confident that I can deliver success, like I did at Oxford and Lincoln. There are far more coaches out of work than the opportunities out there. So when they do come, you need to make sure you’re as sharp and ready to do the interview as you possibly can be, to give yourself a chance.”

Results and actions will prove make or break, and Appleton is fully aware of that.

“I could say we’re going to do this and that – provide a Churchillian ‘us against the world’,” he said. “The one thing I’ve asked the players for is to up the intensity in how we do things, with the ball and without the ball.

“If that can lead to higher energy performances – on the front foot and passing the ball forward a little earlier – then hopefully over a period of time, we can start getting the rewards for those type of things.”

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