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Saturday, Dec. 30, 2006


Charlton's coaching carousel like a comedy skit

LONDON -- During the 1960s, American comedian Bob Newhart gave the world what was to become a classic sketch on his Emmy-winning show. It was called "The Introduction of Tobacco to Civilization," wherein a telephone call from Sir Walter Raleigh prompted skeptical laughter in England.

Christopher Davies

It went: "Are you saying 'snuff,' Walt? What's snuff? You take a pinch of tobacco and you shove it up your nose! And it makes you sneeze, huh. I imagine it would. It has some other uses, though? You can chew it? Or put it in a pipe. Or you can shred it up and put it on a piece of paper, and roll it up -- don't tell me, Walt, don't tell me -- you stick in your ear, right Walt? Oh, between your lips! Then what do you do to it? You set fire to it! Then what do you do, Walt? You inhale the smoke!

"Walt, we've been a little worried about you . . . you're gonna have a tough time getting people to stick burning leaves in their mouth . . ."

A similar conversation or three could have taken place at Charlton Athletic in recent months after manager Alan Curbishley stepped down following 15 years in charge of the club at the end of 2005-06.

Charlton chief executive Peter Varney and chairman Richard Murray are the stars.

PV: "OK, Richard, we're not used to this, appointing managers. Alan Cuirbishley's gone. We need a new manager. How about Iain Dowie?"

RM: "Didn't he just leave our south-east London rivals Crystal Palace and say he wanted to move back north to be with his family? We are just down the road from Palace . . ."

PV: "Yeh . . . but it's worth a try . . ."

RM: "He doesn't have much of a record in the Premiership, though. Took Palace down I remember."

PV: "I know, maybe he's improved since then."

RM: "Maybe not the best public relations move to get a manager from a club our supporters dislike . . ."

Lo and behold, despite saying he wanted to move back north Iain Dowie agreed to move a few miles across London to join Charlton in June. Charlton gave the green light for Dowie to spend £11 million in the transfer market -- the most spent by a Charlton manager during the close season -- but after 15 games in charge with two and a half years to run on his contract the former Northern Ireland international was sacked in November.

PV: "OK, Richard, here we go again. We're getting quite used to this now. Right, Dowie never worked out but hey, these things happen. Or in our case, didn't happen. Who we gonna appoint as the next new manager?"

RM: "Les Reed."

PV: "Er Richard, Les is a fine man and does a great job on the development side and is assistant head coach but he's never managed a club before."

RM: "Gotta start somewhere."

PV: "But we are bottom of the Premiership. Shouldn't we appoint someone who has managed a club at some stage in his career to get us off the, er, bottom?"

RM: "But he's on the staff, we know him. Let's do it."

Charlton did it and 41 days later Reed, who signed a three-year deal after his promotion, left by "mutual consent" on Christmas Eve. His record was: eight matches in the League and Cup, one win, one draw and six defeats, picking up just four of 21 Premiership points available.

PV: "Let's hope it's third time lucky Richard . . ."

RM: "One manager for 15 years and now our third in . . . well, about 15 minutes it seems. Who's next on the list Pete?"

PV: "Alan Pardew."

RM: "Alan Pardew . . . the Alan Pardew who was sacked by West Ham a week or so ago?"

PV: "Yeh but he did a good job last season . . . took them to the F.A. Cup final after winning promotion to the Premiership. He's also one of us."

RM: "Pete, I know he used to play for us. Alan Curbishley signed him. But let me get this right. The manager who left us in May, good ole Curbs, has just been appointed manager of West Ham. The manager sacked by West Ham . . . he's gonna be the new Charlton manager. So we are swapping managers really . . ."

PV: "Where's the Christmas spirit? Pards is good. The fans will love him . . ."

RM: "But they will also be asking a few questions. Such as, how much compensation we are paying managers this year? Curbs had a year to run . . . Dowie two-and-a-half . . . Reed three years, well three years minus 41 days. That's about six . . . six and a half years compensation -- that's how it will look anyway. And didn't you say last week that Reed will definitely be in charge for the remainder of the season."

PV: Silence.

RM: "So let me get this right. Pardew was told by HIS chairman he would be manager until the end of the season at West Ham. A couple of matches later and he was sacked. And he is replacing the guy who YOU said would be manager of Charlton until the end of the season . . ."

PV: Silence.

On Boxing Day Pardew was unveiled as Charlton's third manager since Curbishley left in May. At the training ground the players don't ask "where's the manager?" Instead they ask: "who's the manager?"

During the press conference to announce Pardew's appointment Varney said: "We decided, and Les as much as anyone else, that things had to change. And that is why we went back on something we said.

"I hold my hand up. It is not nice and we are not really that type of club, but that is the position we are in."

Many Charlton fans blame the board for being in the position they are in but boards, being boards, simply sack the manager.

Pardew's first match in charge was the 2-2 draw against Fulham at The Valley on Wednesday when dreadful defending from a stoppage time free-kick cost Charlton victory.

As 40 points is the recognized safety target Charlton will need to find the sort of form that a team needs to secure a European place in the second half of the season to survive in the Premiership. If not mission impossible, it is mission highly unlikely.

The south London side has lost more matches than any club in the top division -- 13, including three of the last four. They have leaked more goals 35, and 12 of those have been conceded in the last four outings.

They are seven points short of safety and Pardew said: "The league position is obviously very difficult.

"We need to fight and grind, to give teams some problems and draw some teams from above in to put them under pressure as we can."

Pardew has no intention of becoming another short-term victim of the Valley of broken dreams. He said: "I am now a third manager since Alan Curbishley and the players need to realize that they do not want a fourth. I know I certainly do not.

"You have to accept that the odds are stacked against us, but if I did not think we could make it, I would not be sitting here."

Christopher Davis was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

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