Assessing the appointment of Russell Slade as Charlton Athletic boss, the sixth to be made by Roland Duchatelet since orchestrating the dismissal of Chris Powell, is not simply a case of determining the managerial ability of the 55-year-old. And that’s without considering the emphatic failure that this recruitment process has been.
As was going to be the case with any head coach handed the reigns in SE7 this summer, their suitability for a role made testing by the circumstances that Duchatelet has created is arguably more important than their credentials. Credentials that could potentially be left meaningless by how this regime operates.
Their suitability, alongside their availability and willingness to take on a poisoned chalice. Had Slade’s appointment been made by a new ownership, it would be assessed differently than how it will with Duchatelet overseeing it.
An unfortunate acceptance existing that a limited number of coaches were going to be interested in this job under this regime. That talks with other potential candidates haven’t been successful and the sheer length of time it has taken to appoint Jose Riga’s replacement reaffirming that, and meaning we have little choice but to settle for Slade, who doesn’t appear even to be the first choice of those in charge.
That isn’t to say that Slade is a hugely underwhelming appointment, only made acceptable by the fact he isn’t Karel Fraeye, or that the somewhat mixed reputation he has within the game should be ignored completely in favour of a focus on his suitability for the challenging role.
A mixed reputation that was reaffirmed during his time in charge at Cardiff City. Some willing to thank him for steading a rocky ship; more delighted that he had departed the club altogether when it was announced he had left his role as Head of Football.
For though supporters of the Bluebirds, with the sort of demands you would expect from fans that have recently experienced Premier League football, were often frustrated by his decision making and the style of football offered, an eighth place finish in the second tier with a questionable ownership on your back is no failure.
A feeling existing that a manager whose skills had previously been proven at Championship level may have achieved more, with the play-offs never truly threatened, but Slade did manage to finish above Gary Rowett’s Birmingham City and Simon Grayson’s Preston North End. Two managers and clubs deemed to have had commendable campaigns.
The difference, of course, being a contrast in expectations. The cap-wearing boss never really suited to the demands he was under at the Cardiff City Stadium, with his greater successes in the past coming at League One clubs who demanded less.
Unexpected play-off final appearances with Yeovil Town in 2007 and Leyton Orient in 2014, earning him Manager of the Year awards despite both occasions ending in defeat, the highlights. Only at Brighton, where a courageous rescue act at the end of the 2008/09 season was followed by a dreadful start to the next campaign that meant his loss percentage was 50% by time of his sacking, have a set of League One supporters not completely warmed to Slade.
His party trick, therefore, is allowing relatively small but perfectly stable clubs to exceed their expectations in the third tier. Neither the Yeovil or Orient side that he led into the play-offs were packed with individual quality, with expenditure minimal, but he was able to build cohesive and hard-working units that were perfectly in-tune with his strategy.
That, in Slade’s natural realm, makes the experienced boss a talented and knowledgeable one. Overachieving on a shoestring budget through sensible recruitment, creating cohesion and excellent man-management.
His credentials, at the very least, better than a former Standard Liege coach previously dismissed by Duchatelet, or a bloke that was managing in a park somewhere in the depths of Belgium at the time he was asked to come have some puppet strings attached to him. Possibly to the extent that a number of clubs in this division would be delighted to have the 55-year-old in charge.
The problem, however, is that Charlton are not like many of the other clubs in this division. We’re not like the clubs where Slade has previously had success. We don’t appear to be the sort of club that can provide a platform that will allow Slade’s best attributes to have a real influence.
The first part of that would make it challenging for any manager, regardless of their reputation or previous success, to thrive, but particularly for a boss who relies so heavily on building his own cohesive unit.
For how is Slade to create cohesion at a club that is run in such a divisive manner, whose ownership dictate and control in areas that they should have no responsibility in? Promises about a change in strategy have been made previously, but not followed through. Promises that there is no influence from above in team selection have been made before, but are simply lies.
It makes it difficult for his success at Orient to provide hope as working under Duchatelet and Meire could not be more different to working under Barry Hearn. Hearn an Orient supporter, wanting his club to achieve, and willing to provide a base from which Slade was capable of doing that. Duchatelet and Meire lacking any sort of respect for Charlton and its supporters, and heavily favouring their own personal interests.
You could argue that his experiences at Cardiff City, working under Vincent Tan, and towards the end of his time at Leyton Orient, where he clashed with hugely unpopular owner Francesco Becchetti, stand him in good stead.
But the confrontation at Orient suggests that there will ultimately come a point where Slade simply cannot work under Meire and Duchatelet. His authority never truly stamped on his Cardiff side, creating the frustration that their supporters had towards him. It’s hard to believe he’s going to enjoy having this regime above him, or that he’ll be able to showcase the best of his managerial talents.
The second part of our difference to other clubs in this division, and the clubs that Slade would be more suited to, is our stature. A stature that has unquestionably been crushed by this regime, but one that still makes us a club who cannot simply accept attempting to be competitive in League One.
Because Slade will probably make us competitive in League One. The side will probably have a reasonable amount of structure, and we won’t be emphatically ripped to shreds as we were so often in the Championship last season under the frequent formationless efforts of Guy Luzon, Fraeye and Riga.
His Yeovil and Orient sides were competitive to the point that they overachieved. Sneaking into the play-offs when unfancied, through a structured approach that allowed them to finish among those clubs just visiting the third tier, with more financial clout, and with a greater status.
But being competitive, and operating in the sort of fashion a less-fancied side might in order to grind out unlikely results, isn’t going to work when leading the Addicks in League One. Not only because there is a justified expectation that we must make an immediate attempt to return to the Championship, but because opposition will play against us in a different manner.
We’re a former Premier League club. We’ve got a 27,111 seater stadium. As the club are always so insistent on reminding us, we’ve got a nice pitch. Without wishing to look down upon them and be patronising, we’re going to be a scalp for the likes of Fleetwood, Oldham and AFC Wimbledon.
We’re going to be expected to dominant games, and we’re going to have to break down defiant and motivated opposition. You only need look at the last period spent in League One. The sort of football that Slade traditionally plays, and has traditionally brought his sides success, is unlikely to work with us.
Again, it’s a very different job to the ones where Slade has managed to achieve relative success, and means it’s difficult to use his efforts at Yeovil and Orient to suggest he’ll inject life in our club. He’ll need to show a degree of versatility to work under this ownership, and match the requirements that will be in place by virtue of the fact Charlton simply shouldn’t be, and cannot be, in League One.
Of course, at least Slade is an experienced English manager who is aware of how this division works, and is more suited to leading a club in the third tier of English football than one of Duchatelet’s little minions. But that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate what we’ve been given.
Unquestionably, this regime have created a position for themselves from which they have no power to attract the sort of managers that this club might have been able to, even in League One, if it were led in a manner that commanded respect and offered promise. There’s little choice but to accept a resident third tier boss who wasn’t already employed as a manager is about as good as we can do.
Accepting that those circumstances exist, however, is very different to accepting that they’re right. Even some of the names we’ve been linked with, without being perfect, would provide a greater deal of excitement to myself than Slade has. Steve Cotterill isn’t very likeable, but he knows how to get bigger clubs out of this division, Nigel Adkins hasn’t had the best of times in recent season, but has achieved incredible things in his career, and the Chris Wilder-prototype, a young and ambitious manager with the potential to rebuild a club, would have been interesting had he not been restrained by the regime.
It all leaves us with one question to answer. Is Russell Slade a good appointment for Charlton Athletic? It’s one question that has two answers.
The first answer is that it’s probably somewhere in the middle. It’s really hard to feel that a resignation or dismissal won’t ultimately come after a disagreement between himself and those above him, with the club’s current environment and structure being one that hinders Slade’s best attributes, but there’s a decent chance he’ll provide some calm and structure.
A side that so often caved in last season, and contributed towards a feeling that those employed by the club had little respect for it or its supporters, will hopefully show some resilience and work to maintain a sense of pride on a persistent basis. At the very least, it’s hard to see complete implosion with Slade looking on from the dugout.
But the second answer to that question is probably the more truthful one, and one that makes the previous 1,700 words completely irrelevant. It really doesn’t matter.
Regardless of who was given the job, this was always going to be the most meaningless and unimportant managerial appointment in the history of Charlton Athletic. No appointment would have restored faith in Duchatelet and Meire, no appointment would have changed the mind of those who will not be renewing their season tickets. No appointment, through no fault of the manager himself – I’ll be supporting Slade like any other and my doubts certainly don’t equate to a desire for him to fail – would have been celebrated, and injected positivity into supporters.
The appointment was always going to be meaningless while it was overseen by Duchatelet’s poisonous regime.
The issues this club has, and the reason supporters rightfully continue to feel without love and connection towards it, is not to do with who has been brought in to stand in the technical area.
It’s to do with who continues to sit in the Directors’ Box, and who continues to oversee the club from afar without taking any interest in it and offering little acceptance of the damage his leadership has caused.
The rebuilding of Charlton Athletic, on the pitch but more so in terms of recreating the understanding and unity between club and supporters, simply cannot begin until there is complete change.