It wasn’t so long ago that Charlton Athletic had a reputation for hiring and firing managers quicker than you can say ‘Watford wannabes’, but this week’s dismissal of club legend Johnnie Jackson has left a far more bitter taste in the mouth than most P45s in SE7.
Charlton finished firmly in League One mid-table, closing the season with a poor 4-0 defeat to fellow underachievers Ipswich Town on the final day with a result which meant the Addicks ended the campaign closer in points to the relegation zone than the top six. It wouldn’t make great reading for any manager employed by a club who employed eight permanent managers between 2014 and 2016.
With the regular third-tier season now over, a week before League Two and the Championship come to a close, managerial departures are already taking place while the rest of the EFL and much of the national football pyramid continues at pace towards the business end of the season.
Michael Appleton left Lincoln City at what felt like the natural conclusion of his time with the Imps in their first season of struggle since the pre-Danny Cowley days. But it seemed Charlton and Jackson were only just getting started.
We have become accustomed to Charlton doing stupid things, but usually to compensate for mistakes made previously. Giving Jackson – who had spent over 10 years of his playing, coaching and managerial career at The Valley – the latter of those roles in December 2021 felt like anything but an error.
If anything, it was a surprise that it took so long for Jackson to get the permanent keys to the car which the former midfielder was driving so confidently during his second temporary tenure of the hot seat in south London.
Jackson replaced Nigel Adkins earlier this season with the Addicks looking in genuine relegation danger. Nine wins from 13 games staved off fears of relegation to the fourth tier of English football, but that was about as good as it got for Jackson and co.
It would be too simple and far too harsh to put the upturn in form under Jackson’s temporary stewardship to his being a club legend and having ‘pashun’ for the club and job at hand, but the bounce which followed his stepping into the breach was taken down a couple of notches almost instantly after taking the job on a more permanent basis.
Permanency is not a word used often or with any semblance of accuracy in this corner of the capital though, and having not been afforded the chance to make this team his own, Jackson is a victim of failures above him making his own job almost impossible.
Jackson’s 69% win percentage as caretaker was nice, too nice to ignore. The drop to 37% since taking the job full time just before Christmas was worrying, but almost certainly not too bad to ignore. Charlton have been almost assured of a place in League One for 2022/23 for the majority of the season’s second half. Many of their results have been superfluous.
Now, Charlton are left looking for the next new manager, who will almost certainly be going into The Valley with less goodwill than Jackson possessed and still possesses despite a less-than-stellar end to this season.
A rebuild of the playing staff was always likely to be required this summer. Jackson has Charlton in his veins; cut him open and he bleeds red (this metaphor may require some work), but he was also capable of getting the fans behind the team while another owner continues to isolate himself from the support in the post-lockdown world.
Owner Thomas Sandgaard was supposed to be a breath of fresh air after acquiring the club in 2020, but has left a lot to be desired as fans continue to be baffled by the next steps in the club’s immediate future.
Jackson had reportedly been speaking of what was to come next season for Charlton and believed himself to be part of those plans. His contract expired in the summer, but an extension seemed the most likely outcome. Instead, an extension of misery seems the most likely option for everyone of an Addicks persuasion now.
Even through the club’s promotion to the Championship three years ago under Lee Bowyer, Charlton have been a club with an enigmatic reputation. Ridding the club of a manager with such strong links has to be backed up with a succession plan which makes losing a piece of the club’s soul.
Like with other club legends who see their career transcend their playing days with a club to coaching and then management, they know the top job is the point of no return. They cannot go back to coaching at the same club. Jackson’s time in the dream job is over before it ever truly begun.
A stubborn approach and refusal to differ from what worked so well initially meant watching Jackson’s side was frustrating for the fans but pressing the nuclear option before allowing Jackson a chance to build a squad seems very harsh indeed.
Now, Charlton have the summer to prepare for a third successive season in League One, hoping to take the bright sparks of Jackson’s short reign and build on them. Right now, it is difficult to envisage any manager better suited to the job than the man who has been given his marching orders.
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