High pressing. Playing out from the back. Attacking football. Bald manager. Any idea? No not Man City, its Charlton Athletic! Read all about Ben Garners new era of football down at SE7.
On the 3rd of May 2021, Charlton Athletic announced that club legend Johnnie Jackson had departed the club as manager after only six months in charge. Jackson took over from Nigel Adkins as caretaker manager following the poor start to the 2021/22 campaign. After only nine points in the first thirteen games, Jackson steadied the ship with impressive wins over Sunderland, Plymouth, and Ipswich.
Nine games and twenty points later, Jackson had Charlton fans believing they could still make the play-offs. However, their hopes were quickly ruined as a poor run of form followed by inconsistent results could only land Charlton in 13th place at the end of the season.
CEO and Owner of Charlton Athletic, Thomas Sandgaard, said it was Johnnies style of play that influenced his decision to relieve him of his duties. The Dane stated that he is “very convinced that more pressing high up on the pitch would give us a higher probability of getting promoted.” Henceforth the search for a new manager began.
A month of rumours and stories later, Sandgaard had found his man. Charlton Athletic confirmed the appointment of Ben Garner on a three-year contract following his impressive season at Swindon Town, where he reached the league two playoffs, unfortunately being knocked out on penalties by Port Vale.
However, during the season, Swindon achieved some very eye-catching stats. Garner’s men ranked first in the amount of goals scored, shots, shots on target, possession and passes per game. His attacking philosophy aligned with Sandgaard’s ambitions, making him the number one candidate for the job. “We want to have the ball as much as possible, creating chances, scoring goals and being on the front foot,” said the new Addicks boss.
It was clear that there was a new era beginning in SE7, however, the squad would first need rebuilding in the summer transfer window.
Transfer Window (so far)
Two days after Garner was appointed, Charlton put out their released and retained list.
Jake Forster-Caskey, Ryan Inniss and Josh Davison all had the one-year extension on their contracts triggered, keeping them for the upcoming season.
Chris Gunter, Conor Washington, Adam Matthews, Ben Watson, Pape Souare and Stephen Henderson were all released following the expiration of their contracts. Jason Pearce’s contract also expired; however, he was offered a coaching role in the club’s academy.
A few days later, it was announced that Ben Purrington would also depart the club following unsuccessful negotiations between the club and his representatives. Now that the squad had been cleared out, it was time for Garner to rebuild it in his vision.
First through the door was 26-year-old ball playing centre back, Eoghan O’Connell. The defender joined Charlton on a three-year deal following the expiry of his contract at Rochdale. The former Republic of Ireland youth international had an impressive season as the captain of Rochdale, claiming both the fans and players’ Player of the Season award. However, the decision was more influenced by his passing ability. O’Connell completed the second most passes in the entirety of League Two, showcasing his ability to play out from the back, which perfectly suits Garners system.
Next in was attacking right back Mandela Egbo. He joined SE7 on a free transfer following the expiry of his contract at Swindon, where he worked with the new Charlton boss. The 24-year-old joined Swindon in March, following injuries to their squad and made an immediate impact, registering three assists in only six starts.
His attacking nature and past work with Garner made him an obvious choice for The Addicks, signing a two-year deal with an option of a third. Despite being young, he brings experience from the Bundesliga and the MLS to SE7. Egbo is yet to make his debut for Charlton after suffering a knee injury in preseason, but will provide healthy competition with Sean Clare for the right back position.
Garner went back-to-back with bringing in players from his old club. Next up was League Two goalkeeper of the year, Joseph Wollacott. The Ghanaian international signed on a three-year deal for free following the expiry of his contract at Swindon. Joe stated that “Ben being here made it an easy decision.” The 25-year-old was handed the number one shirt, displacing Craig MacGillivray, and has been the first-choice goalkeeper for The Addicks in their first few games. Not only is he a “good shot stopper, but he is also excellent on the ball,” said Thomas Sandgaard, which allows Charlton to play out from the back and fulfil Garners vision.
Garner added to the huge depth that Charlton already have in midfield with the free signing of Conor McGrandles after his contract expired at Lincoln City. The 26-year-old played an instrumental part of Lincoln’s promotion push in 2021, helping them reach the final of the play offs, but unfortunately, they fell short. The Lincoln captain signed a three-year deal with The Addicks and is hoping to “bring a bit of leadership and quality,” to the team. Once again it seems Garner’s style of football was a big attraction point for the midfielder. Conor specified that “his style of play, the way he want to go about things,” suits him “down to the ground.”
For Garner’s 5th signing of the window, he utilised the loan market to bring in the Fulham fullback Steven Sessegnon for a season. The former England U21 international can play both left-back and right-back and spent the second half of last season on loan at Plymouth Argyle. According to Sessegnon, it was the manager’s positivity and his style of play that sold it for him.” He wants to be attacking, he wants to go at teams and not just sit back, and that suits me very nicely. It was an easy choice,” said Steven.
The 6th signing of the window was another one from Garner’s former Swindon Town squad. Charlton announced the signing of attacking midfielder, Jack Payne on a two-year deal following his contract expiration at Swindon. The goalscoring midfielder netted 13 times last season, as well as providing 6 assists under Ben Garner. The 27-year-old has a neat record in League One as well, recording 28 goals and 30 assists. Payne has already made an impact for The Addicks, assisting Miles Leaburn’s late goal against Accrington Stanley with a lovely floated cross.
You can read all about the latest Charlton signing in more detail in one of my earlier articles:
Ben Garner has had a very good first window at SE7, attracting quality players that suit his attacking style of football, and has done it without spending a penny. The squad is now very strong in most areas, with Garner having great options to bring off the bench. Players like Alex Gilbey and Jake Forster-Caskey, who would most likely start for a lot of other teams in the league, are now struggling to make the matchday squad. This goes to show how high the level of competition is for a place on the team sheet.
As well as this, Ben Garner has stuck to the Charlton tradition by handing first team opportunities to academy prospects Miles Leaburn, Aaron Henry, and Charles Clayden. Sparrows Lane is a breeding ground for talent, with the likes of Joe Gomez, Ademola Lookman, Ezri Konsa and many more all reaching their potential. In the recent EPPP Academy productivity rankings, Charlton placed an impressive 8th out of 92 league teams as The Addick’s Academy continues to grow more talent.
More recently, Miles Leaburn has already netted 2 goals in four appearances off the bench for the Addicks as he steps into his father’s footsteps. Aaron Henry came on to be the saviour against QPR in the Carabao Cup as he equalised from the edge of the box in the 90th minute, sending Charlton to penalties where they would eventually go onto win. Charles Clayden was handed a starting place in the team that recently hammered Plymouth Argyle 5-1. Given this, it appears Ben Garner has got his squad and is ready to go for the upcoming season as he looks to fight for promotion to the Sky Bet Championship.