Ask anyone the question who did Sven Goran Eriksson pick at left back for his first match in charge for England against Spain 2001 and the vast majority of people will get it wrong. Not Ashley Cole, the bright young talent on the scene at the time. Not Phil Neville, the Manchester United stalwart. Nor even Graeme Le Saux, a man who played 36 times for his country in that position. The answer is in fact, Chris Powell, a cult hero at both Southend United and Charlton Athletic, not often the hallmarks of your average England international.
Powell though, is something different. He may have only won five caps for his country, but there is obviously something about special about the man. He has seemingly transformed his success on the playing field to success in the dugout, having just guided Charlton Athletic back into the Championship, three years after their relegation to League One in the 2008/09 season.
It’s easy to forget that Charlton were once an established force in the Premier League, under the guidance of Alan Curbishley, boasting the goals of Darren Bent to keep them in a comfortable mid-table position. The 2006/07 season after Curbishley’s decision to leave the Valley proved to be disastrous, with Iain Dowie, Les Reed and Alan Pardew all failing to motivate their sides into any sort of form, with the club eventually relegated. Charlton failed to deal with the drop in divisions, and the Addicks never really put up a fight for a return to the Premiership, eventually following in the footsteps of Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City and completing a drop into the third tier of English football.
Despite the manager at the time, Phil Parkinson, leading his side to the League One playoffs at the first time of asking, a defeat to Swindon in the semi-final of the playoffs was followed by a disappointing start to the next season, culminating in Parkinson and assistant Mark Kinsella losing their jobs. The board turned to club legend Powell, who made 244 appearances at the Valley during three different spells. Powell, whose only previous managerial experience came as caretaker boss of Leicester after Paulo Sousa was sacked in October 2010, could only manage a mid-table finish after his appointment in January.
The new owners, Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, decided to keep faith with Powell and gave him the backing to put a new side together capable of challenging for promotion once again. 18 new faces arrived at the Valley last summer, though the risk of assembling an entire new squad has paid off handsomely. Charlton didn’t lose a game until mid-October, after Stevenage beat them 1-0, but this minor setback didn’t stop Powell and his side from racking up the points thereafter. The Addicks have only lost five games all season and finally sealed promotion on Saturday, moving ten points clear of third placed Sheffield Wednesday thanks to a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal against Carlisle.
Wright-Phillips has epitomised everything good about Charlton this year. The striker seemed to be letting his obvious talent go to waste with a series of misdemeanours, but Powell appears to have breathed new life into his forward, who has subsequently bagged 22 goals this season as the division’s third top scorer. Yann Kermorgant has provided the perfect foil up top for Wright Phillips, scoring 10 goals himself and the skipper, Johnnie Jackson has led from the front, bagging 13 from midfield. There is obvious quality throughout the squad; indeed full backs Rhoys Wiggins and Chris Solly have caught the eyes of scouts higher up the football pyramid, while goalkeeper Ben Hamer has made a bit of a name for himself, keeping 17 clean sheets this season.
Bearing in mind the strength of the squad available to Powell, it’s not unreasonable for supporters to dream of doing a Norwich or a Southampton and aiming for back-to-back promotion. The Addicks are no strangers to the higher echelons of the Football League and they are sure to provide some stiff competition for Championship sides next season. Sven Goran Eriksson obviously had faith for Powell as a player by picking him for England and he obviously has faith for Powell as a manager too, telling everyone when he inherited Powell’s role at Leicester that he was ‘destined for big things.’ The wily old Swede could just be right as well, as Powell has set Charlton back on a familiar path that Curbishley and co. trod all those years before.