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All Things Footie | Friday, March 19 | Jordan

The third biggest club in London

While Arsenal and Chelsea bask in the sunshine of success and riches (respectively), it would be easy to forget about the achievements of the third biggest club in the capital; make no mistake, Charlton Athletic are on the verge of doing the impossible. Or a ‘Brian Clough’, as it’s otherwise known. I’m not suggesting they can win the league in the next couple of years, nor am I predicting success in Europe, but achieveing a regular place among the top four—top six even—for a club like Charlton in the game as it is today, would almost be an acheivement to rival Cloughie’s mould-breaking work with Derby and Nottingham Forest.

Forget Steve McLaren, Chris Coleman and Sam Allardyce; the British managerial success story this season is Alan Curbishley. Curbishley’s achievements building a side on a budget, and moulding eleven players into a real team that work for each other, are reminicent of Arsène Wenger’s at Arsenal. Charlton haven’t signed superstars, they’ve made them; they haven’t pegged their hopes on a one or two members of the squad, responsibility is shared between a group of equals (with the possible exception of Paolo Di Canio’s ego) and they haven’t signed mercenary loanees on sky-high wages. Their most important loan signing, Chelsea’s Carlton Cole, is there for the long term (at least another year)—a condition of the brilliantly negotiated Scott Parker deal. Everything about Charlton as a club and a business is to be admired.

As a football team, Curbishley’s maturity and sophistication shines through more than anything else. While every other club in the land seems to think that you solve problems by spending £8m+ on a striker bought off the back of a few good performances—from Massimo Maccarone to Helder Postiga to Louis Saha—Curbishley understands that this is a fools pursuit. Every position is as important as every other, and spending all your money on an above average player for one position is simply silly. Watching Charlton play is evidence enough that the manager understands all of the transfer market’s subtleties; buying a player should only be done once you know their game inside out. Asked on Saturday morning why he hadn’t spent any of the money from the Scott Parker deal, he simply replied that he hadn’t had enough time to size up potential recruits to his satisfaction. He knows how to buy objectively.

There is a planned expansion of The Valley, increasing the capacity to 35,000, and if Charlton were to manage a fourth place finish and then qualify for the first group stage of the Champions League, the income potential would be phenomenal. On top of improved gate receipts, Chelsea’s £10m for Parker, the money from finishing fourth in the Premiership (£5m+) and income from the Champions League (£5-20 million) gives Charlton a real financial advantage in the current market, and you can trust Curbishley to spend it wisely. Well managed, sensibly financed and playing good football, it’s not impossible that Charlton could take advantage of this position like those before them have not—Leeds and Newcastle prime examples. This is not a fluke season for Charlton Athletic, they’ve been building up to it for almost all of Curbishley’s thirteen years in charge, and the pivotal moment is now. Charlton could well establish themselves as a top six side, and in doing so eclipse Chris Coleman’s Fulham, ENIC’s Spurs and West Ham to become the third biggest club in the capital.

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