Nigel Adkins: “You’ve got to keep believing”

CAST are very grateful to Nigel Adkins for giving up his time on Wednesday evening to meet via Zoom with nearly 300 CAST members and to answer their questions. As one member has subsequently commented:

"I was seriously impressed with Nigel's style of engagement with fans. Friendly, open, but never patronising. His enthusiasm is infectious. I don't recall any other Charlton manager with that style in front of fans."

Members attending the meeting were able to submit on-line questions to Nigel via the CAST panel. This is what they asked:

Q:  What did you know about Charlton as an outsider?

Nigel said that challenges with the ownership were what he knew the most about. As soon as he joined he could see what good people we have who have been working at the club for a long time and who have seen the tough times, and now will hopefully see the good times. “It’s the supporters’ football club and that’s the big thing.”

Q: Do you ever pull the duvet back over your head and stay in bed all morning?

“Never. I get up between half past five and six o’clock every morning. It’s the best part of the day! If you haven’t tried it, try it! I get up, have a warm shower, followed by a cold shower, have a shave and brush my teeth and get out for a walk. It’s wonderful. You see the world coming alive, and it’s a great way to start the day.”

Q: Are you concerned that eleven of the eighteen players in the squad against Lincoln do not have a contract with us after the end of this season?

Nigel said he’d been here six weeks and that it’s something he’s had his eye on. He said that he’s been assessing people every single day in training, talking both about their footballing ability and their character. Sunday’s game is of course crucial regarding what league we’ll be in and he will sit down with the players individually and see where they are. “If a player is out of contract, sometimes it’s in their interests to look around a bit. Everyone has an agent, and like it or not, that’s where we are. But the players are spot-on with their training, and my view is they’re happy and want to stay at Charlton Athletic.” But he said that you don’t want to have to make ten, twelve or fifteen new signings every season, even though it’s good to freshen things up in the transfer windows.

Q:  What’s the latest with Ronnie Schwartz?

Nigel said that he was training with the lads yesterday and that sometimes it can be challenging for a player to come to a new club and settle into a new club, a new country and a new league. “He’s got to get equipped and up to speed with that. We’ve got to give him a little bit of time, because he’s a good guy. We’ve got to find a way of letting him show the attributes he was brought to the football club for.”

Q:  What has surprised you the most about Charlton?

Nigel said he was stumped by this question but he supposes that nothing has really surprised him. Football is football, but Charlton is a really good football club, and “we’re trying to get ourselves Premier League-ready”.

Q:  What are your plans for summer recruitment?

"We’re going to do a lot more analytical work on players’ data, because we need to put a team out that’s energetic, because we’re the oldest squad in the league and we’ll be classed as an outlier because of the age of our squad if we do get promoted. A couple of attributes I look for are: athletic; quick; technically brilliant; and robust in a sixty-game season. The teams who are successful are the ones where you can rattle off the starting eleven. We’re looking for players who are warriors.”

He went on to explain that he likes "six players in your team who are good at set-pieces, whether scoring or defending them. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to have that in the make-up of your team." He’s also looking for a goal scorer, a set-piece specialist, and a star player, who people will pay to come and see. “The captain doesn’t need to be the best player, but he’s the one who sets an example, who cares about the players, and who doesn’t care about ego, but supports his teammates.”

Q:  Have you already identified any players?

Nigel acknowledged that he has names in his mind and the whole backroom staff team has attributes in mind, too. "There are players we can’t afford, and there will be negotiations to be done from a budgetary perspective."

Q:  How does recruitment work between you, Steve Gallen, Ged Roddy and Thomas Sandgaard ?

Nigel said that he doesn’t have to spend all day on the phone because Steve Gallen does that work. “You can watch loads and loads of football, but you can’t beat watching a player live. When something’s going wrong, what’s his body language like? If we’ve got our backs against the wall, is he going to go missing, or is he going to roll up his sleeves? That’s the kind of player we want at the club. You want to be surrounded by good people who are going to be upbeat and enthusiastic.” He added that that you learn by failure and by doing things, so you don’t want people in the club who are constantly moaning and complaining.

Q:  Are any of the current under 23s expected to break through next season ?

Nigel said he has been to some of the games, and spoke to the U18s after they won the league to make them realise that there’s a pathway to the first team for them. He is engaging with the academy at all levels. He mentioned Ashley Maynard-Brewer who is going to the Olympics with Australia but "hasn’t played enough football this year, but he’s a great keeper."

He thinks that while a lot of them aren’t ready for the first team now, they need to get some experience, and come back in ready to break into the first team. “It was great to see Albie Morgan making a big contribution the other night. I’m delighted for him. He’s contributed with a free-kick, and his delivery for Ryan Inniss’s goal was brilliant.”

He said that he’s very passionate about helping the players to develop as people, because not all of them are going to have a career in football, and he wants them to go into the “big bad world” with good standards, values, education, training and as a whole person. He said that only around 0.5% of young players go on to have a career in football. “We want to teach them and help them to have the right standards and values in life.”

He said he has quite often gives players debuts at 17 years old, and has had the 15-year-olds training with the first team. He wants them to “smell the Bovril”, know what training is like and get to the standard he wants them at. Giving players their debut at 17 – James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw, to name two from his past managerial positions – gives them that experience, and lets them know what it’s like and what’s expected. He said that it’s good for the coaches, too, because it can be daunting for the academy coaches if it seems like there’s no way through to the first team. He wants to see players who never miss a training session, who eat properly, who sleep well, who focus and who don’t cut corners. “The ones who maximise every second to get better are the ones we’re looking for. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work out.”

Q:  Do you assign younger players individual mentors?

Nigel said that at one club he used to have the juniors as apprentices who would clean their boots – but you can’t do it because players don’t clean their boots now! When that’s happening, the first team player is having a chat with the junior, asking him how he got on on Saturday, which Nigel thinks makes a big difference. “Mentorship is a good thing. It’s an important thing. You don’t tell them what to do. You just guide them.”

Q : Can you tell us anything about the fitness of Chuks  and if you've had any contact with Marcus Maddison ?

Nigel began by praising Chuks, “what a talent he is”. From a confidentiality perspective, he said that he’s not going into anybody’s medical history (especially given his background of 558 games as a physio – 557 games at Scunthorpe, and also when he was 16/17 for Tranmere Rovers v Chelsea.) “We have got excellent medical and sports science staff. In Danny Murphy we’ve got one of the elite people not only in the country but in the world. His experience is invaluable. We are well-equipped with great information there. We need to work out how we can help Chuks to be available more often, so it’s about what they do on the training ground and in the gym."

“Chucks is a good guy, and I’m sure he wants to play more football than he is doing. I wanted to start him last night, but I knew that physically he wouldn’t be able to do it. He’s been making an impact coming on in the second half, so I went that way. Ideally, I want him to be starting games, but you have to appreciate that some of the bigger guys have physical situations you’ve got to deal with. We’re all different and unique.”

Regarding Marcus Maddison, Nigel said that mental health is a big thing in football. He said that his experience is that everybody gets addicted to something, whether it’s a piece of chocolate, or a beer, or gambling, so we need to help people with that. NA said that having Tracey Leaburn as the player liaison officer is brilliant, and having Matt Baker as someone the players can talk to is amazing. “Sometimes just being able to sit down, have a beer and a pie and a chat, is really important.” He said he doesn’t know whether Marcus Maddison has these issues, but that if he needs any help or support from the club, he’ll get it.

“We all belong to something. We all want to be part of a tribe, because we’re safer that way. We need to have that belonging, and being part of something, and sharing the ups and downs of what goes on. The supporters have kept Charlton going. Being part of something is good.” He talked about the diversity and inclusion at the club, and the history. He said that he has spoken with Jason Morgan and Michael Seeraj about the history we have and the importance of the club to the community.

Q:  What did you say to Alex Gilbey? You’ve transformed him.

“You’ve said it: talking’s brilliant!” Nigel said that Gilbey has great attributes, and that you’ve got to give players a bit of belief and the opportunity. He said that Alex is enthusiastic and works hard, and that his cross last night for Stockley’s goal was fantastic! He said that he’s got a lot of people to talk to, and it’s hard to get through them all, but talking makes a huge difference.

Q:  Is there any chance of seeing Jayden Stockley in a Charlton shirt next season?

Nigel said he hopes so because he’s a warrior and a grafter who is willing to run through a brick wall and works so hard for the team - so much so that you forget he’s a loan player. “He’s been phenomenal. Last night, in the last minute, he’s in our corner flag, making a tackle, trying to stop them from mounting an attack and scoring. He’s a threat in the penalty area, and a great defensive player as well.”

Q:  How do you assess their commitment that loan players will give to the club?

Nigel said that over time you build relationships with different clubs, so they get to know whether players are going to get a good, whole experience being on loan. He gave the example of Harry Wilson when he was at Hull City and Liam Millar - both of whom came from Liverpool. Having those relationships means that you can get those excellent players coming in. He agreed that sometimes you can have too many and clubs have been relegated off the back of having too many loan players. “Loan players can be very beneficial in building the squad, because you can get very talented players in who you wouldn’t otherwise have. It can also help from a budgetary perspective.” He explained, though, that some clubs now want extortionate loan fees, so it’s not always possible to bring the loan players in from a budgetary side.

Q:  What’s your favourite walking area?

Nigel said that he lives in Hampshire, so he enjoys the countryside.

Q:  Win or lose on Sunday, what are your three main priorities for next season?

1) "Getting pre-season organised

2) recruitment through the summer, so not going on holiday but being available to chat to players at any time;

3) giving everything we’ve got, having players with a smile on their face, and who are fully committed to CAFC."

Q:  Who in the game has influenced/inspired you in your time?

“I don’t think there’s just one. There are people from American football, rugby - Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones are two examples. I can’t give one example. I’m always learning.”

Q:  What is the funniest thing that has happened to you during a match as a manager?

NA: “I nearly fell over the water bottles once.” He said there’s always good banter from behind the dugouts, which "makes you chuckle, even if they’re giving you stick." He said that when he was a 17-year-old goalkeeper at Tranmere, a golf ball went flying past his ear – “welcome to the world of football”. He told a story of a Colchester game where “the goalkeeper was taking too long to take a goal kick, and an old boy got his walking stick, and smacked him over the backside with it!” He said that you’ve got to realise you’re going to get the banter, and that’s part of the game.

Q:  How far down the road are you in identifying players to strengthen the squad?

Nigel said he has another meeting tomorrow but it will become more focused once we know what league we’re going to be in

Q: How is the decision reached whether to sign a player or not?

“The owner is the one who signs the cheque. Our owner’s heart is in the right place, and we’ve got stability.” He said that sometimes in the past, he’s had deals ready to go, and the owner has decided he doesn’t like the player so has let the negotiation fail. He said decision making has to be a team effort.

Q: Do you have a cage at the training ground for training?

“Caged lions, caged tigers.” Nigel said that we train in big and small areas. "We don’t have cages, but we have small, defined areas". He explained that he likes players to scan, so he wants them to scan before the ball comes, get the ball, control it, and know where it’s going to go next.

Q:  Who is the funniest player in the dressing room, and who is the most influential?

"Who’s the funniest? I don’t know. I’m not privy to the total banter. I think that’s a matter for the players, and I’m still getting to know them all.”

Q:  How important was the win against Lincoln for morale?

Nigel said that he likes to think that he always keep morale up regardless, but that it was a crucial win, and did great credit to the players. "It takes it to the last game of the season, and who knows, there are twists and turns." He said that we’re third favourites to get that final position, but we’ve got a shot. “In whatever you do, you’ve got to keep believing.”

Q:  Would you have joined Charlton if Thomas hadn’t been the owner?

Nigel said that he got a phone call totally out of the blue asking if he would speak to Thomas on Zoom. He said he has been offered several jobs before and had turned them down but he said that he could see something special was happening at Charlton and Thomas sold him the vision of being back in the Premier League. “I was offered the job, and I accepted very quickly, so it all happened in a flash. I think everyone can sense that something special is going to happen. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and that started with Thomas, the day he joined the football club. Yes, we’re going to have the snakes and ladders of a football season, but I’m really proud that I’ve got the opportunity to be a part of the journey, and all the supporters are going to be there when we get to the destination.”

Q:  Who has been your favourite player as a manager?

“Adam Lallana. He was infectious, had unbelievable talent, and was willing to work so hard every day, and to support his team mates. His ability was undoubted. His physical data was through the roof. You would pay money to watch him, because he was a joy to watch.”

Q:  In terms of preparation for a game, how much time do you spend focusing on the opposition?

Nigel said that he spends a lot. “The battle is won before you get on the battlefield.” He said that you do a lot of research on not only the opposition, but also on the referee, including checking out the data, and making sure that where you need to, you get the referee onside. “You check the pitch dimensions, the weather, the conditions, the strength of the opposition, their formations, how they play out from the back, what they’re like at set-pieces, and where their weaknesses are, both in terms of individual players and their systems.”

Q:  What would be your favoured formation next season?

Nigel said that this is a great question that he often gets asked. He said that he doesn’t play 4-4-2, he plays 1-4-4-2, because the goalie is the most important player in the team. You have to be able to build from the back and play from there. “It’s the principles of play. You need to be adaptable.” He explained that it depends on the personnel that you’ve got at times. “It’s dead easy for me to just turn around and say, I want us to play a 1-4-3-3, like Liverpool, who are European Champions. Man City play a 1-4-3-3 in a totally different way. I love watching Leeds United, who play a 1-4-3-3, too, but again, in a totally different way. It depends on what you’ve got. It’s not as simple as just saying you’re going to play a set formation.”

Q:  Are you sitting in your garage or do you need to get a pay rise to buy some wallpaper?

“I thought it might be backs against the wall. I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. I like these bricks. I’ve got the deer running in front of me, so it’s a nice view in front of me.”

Heather McKinlay reminded Nigel that his Scunthorpe team had come from behind to beat Millwall 3-2 in the 2009 League One play-off final. Nigel remembered the game well and commented that he had some good memories of playing against Millwall and that “It’s about time we made some good memories here, isn’t it!”

A quick poll revealed that 79% of attendees were confident that we would beat Millwall at the first opportunity under Nigel's management.