Like most Charlton supporters we have been perplexed over the last few weeks about the twists and turns of the appointment of our new manager. However, now that Ben Garner's appointment has been officially announced, we are very pleased to welcome him to the club and to place our confidence in him. We now look forward to the recruitment of players that he believes can transform last season's squad into a genuine promotion prospect.
Although few of us may have known very much about him until recently, the 42 year old has an interesting and mixed CV.
Born in Kent, Garner never played professional football - having suffered a serious injury as a young man. However, he did get into coaching at a young age and started out with Crystal Palace in the early 2000s. There, he began with the U-11s and progressed through the youth ranks over the next seven years to become head coach of the U-18 team. Interestingly, one of the players who passed through the development ranks at Palace at that time was a certain Jonny Williams. Others included two who would go on to play for Manchester United at different points -Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Wilfried Zaha.
Ben Garner then definitely has pedigree when it comes to developing young players, even if they were young Palace players! That development of youth earned him a promotion to first-team coach under Ian Holloway in 2013. He kept this role under a string of managers over the next couple of seasons - Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock and Alan Pardew. Around the same time, he completed his UEFA Pro Licence in 2014 where he was mentored by Jose Mourinho. Other young coaches that Mourinho has mentored include Brendan Rodgers now at Leicester so perhaps there's promise in that too.
After leaving Palace in 2015, Garner joined up with Tony Pulis again at West Bromwich Albion. He stayed there for a couple of years in which he seems to have been highly thought of as a coach and was linked with several full-time management roles. Eventually he took a role alongside Steve Coppell at Indian Super League Club ATK. There's definitely a recurring Palace connection to Garner's career then. But it was at Bristol Rovers that he cut his teeth in management.
Between December 2019 and November 2020 he spent a slightly traumatic year with Rovers in League One. He enhanced his reputation as someone capable of developing young players but not necessarily putting together a balanced team. When he left Rovers he had a win rate of less than 20% and his side were hovering above the relegation zone. Going by reports from Rovers fans, he was a decent coach of players but struggled in a chaotic environment at the time. Strangely then, he seems to have stepped into an even more chaotic environment in the summer of 2021 when he took charge at Swindon.
There, he started his tenure with only seven players but managed to build up a decent squad that included that man Jonny Williams once again. He also signed the very promising London-born forward Harry McKirdy whose name is likely to crop up in CAFC transfer rumours over the summer. Possibly though his key piece of business was the loan signing of Charlton's Josh Davison who went on to score nine goals in Swindon's late charge to the League Two play-offs. There, they only missed out on penalties to Port Vale who went on to easily win the final against Mansfield.
Ben Garner then is leaving a club that came within a whisker of being in the same division as Charlton. That club was seen as one of the most attacking and high-scoring teams in League Two. This emphasis on attacking football is probably something that resonated with the values of Charlton's owner Thomas Sandgaard. Presumably too, Garner's record in developing and coaching young players is something that attracted the owner. Questions though remain as to whether or not Ben Garner is best as a coach or as a manager, with such contrasting fortunes at Bristol Rovers and Swindon.
Time will tell but there are a few things in his favour at Charlton, particularly the strength of the Academy and the fact that he has come in early enough to make the signings he will surely need for any serious attempt at promotion. Whether or not there is that much money available to fund the required signings may be another question. Though the present squad probably under-achieved last season, they cannot suddenly start playing champagne football overnight. Ben Garner has taken on a tough challenge in a tough league but we wish him all the best and hope that he will be given time to implement his vision if there is a sense of positive end product in that vision. Right now, the end product has to be promotion.
In his first CAFC interview Ben outlines his football philosophy and his aims for the seasons ahead:
Thomas Sangaard and Steve Gallen speak here about the recruitment process and their plans for next season: