Dean Holden: No ceiling on our ambition

CAST is very grateful to Dean Holden for giving up his time to meet CAST members on Thursday evening and to answer their questions. As usual he was engaging and as open and honest as he could be while remaining discreet where appropriate. This is what he said:

Q: Are there any particular lessons you have learnt from the pre-season ?

DH:  Overall I'm pleased. We were outstanding at Millwall but obviously we learned a lot in that first half against Aberdeen. Even that is useful - we might have to come from a three goal deficit at some time in the season ahead. I'm excited. I can't wait. I want to see the place rocking.

Q:  What is the ceiling of expectation this season ?

DH:  I don't believe we should put a ceiling on anything. We shouldn't limit our ambitions. We aim to finish as high as we can. I believe you get the best out of people if you allow them to be free and unburdened. Some people say that League One will be easier this season but it is hard to predict until the end of the transfer window. We are concentrating mainly on ourselves. What I can say is that when the players put their heads on the pillow tomorrow night they will feel fully prepared and fit. And there is a really good spirit.

Q:  The transfer business so far looks good. Are we looking at another striker ?

DH:  We still have targets and we know what profile of players we want. Movement in and out will continue. All our top targets have already been achieved. It is impossible to say whether anything is imminent. The signing of Alfie May took a long time. It seemed close and then drifted away again. Then I suddenly got a phone call to say it was happening. That was a great phone call. Chuks has had a really hard time with a lot of setbacks. It is important not to put a time on his return. He'll be back when he is ready.

Q:  Are we sticking with the No Dickheads policy ?

DH:  That will never change. As you know, I'm very interested in the psychology side of the game and I'm a fan of Damien Hughes who has studied and analysed different football cultures. What is most important is a commitment culture. Football is no different from other jobs. I've done plenty of other jobs - I've done a paper round and collected the glasses in a pub. As we all know, if you don't feel valued or you don't think someone's got your back then your motivation dips. We will have bumps along the road this season and what matters is that we all pull together. I talk about it a lot.

I don't want a team of angels. I'll name the team tomorrow and there will be more left out than are playing. I want them to be knocking on my door asking me why they aren't playing. I don't want them moping around the training ground. They have to push the man wearing the shirt and prove to me they should have it. I want them to call out things like bad timekeeping or leaving the canteen a mess.

Q:  What did you learn from the trip to Old Trafford and Carrington ?

DH:  I learnt first of all what fantastic support Charlton has. Nine thousand there with no trains back until the morning. It was important we performed well on the pitch and we did (the Rashford goal was offside !). We made a connection with Eric Ten Haag and we can share ideas and build a trust. Maybe we can get young players on loan if they trust us. I learned some good training drills and how to take a good post-match team meeting. They asked us some questions as well but maybe that was just to make me feel good !

Q:  How do you decide which way the team will kick off ?

DH:  I don't micro-manage. Players need to be able to problem solve on the pitch. The weather is probably the most important thing in making a decision.

Q:  Is Martin Sandgaard still at the club?

DH: No. (at that moment Dean received a text from Thomas Sandgaard wishing him luck for the season ahead). Steve Gallen came in to the training ground today and said goodbye to everyone. He leaves on good terms which is important. I am working closely with Andy Scott and building a relationship.

Q:  Why do we persist with playing 3-5-2 when we don't have the players to execute it ?

DH:  I don't think we do persist with it if it isn't working. Our style and identity won't change but we can change systems within a game. I want fluidity and we can tweak the formation for example when Tyreece comes on. I want my teams to play on the front foot with and without the ball. I don't want a hundred passes in our half. I want shots on goal. The thing players want most is clarity.

Q:  What are we doing to ensure young players like Karoy Anderson and Nathan Asiimwe sign longer term contracts and has our thinking about recruitment changed since their emergence ?

DH:  We are in discussions with a number of our young players about contracts. Karoy and Nathan were always earmarked to come in to the pre-season games. We weren't sure how it would go but they should be really pleased with themselves. It doesn't change our recruitment plans.

Q:  Alan Curbishley made Charlton a great football team and I think you are the man to make CAFC proud again. Do you talk to Alan and ask his advice ?

DH:  Yes. Often. I've also spoken to Keith Peacock, Steve Brown and Scott Minto and others. It is vital to build rerlationships and better understand the club.

Q:  How does the system work for getting loan players from Premier League clubs?

DH: Premier League clubs generally want to keep their best young players in-house until nearer the start of their season so they can assess their progress. We have targets in mind and conversations about availability are going on already.

Q:  What is your attitude to cup games ?

DH: I want to win them. I want to win them as much as League games. I want to lift trophies. The boost to confidence that the Brighton win and the Old Trafford trip gave us helped us to get through our next two League games. When we go to Newport we are going there to win.

Q:  What is the news on Miles ?

DH:  He's on track. His ankle boot is off. He has done his early stage rehab in the gym working on his quads and hamstrings. He'll be out on the grass next week, although not with the first team. Another 3-4 weeks we expect.

Q:  Do you think it is important to play with wingers ?

DH:  The main message to players is to "get your eyes up the pitch" and not to ignore a forward pass if you can make one. Sometimes that will be down the sides and sometime through the middle. Alfie May is as good as I've seen off the shoulder. He might make fifteen runs in a game and only be found twice. He doesn't wait. He's like a relay runner. When I arrived the team were subconsciously coached in possession but I want the ball in the opposition half. Aberdeen showed us that we also need to keep the back door shut. We need to be able to defend while attacking.

Q:  Are you prepared to tell us who will be your first choice in goal ?

DH:  No. We have two excellent goalkeepers.

Q:  Lloyd Jones hasn't featured a great deal in pre-season. Is he ready ?

DH: Last season he was playing in a struggling team. He didn't want to let them down and he had a lot of injections to get him through. He then discovered he needed an operation so he had no off-season programme. We will make a call, as we will with one or two other recent arrivals. We don't want to start with players who might only be able to give us 65 minutes.

Q:  What was the most important change you made when you arrived last season ?

DH:  I think the place was very flat when I arrived and I set about lifting morale and confidence. I wanted to put smiles on faces. Players need to know you care about them. There were a few things I questioned about the mentality in the Oxford game but when we went down to Portsmouth we had fantastic support and then we had three wins on the spin.

Q:  What is your attitude to players having interests outside football (eg Lyle Taylor's Pink October) ?

DH:  I'm all for it. I think it helps players to become more well-rounded. Lyle Taylor's was a great initiative. Marcus Rashford was brilliant with his campaign although it was typical that people and some journalists turned against him. I'm really pleased that we are having the foodbank collection on Saturday. I read a frightening statistic that Greenwich Foodbank has had a fifty per cent increase in demand this year. It really winds me up. It isn't because people make bad choices.

Our club's outreach into the local community is massive. I love the area. It reminds me of Salford and Glasgow.

Six or seven of our players started on a coaching licence course last week.

I even watched fifteen minutes or so of Love Island so that I could make a connection with a player !

Q:  What about players and social media ?

DH: It is part of modern life. I can't deny them the opportunity. If it works for them, then crack on but we tell them don't go on it on a Saturday night after a defeat as it might damage your confidence. My rule is that you shouldn't say something on social media that you wouldn't write on a bed sheet and display it outside your parents' house.

Q:  You broke your leg as a player. Does that affect how you manage players ?

DH:  I broke my leg three times actually. The same leg. And not minor breaks - it was the tibia. And I didn't get a free kick for any of them. The first one was after a four match ban after being sent off for a foul on John Robinson. Maybe if I hadn't missed four games it wouldn't have happened so it got me thinking about the stupid red card. I lost five and a half years of my career through injury so I was grateful I was able to play until I was thirty five. I was at Oldham when the club was two days away from liquidation. All these things shape you as a person. I think they have helped me be more empathetic and have more compassion. It also helped me realise the value of sports psychology because my confidence suffered after the breaks.

Q:  Where would you sit if you were a spectator at The Valley ?

DH:  Before taking the job I sat up above the dug out which is a fantastic view but I would definitely want to be in The Covered End with the singers.

I fully respect the tradition of the Red Red Robin when the team comes out but I like the idea of Valley Floyd Road being played just before kick off so that the crowd join in. That would be magical. I heard it at Forest and it makes the hairs on your neck stand up.

Q:  When you were young Charlton must have seemed a distant place on the map but I hope you realise how well appreciated you are down here now. You are not a stranger in a strange land.

DH:  Thanks. I really appreciate that and the welcome and support I have had.

Q;  Is there any chance of Steven Sessegnon returning ?

DH:  I don't think it is fair to speculate about individual players

Q:  Are Terry Taylor and Tayo Edun fit enough for selection yet ?

DH:  Terry had an operation at the end of last season. We would have liked to play him this week but we didn't think playing on a plastic pitch was a good idea. Tayo is fit but he was training at Blackburn with a small group of players so he hasn't done enough full pitch stuff.

Q:  Have you had any contact with the new owners ?

DH:  Not really. Most of my contact has been with Jim Rodwell and Andy Scott. I haven't had any communication with ACA about their strategy.

Q:  Is it true that you are a qualified referee and what do you think about some of the new rules for next season ?

DH: Yes, I qualified as a ref towards the end of my career. I didn't enjoy it much but I was desperate not to lose contact with the game. I did learn some weird and wonderful rules of the game.

I think the decision that FIFA have come up with that a player who is treated for an injury on the pitch must wait 30 seconds before returning is ridiculous. It will cause chaos, particularly if a goal is scored as a result. It is important that supporters are aware of the rule change. There will also be multi-balls around the pitch which will speed the game up. Added time will now be based on actual time spent on substitutions and goals etc which is fair and proper.

Q:  Do you have much contact and communication with Karen Hills ?

DH: Yes. We speak weekly, at least. We often exchange ideas in the canteen. It is good that the doors are open at the training ground and everyone mixes. I remember my first meeting there with Thomas Sandgaard. I was expecting to meet the men's first team but there were about 130 people there. It was great.

Jason Pearce is going to ensure that first team players mentor the under 18s this season.

Q:  Will there be an opportunity to take the players to the museum this season ?

DH:  Yes. What a fantastic place it is. We don't have a date yet but probably after the transfer window. We are also encouraging players to talk about their journeys. Daniel Kanu did a great talk about his family and his upbringing. It all helps to build a community.

It is great that Steve Sutherland is returning to the commercial department with all his knowledge of the history of the club.

Q:  What about the army barracks training ?

DH:  Yes we will do that again. Probably mid-season to give players a change in a different environment.

Q:  Will you be bringing in extra staff to help with your workload ?

DH:  I'm comfortable with what I've got at the moment but I'm always open to new ideas.

Q:  Are we going to improve our set pieces and throw-ins ?

DH:  Well, we will have to as we were really poor last season at both ends. We have been working on throw-ins since day one of pre season and we feel they have improved. Practicing set pieces isn't the most exciting part of training but repetition  and consistent messaging is crucial.  If you give players the "why" they buy into it.

Q: How do you anticipate Leyton Orient playing on Saturday ?

DH: They are team who like possession and they have strengthened by adding Pigott and Graham. I saw Darren Pratley yesterday. He is a great lad and I hope he gets a good reception. We do study the opposition. Josh the analyst provides us with information and we make sure our players understand the key messages.


Once again many thanks to Dean. We apologise to fans who put forward questions which we didn't have time to put to him but we hope we can arrange further meetings of this sort. He enjoyed the evening and would be keen to do it again later in the season - possibly in person with remote access for those further away.

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