Charlton manager Ben Garner looks to Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola as Addicks target promotion in style

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Garner believes he is ready to match owner Thomas Sandgaard’s lofty ambitions (CAFC)
Garner believes he is ready to match owner Thomas Sandgaard’s lofty ambitions (CAFC)

The challenge for Charlton’s new head coach Ben Garner is not just promotion, but promotion in style.

Garner’s predecessor Johnnie Jackson was sacked after six months in the job, partly over his style of play, which was not progressive enough for owner Thomas Sandgaard - a rock musician who wants the Addicks to play a version of Liverpool’s heavy metal football.

Sandgaard’s demands on a League One budget have raised eyebrows but for Garner playing modern football is non-negotiable and simpler than often portrayed.

"Absolutely, I think it’s possible [to play that way in League One]," Garner tells Standard Sport.

"Pressing, for example, is a bit of tactical understanding and running. These are things that I believe players at any level, with a bit of direction and fitness, can do.

"I’m confident that we can put forward a really good style of play and be competitive. I really believe in it, I’m passionate about it. It’s easy for me to coach because I wouldn’t play any other way. That’s my belief. Those are my principles.

"We had a successful season at Swindon doing it, on a [transfer] embargo, and with very limited resources and a very limited squad in terms of numbers.

"There’s no reason that can’t be replicated in a higher division with more resources available."

Garner is a disciple of Pep Guardiola and, in his sole season at Swindon, his side ranked first in League Two for goals, shots, shots on target, possession and passes per game, only to miss out on promotion via the play-offs.

Injury ended Garner’s hopes of playing professionally and the 42-year-old had to work his way up from Under-11s coach at Crystal Palace.

After eight years in the Eagles’ academy, he was promoted to the first-team set-up by Ian Holloway in 2013 and spent the next five seasons in the Premier League.

"Because you haven’t got a reputation, a background, the finances to fall back on, you really have to work, study and perfect the craft," said Garner, who had an 11-month stint in charge of Bristol Rovers before joining Swindon last summer.

Garner spent five seasons in the first-team coaching set-up at Crystal Palace (Getty Images)
Garner spent five seasons in the first-team coaching set-up at Crystal Palace (Getty Images)

"It’s different when you’ve had the pathway I’ve had. You have to pay the bills. I haven’t got the luxury of an established playing career to fall back on, or financial security. Like many people over the country, I need to do well in my job to take care of my family."

Garner’s coaching journey includes encounters with Terry Venables and Jose Mourinho, who helped him with his UEFA Pro-Licence, but his formative years were spent working for some of English football’s most renowned old-school managers at Palace.

After Holloway’s sacking, Garner remained first-team coach under Tony Pulis (who later took him to West Brom), Neil Warnock and Alan Pardew, while he also assisted Steve Coppell during a stint in India.

"All unique, all very big personalities, all very different ways of working, which looking back was fantastic," Garner said. "If I’d just worked for one manager in that period, I’d have only had one set of learnings."

Garner acknowledges that none of his bosses shared his philosophy on the game but had no difficulty in following instructions.

Under Pulis, for example, he was tasked with coaching Palace and West Brom’s quick transitions - very different from the patient possession football he will demand from his Charlton players.

"I was very much a possession coach, I very much believed in developing young players technically and tactically, making them intelligent," he said.

Garner was appointed on a three-year contract at Charlton (CAFC)
Garner was appointed on a three-year contract at Charlton (CAFC)

"And then [I was] working with managers who saw the game in a different way, with different principles.

"As an assistant, you have to understand what the manager wants and deliver that.

"[But] you always retain your own believes on how you would do things if you were the manager. At that point, I was still developing. I wasn’t ready to be a manager.

"It’s about understanding my own strengths, my own principles, the way I want to play. And then looking at how they’ve dealt with certain situations, taking those things on. But you have to do that with your own style to be successful."

Now, Garner believes he is ready to match Sandgaard’s lofty ambitions and lead Charlton back to relevance, and his inspiration comes from very different sources.

"If it’s a style of play I don’t enjoy or don’t believe in, I tend not to watch it," he said. "I focus on the teams which align with the way I see the game. Pep would be the biggest one for me in terms of how his teams have played. He’s changed football in this country.

"We’ve been privileged to have Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola going head to head with two of the best teams this country has ever seen. If you can’t learn from their teams, you’re not opening your eyes."

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