Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Matt Southall interview: Charlton Athletic's new chairman on Premier League ambition and keeping Lee Bowyer at the club

Southall says the club are in the process of strengthening the squad this window after being taken over by Al Ain-based East Street Investments, with talks also progressing “very positively” with manager Bowyer regarding a new contract

Matt Southall has been installed as the new chairman at Championship club Charlton Athletic. Antonie Robertson / The National
Matt Southall has been installed as the new chairman at Championship club Charlton Athletic. Antonie Robertson / The National

Matt Southall, the new chairman of Charlton Athletic, has outlined his vision for the club following the completion earlier this month of an Al Ain-based consortium’s purchase of the Championship side.

East Street Investments’ takeover was approved by the Football League on January 2, with the new owners seeking to first secure Charlton’s place this season in the second tier of English football before pushing forward with plans of gaining promotion to the Premier League.

Currently, the London club sit 19th in the Championship. They last participated in the English top flight in 2007.

In an interview with The National, Southall said the club are in the process of strengthening the squad this window, with talks also progressing “very positively” with manager Lee Bowyer regarding a new contract.

Asked about remaining in the Championship this season, Southall said: “That's the short-term goal. I’ll be honest, I am very, very confident. Relegation isn’t on our agenda. When we had a full squad of fit players, we were fourth in the league and getting results against Leeds United, West Brom, all theses big, big clubs who were tipped to go up.

“We were second favourites to get relegated this season, so we proved everyone wrong at the beginning of the season.”

Looking beyond this campaign, Southall said the new owners are focusing on improving significantly the infrastructure around the club, with plans in place for a training complex that encompasses close to 40 acres.

A three-story development, it will include three artificial and eight full-size pitches, upgrading the facility's current status from Category 2 to Category 1. Work is scheduled to begin this summer and is expected to be complete within 18 months.

“That’s exciting for us, and it obviously shows our intent in building for the future,” Southall said. “As long as I leave the club in a better place than when I got here, for me that’s my job done. So bringing through players is a high priority.

"But, again, there’s commercial revenues that we’re severely down on that we’re looking at bringing in partnerships in the Middle East, and at player trading.

New Charlton manager Matt Southall has described manager Lee Bowyer as a 'club legend'. PA
New Charlton chairman Matt Southall has described manager Lee Bowyer as a 'club legend'. PA

“My ambition for next season is we want to be pushing for the play-offs; we need to be competitive. I'm not going to sit here and say, ‘We're going to get promoted within “X” amount of time’ because that's mismanaging people's expectations and we're setting a target that we may or not may not hit.

“Ultimately, everybody that gets involved in a club or owns the club, through investment or whatever, they want to get to the Premier League. But it's making sure that the whole infrastructure is ready for that.”

As long as I leave the club in a better place than when I got here, for me that’s my job done. So bringing through players is a high priority

Southall said Bowyer, 43, is a vital part of the club’s ambitious plans. A former Charlton midfielder, he took charge initially as caretaker in March 2018 before guiding his side to promotion from last season's League One via the play-offs. He has been offered a five-year contract.

“I always let Lee know from the outset: he was an integral part of us coming in, as I’ve said before," Southall said. “What he’s done... he’s taken over as interim manager, and then his first full season he managed to lift the spirits.

“I was looking at the stats: our average attendance last season was 19,000, and it’s gradually increasing. The season before it was 13,000. That’s no coincidence, with the style of football Lee's playing and the success he’s had last season and then moving it on.

“Before I came in, I had a vision of how I wanted to run the club. Being a community club, it’s needs to be sustainable and it needs to be sensible. And Lee gets it. He’s used to working within constrained budgets.

“I know if I put him in front of a player he will sell the club to that player. Lee’s a legend; he’s played at Newcastle [United], Leeds [United], and he’s a good guy. He will move the club forward.”

Tahnoon Nimer, chairman of Abu Dhabi Business Development (ADBD) - the private office of Sheikh Saeed bin Tahnoun – and the majority shareholder in East Street Investments, has taken his place on the new board as a director, alongside ADBD chief executive Jonathan Heller.

Updated: January 20, 2020 01:20 PM

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