Michael Appleton has been appointed at Charlton Athletic as their head coach, and it’s sparked some conversation amongst City fans as to whether he was a success at Sincil Bank or not.
I put out a thread out on Twitter (or X if Elon’s reading) yesterday morning sharing a few of my thoughts on the appointment itself, and how I thought some of the comments from our fanbase about Michael are unfair considering the success he brought to the club during his 3 year tenure. I basically detailed how I thought he did lots for the club off the pitch, and played a huge part in the transition from the ‘Cowley Era’ to the ‘Head Coach/Director of Football Era’, and how he helped developed multiple players throughout his time here.
Lots of fans don’t feel the same way – although almost every single fan respects what he managed to deliver during the ‘lockdown season’. Many believe that his style of play was boring and that he lacked a connection with the fans, leading to a pretty hostile atmosphere around the ground – something which we hadn’t witnessed for years before he was appointed.
Everyone’s opinions matter, but all the talk on Twitter gave me inspiration for an article based on what I think went right at City and what didn’t go right for the man from Salford.
Transition from the Cowley Model to the DOF Model
Although the transition from the Danny Cowley manager led recruitment model to the director of football model was all down to the club’s board, Michael had a big impact on the change to the way things were down at Sincil Bank, especially when he first arrived. Our success under the Cowley brothers was such a great time to be involved with the football club, two promotions, trophy at Wembley and everyone heading in the same direction with the same goal in mind. Under the management of Danny, the recruitment was led by the management team, they identified who they wanted and the board went and got them – obviously it’s not that easy but you get my point. That model works for some, but it’s coming increasingly rare in the modern game.
When Danny and Nicky departed for Huddersfield, the club were left craving a new start. It was a perfect opportunity for us to become a more modern thinking club, and the appointment of Michael as a ‘head coach’ showed that we were going towards a director of football model, which would hope to see us buy young players for next to nothing, and sell them on for big money. Peterborough showed everyone how to do it, and they were – and still are – the blueprint to how many clubs are looking to do things.
Danny built a League One ready team. Michael Bostwick and Jason Shackell in central defence, with Harry Toffolo and Neal Eardley ever present as the full-backs. The midfield options were quality, with the young energetic Joe Morrell, partnered with the experienced Michael O’Connor. While the attack possessed blistering pace that frightened even the best defenders in the division. There was quality amongst the squad, but Michael labelled it as unbalanced and ageing, and within six months of his appointment, that League Two title winning team had been ripped apart.
In Danny’s league final game, the Imps lined up as follows: Josh Vickers, Toffolo, Bostwick, Shackell, Eardley, O’Connor, Callum Connolly, Jorge Grant, Jack Payne, Bruno Andrade and Tyler Walker.
The January transfer window saw Max Melbourne and Tayo Edun brought in on permanent deals as replacements for the outgoing Toffolo. Liam Bridcutt and Conor Coventry joined on loan deals with the midfield completely changing, while Anthony Scully, Tom Hopper, Zack Elbouzedi and Tyreece John-Jules came in as attacking reinforcements with the likes of Andrade leaving the club. Our average age shot down and the signings of Melbourne and Edun in particularly showed the change that the club and Appleton were trying to make, it was certainly a new era at Sincil Bank.
The current success with a brilliant young squad under Mark Kennedy has evolved because of the change we made with the appointment of Michael. He put the early foundations in place with the changes he made in his first transfer window and a few of players that came in that window went on to become great players for our club and move on to bigger things.
My Way or the Highway
One criticism of Michael I always had was the inability to allow players to work their way back into his plans. If your face didn’t fit, you weren’t wanted at the football club. This applied for many of the Cowley era players, and even his own signings too. I think the most obvious case of this was Jack Payne. He went on the Lower League Look podcast just a few months ago and spoke about how he was treated by Michael during his time at the club.
Jack said: “He [Appleton] kept me in the team and I was buzzing about it, but a few games in it changed. My last ever start for Lincoln I scored away at Wimbledon and then I got dropped. I knocked on his door loads and asked why I’m not playing and he never gave me a proper answer”
There is evidence of this with loads of players. Lee Frecklington, Tom Pett, Aaron Lewis, Zack Elbouzedi, Theo Archibald and even Sean Roughan are just a few examples of the players that he froze out in different situations. Even Lasse Sorensen had a difficult time with Michael looking in from the outside, with next to no game time in the last few months of the season, despite being signed by the manager that summer.
Although many people will form opinions, like I did with that list above, lot’s of situations were misunderstood including Max Melbourne’s situation with the manager. Many people believed Max deserved a better opportunity in a City shirt under Michael and that he hadn’t been treated fairly at all, but when I spoke to Max in an AllLincoln Exclusive Interview a few months back, he assured me that he had a good relationship with the manager, and there was no ill feeling between the pair.
“The relationship wasn’t poor, we had clear dialogue with each other… He didn’t treat me unfairly… He was the one that signed me and had the faith in me to kick on… I’ve got no issues with Lincoln as a club or Michael at all.“
Michael’s way of management definitely seemed like ‘my way or the the highway’ but there is always two sides a story, and plenty of managers have used the same methods in the past and plenty will use it in the future.
Favourites – The Chris Maguire Section
Michael certainly had his favourites at times during his time here, and mostly during his last season with the club. I wasn’t going to put this section in but when I saw a comment on my Twitter post about Conor McGrandles being almost undroppable in the 21/22 season despite some costly mistakes, I had to consider how he leaned towards certain players.
Jake Hesketh seemed to be the first one he took a liking too. Hesketh was playing over Payne and I think we all know which one deserved to be playing, and that’s backed up by Hesketh now playing in the 7th tier of English football. He was also very fond of Liam Bridcutt, but that wasn’t much of an issue due to his ability and how good of a player he was. Although it does leave you wondering, that if Michael hadn’t rushed back Liam all the time, that we might have been able to get a good run of games out of our captain.
His biggest favourite was certainly Chris Maguire. It’s controversial but I liked him – but when he wasn’t performing he was still in the team and that wasn’t right. Chris underperformed in almost every game after Sunderland away – he had an impact before Christmas at times but he was really ineffective in the second half of the campaign. His form partnered with almost having a fight with a fan, turned things really toxic for Chris, and that reflected on the manager because he continued to pick him. Chris left the football club like Michael did after a few games under Kennedy, and it was no surprise to see him depart Sincil Bank.
Every manager has favourites, it’s natural but the situation with Maguire cost Michael big time, especially with the fans.
Developing Young Players
There is no denying Michael is extremely talented when it comes to developing young players into EFL footballers. That comes from his pedigree of being involved with coaching and you can see similar qualities in Mark too.
The biggest one is Brennan Johnson. The Welshman just secured a £47.5 Million move to Spurs and I’m certain Brennan wouldn’t deny that Michael was a key factor in his career taking off as it did. Since leaving City, Brennan became a key player in Nottingham Forest’s promotion and then first season in the Premier League, he has played for Wales at a major tournament and now moved to a big club. It’s an impressive rise that started with us taking him on loan.
Michael brought in some quality loans. Alex Palmer has gone on to play Championship football with West Brom, while Morgan Rogers is now with last year’s Championship play-off finalists Middlesborough. Liam Cullen and Morgan Whittaker won’t be remembered as much as the others but both are now playing week-in week-out at a high level for their clubs. Lewis Fiorini is another quality loan that came in, and has since gone on to play higher than League One.
It’s not just loans though. Michael was very good at bringing in players on permanent deals that would go on and make money for the club. Tayo Edun is the prime example, with Blackburn swooping in for the full-back and giving us a reported £500,000 fee. I’m 100% sure Tayo will be really happy to be working under his former manager again. Anthony Scully, Jorge Grant and Cohen Bramall all left the club for undisclosed fees, which were more than we paid for them too. He also brought in the likes of Regan Poole, Ben House and Adam Jackson, who have all gone on to be crucial players for the football club in the past few years.
Michael is an extremely talented coach. He gets the best out of young players and that was really evident throughout his time at the club.
An Overview and Charlton Views
Overall, I think Michael had lots of success during his time at City. He set a precedent off the pitch with the changes in recruitment and that set the foundations for the future of the club. There were things he got wrong, but he had a tough time with the Cowley’s as his predecessors and personally I think he did a good job and he set the foundations for our current success.
There are other things I haven’t mentioned, in particular the injuries. I won’t go in depth but Michael was extremely unlucky with the injuries we had during his time at the club. We failed to get our club captain fit and both of our senior central defenders also weren’t able to play the majority of the season. That’s without forgetting injuries to Tom and Jorge in the play-off season, that probably cost us automatic promotion. Who knows who was to blame for the injuries, but you had to feel for the manager a little bit as we regularly named 4 or 5 subs on the bench rather than the 7 we were allowed.
I respect what Michael did for City, as do many, but we’ve moved on now to a new period of football at Sincil Bank under Mark Kennedy.
Only time will tell how Michael does at Charlton, but I personally think he’ll do well. They’ve got a good squad and he’ll love the fact he gets to work with both McGrandles and Edun again. If it goes right, they’ll be up there this season but like I’ve said only time will tell, but I’d like to see him do well, as long as it isn’t at the expense of us.