It has been a frenzied weekend of sackings in the Championship. Firstly Barnsley removed David Flitcroft, then Sheffield Wednesday sacked David Jones before on Monday, Wigan chose to dismiss Owen Coyle. It was another spasm of football’s knee-jerk culture where clubs lose patience with managers at the first sight of trouble. Life expectancy in the Football League is now shorter than ever, indicated by the fact that Chris Powell, appointed by Charlton in January 2011, is now the longest-serving coach in the second tier of English football.
He currently has Charlton sitting in 20th place, 5 points clear of the relegation spots. Middlesbrough, Derby and now Wigan have fired coaches this season despite sitting above the Addicks and on a run of 3 defeats in their last 4 games, Powell may be forgiven for feeling anxious over his future, especially with the club yet to open talks on a deal that expires next summer. Yet, having taken the club up from League One to finish a respectable ninth in last season’s Championship, Powell will appreciate some loyalty being shown to him as he attempts to continue his project.
Charlton would realise the importance of long-term planning better than most having set-up an infrastructure that allowed them to remain sustainable despite their slide to the third tier. After producing Scott Parker and selling him to Chelsea in 2004, the sale of Jonjo Shelvey to Liverpool in 2010 raised £1.7 million, enough to create a squad that finished as champions of League One in 2012. Of that side, Scott Wagstaffe and Chris Solly established themselves as first-team regulars, emerging from an academy that had also previously produced Carl Jenkinson, now at Arsenal, Lee Bowyer and Paul Konchesky.
Solly remains in the side as right-back though this year it is another academy graduate who is taking the plaudits. Jordan Cousins only made his professional debut in August’s 4-0 win over Oxford in the League Cup, now four months later the 19 year old has made 14 appearances, signed a new 3 year contract and was named the Football League’s young player of the month for October.
“I have always liked Jordan but his pre-season said to me that he will be right and ready for us this season,” was Powell’s verdict of a potential that is quickly being realised.
“It has been like a dream, I was a bit shocked when the gaffer called me up to his office and said I had won the award.”
“It is a great honour and it means I’m at least doing something well. I need to keep my head down, keep working hard and keep putting in performances”, said Cousins after receiving his award.
It has indeed been a remarkable rise for the midfielder who was named League One Apprentice of the Year in 2012. After becoming an outstanding performer for the under-21 side last year, winning the treble of the Professional Development League Two title, Southern Area League Two title and the Kent Senior Cup. Powell has proven himself to be non-averse to fielding youngsters having also promoted 19 year old Callum Harriott to the first-team picture this season, though Cousins believes his elevation from the under-21s was down to a fruitful pre-season.
“In pre-season I realised it was time to step up,” he said, “I was working extra hard to get into the team and when I got the chance in pre-season games I knew I’d have to perform to stand a chance. I think it all started then.”
“He has really made a difference with his all-round play and it has helped other players”, said Powell of his defensive midfielder who has provided a solid base to a system that permits Dale Stephens, Bradley Pritchard, Johnnie Jackson and Harriott to join the attack.
Powell is rightfully worried about his side’s lack of goals so far having managed just 14 though with just 20 conceded, a record bettered by just 7 clubs. That defensive sturdiness is partly down to Cousins’s reading of the game that appears to be in advance of his 19 years, making 22 tackles and 10 interceptions in his 14 league appearances so far. Though it is in the duty of picking the ball up in deep positions where he truly thrives, taking the pressure off his back four by clearing the ball a total of 31 times. His versatility and confidence has allowed him to move up the pitch, attempting 16 shots and creating 5 chances, as well as his first professional goal in his league debut at Barnsley. (All stats are taken from whoscored.com)
It is the technical quality that has been learnt and honed in the academy at Charlton since the age of 13, plus a wealth of experience with the England youth sides from the age of 14 when he was playing in the same under-16 side as Everton’s Ross Barkley. He captained his national side to Victory Shield success in 2009 and was selected for the under-17 World Cup in 2011, starting every game at right-back as he again demonstrated his versatility.
“Going away with England really helped me develop,” said Cousins, who will eye a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s under-21 team should his impressive form for Charlton continue.
Though his next task is to continue that progress as he aims to remain in Charlton’s side and possibly further his career in a similar vein to Scott Parker, the midfielder who some Addicks fans already think Cousins is better than.
“Does he want to get better? I am sure he does. It is down to him to become the player I and many others feel he can be,” said Powell who will hopefully be given the time to oversee his talented midfielder’s progress.
“Let’s take our time with him and let him develop at his pace. Hopefully we have got a player who will have a very, very good career.”
In Cousins, it is definitely looking that may be the case.