The season, and more or less everything else Charlton-related, just keeps getting more confusing, at least for a simple soul like myself. On the fresh investment/takeover front, as ever I have no idea what is or might be going on behind the scenes (anybody looking for actual news here please stop now); and nobody can blame Richard Murray for not being specific in the statement released by the club. If anything has to remain confidential until signed, or at least a formal offer made, it’s on this front. But the latest report from the BBC, citing a “senior source at the club”, seems reasonably blunt, suggesting that the Beeb at least is confident about its facts.
The weekend speculation, from the somewhat less reliable source of The News of the World, focused on Peter Ridsdale apparently trying to put together a deal to take us over, one that was prompting divided opinion on the part of the board (which is a little odd as Murray’s is the only opinion that matters). That prompted a denial from him, that the reports were “categorically untrue and without foundation” and that “at no time have I made a bid for Charlton nor do I intend to do so”. That does of course leave it open whether he could be involved in a bid in some way, shape or form. Then came the club statement on the site, that the process of actively seeking investment “continues”, that “we have constant conversations with interested parties” (pedant linguistic point here: regular, ongoing conversations fine, constant conversations not), but that “we’d like to make it clear to supporters that no deal is imminent”. All fine and good.
The subsequent BBC report claimed that a takeover bid led by Sebastien Sainsbury had been rejected, on the grounds that the offer had not come with proof of funds. The report referred to Ridsdale in the context of him being involved in a rival US bid advised by the MD of Citibank’s sports finance unit, who apparently tried to buy Cardiff and Hull. Given that Sainsbury was reportedly involved in a failed bid in 2004 to buy Leeds and that he apparently in July registered a ‘takeover vehicle’ called Charlton Athletic 2010 Ltd, this leaves entirely open whether the NoTW simply thought that all roads lead back to Ridsdale, or whether he is involved in some way without having or intending to bid himself. We just don’t know and maybe never will. If there was a bid by Sainsbury and if it was rejected for lacking proof of funds, clearly that leaves the door open for a fresh effort addressing those concerns.
Our backstop is Murray’s repeated pledge that “the future of the club is paramount in my thoughts, and the identity of any new owners or investors is of huge importance to the board and I; they have to be right for the board and the club”. We can’t tell whether he means that Sainsbury or Ridsdale might not meet our ‘fit and proper person’ criteria, but maybe there’s mileage in applying some simple risk/return profile rules.
It’s reasonable to apply four ratings/rankings for any prospective new owner (a new investor is a different matter; anyone with a cheque that doesn’t bounce for a minority stake would be acceptable). In an ideal world a new owner of the club would have the personal credentials of a Nelson Mandela (I would have said St Francis of Assisi but as a life-long committed atheist he would have failed my test), the assets of at least an Abramovich, the style sense of a Mourinho, and no property-related vehicles. The last criterion has to be applied because of the obvious risk involved in The Valley and/or training ground being used in an asset-stripping purchase; it shouldn’t be necessary as Murray’s pledge is clear. The third is just a subjective variable which can be used at random in the event that there are areas of doubt; it would have been useful in eliminating Gold and Sullivan. For reference purposes, and with a note to his own recent comments, Jordan scores zero on all fronts and can be considered the benchmark for the unacceptable, even if he came backed by sole rights over China’s foreign exchange reserves.
There are of course acceptable trade-offs. I have nothing but respect for the way that for example Barry Hearn has run Orient, not simply throwing money away in a fruitless pursuit of ‘success’. But we don’t need a replacement for Murray of this nature as there would, for us at least, be no upside. An acceptable financial commitment is required, ie some person or group that will only see a return with us at least stable in The Championship with aspirations of a return to The Premiership. It’s taken a few years for even the very flush owners of QPR to get that team into a position to challenge for a place in the top flight. We all have patience if things seem to be moving in the right direction (as three wins on the spin demonstrate). The Dubai guys in different global and regional circumstances would have been fine, especially if Murray had a continuing role.
Of course, where it all gets messy is when we attract interest from all the flotsam and jetsam of the football world with no real interest in the club other than making a buck (ie selling it on at a higher price within a few years). Not necessarily bad if it works, but a bloody disaster if it doesn’t (when the tax bills start running up and suddenly we find the ground’s truly on the line). I’ve no idea where Sainsbury sits in that context, but it’s fair to say that there would be doubts about Ridsdale, especially in view of the comments of others. Trouble is, overseas money would have to be attracted by the long term prospects (of course they’d learn to love us and the club) as anyone with the funds available could presumably get a half-decent Championship club.
So, all as clear as mud. With nothing imminent, we wait, and think about matters on the pitch. I was in Amsterdam when we took on Swindon and spent the weekend trying to catch up rather than taking a trip to Barnet. Didn’t sound like a thriller and of course a replay has mixed implications: yes, as Elliot says on the site another game can help with the gelling process, but it will presumably be a game that will cost us money on the night. I know it’s wrong, and for sure the prospect of a second-round home tie against Luton or Corby gives even us with our recent cup record a decent shot at making the third-round draw. And that in turn could help boost the coffers. But money aside I just don’t at present look forward to the possibility of a third-round clash with one of the ‘big boys’. It would just serve as a reminder of what used to be. As and when we’re back in The Championship a cup run, or just a game against Premiership opposition, is an attractive prospect as it would be enticing, holding out what could be in the future, rather than what has gone before.
It (I hope) goes without saying that tomorrow night’s clash against Southend will also see me absent. I made it there last season for the league game, but a second trip for a competition even the final of which is not appealing (done the Full Members Cup Final, which is on a par) is too much to take on board. There are restrictions on how many of the recent starting X1 we can rest, but I hope the allocation’s used in full. And in what’s becoming a list of sorry excuses, Peterborough on Saturday is unlikely. Lyon comes to London this weekend and I’m not sure this is what Suzanne had in mind when she said she’d like to see more of England.
Which just leaves one abiding thought concerning reaction to the Brighton game. Did the level of criticism from many have a positive impact? It shouldn’t have, and I’d be tempted to say instead that in the subsequent three games we’ve had the breaks when against Brighton we didn’t (which is not to say we were unlucky to lose), but you never know. How do we go from shipping seven goals in two games to three successive clean sheets? Greater focus on cutting out simple mistakes and greater emphasis on defending? Again, shouldn’t be necessary, and again it’s clear from the highlights that Swindon at least could easily have taken the lead, which could have meant a different outcome. Small margins, but if there’s a lesson it has to be most games this season are going to be won or lost by a few key moments – at least until we’ve fully gelled and roll over all who stand in our way.