One of the reasons for nipping down to The Valley for the cup tie against Oxford (another was to ensure I have a ticket stub to frame if this finally proves to be the year we go back to Wembley) was to pick up a programme for both that one and for the Barnsley game (having been lucky enough not to have ventured further than the pub before finding out that the match had been called off). This was not to avail myself of the opportunity to read the same Jordan Cousins feature in both publications, but to see if there was anything contained that might shed further light on the real motivation for Monsieur Duchatelet to buy us and/or his plans and strategy, over and above his statement on the club site.
In the event there wasn’t anything material. In his column Sir Chris did mention that he liked the “vision” he has outlined for the club, without elaborating. But I don’t think there’s much to be read into that. It would have been a tad strange to read that the manager thought a new owner’s plans were daft.
As others have (rightly) commented, it is far too early to pass any sort of judgement on Duchatelet. Less than a month after the takeover and with a week left before the transfer window closes, we can only draw inferences from what we read, what he has done elsewhere, and the player moves to date. And we really don’t want to be negative; we all want this to be the start of a new, glorious chapter. However, this is blogging, not Hansard, so there’s nothing wrong with some idle speculation.
For me the immediate concerns with any new owners centred on any plans for The Valley (ie a move away) and any desire to install a new manager. Duchatelet’s statement was reassuring on those fronts, obviously not ruling anything out specifically but giving no suggestion of his having bought the club with such options in mind. So far so good. But that leaves the motivation and the vision.
In his recent post, New York Addick suggested four possible motives for Duchatelet buying us (and presumably the others he’s picked up): ego or fun, the multi-club model, community (ie ‘doing good’), and a quick turnaround and then sale. I’d broadly agree, but offer some modestly different emphasis (there may of course be something else nobody’s thought of yet and the possible motives are not mutually exclusive): to make money, to have fun (including providing a project to occupy himself), to prove some personal point/fulfil some personal goal, to be loved, or to do good. And let’s get rid of ‘do good’ straight away; somebody genuinely wanting to benefit a community would find other ways. Let’s treat it as a sub-division of wanting to be loved.
Of the possibilities, making money seems fine in principle, but with provisos. If it means investing in an asset to increase its worth, having a stab at getting to the Premiership, and accepting that almost all competitive Championship teams are loss-making (ie the usual approach), so well and good. If it means getting lucky with timings in finding a new buyer prepared to pay over the odds, again so be it. But we were on the market long enough for any other such bidder to have emerged, so it’s reasonable to conclude that this is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. If it means ‘stabilising’ the finances by achieving break-even, and/or believing that the multi-club model offers a way to achieve this, we are venturing beyond Duchatelet ‘having fun’ and into ‘proving a point/I am right’ territory. It amounts to a major gamble, especially as on this basis us getting relegated might not be seen as a disaster (by him).
I think we can live with being a rich man’s plaything for a period of time. We don’t realistically have much option. No rich man wants to be associated with failure and from a flow of funds perspective – even perhaps from a liberal politician’s viewpoint - the spreading of some of an individual’s wealth for the benefit of many (ie us) may be seen as no bad thing. But not to the extent of being part of an experiment conducted by someone who is still very new to the football business, with no background in the game.
So, what do we know about Roland to perhaps infer what the prime motive might be? (For the record, I have never met the man, don’t know anyone who has.) One phrase keeps getting repeated: he doesn’t like being contradicted. Well, nobody in their right mind actually likes being contradicted (other than in the context of a pub ‘debate’ and the opportunity to win the ‘argument’). Being told you’re wrong does nothing for self-esteem, but if I’m dumb enough to expound on my theories about brain surgery in the company of brain surgeons there’s a better than even chance that one or more of them might point out just where I’m mistaken. If Duchatelet’s stupid enough to engage in a similar debate about football with Sir Chris the outcome would be the same (of course I could teach them a thing or two, but that’s another matter).
It would be wrong to describe Duchatelet’s political career as a failure (he was after all a senator for four years) as this presupposes knowledge of the goals he had. But if he was intent on ‘breaking the mould’ it didn’t happen. Does he feel unloved by the Belgian electorate? I thought I’d try some poking around to see if anything can be gleaned from one of his two books. But I only got as far as discovering that you can actually buy ‘Verslag aan de aandeelhouders’ (pub 1994) on Amazon, a used edition, for a mere GBP899. If someone wants to spread his word seems a bit over the top to me, or perhaps the book is so rare it has already acquired considerable value. If Sir Chris or any at the club are kindly offered a copy by our new owner I’d advise them to take it and get it on ebay asap.
Much has been made of the fact that Duchatalet is a businessman, and that this is by no means strange in football. Indeed. And there aren’t many idiots who made fortunes in business (that usually requires relatives/friends in high places and/or corrupt privatisation processes). However, in my experience there’s no shortage of people who’ve made a success in one area only to prove a fool in another. There’s a temptation to think that success is down purely to your own abilities, which can therefore be applied in other areas. Ability, determination, single-mindedness, innovation, understanding etc are all prerequisites for success; but often you also need a fair dollop of luck, just being in the right place at the right time in the right industry. I hope Duchatelet does not prove to be one more.
What can we glean from the actions to date? We’ve been loaned three Standard Liege players. Two of them make some sense, even if presumably they are short of match practise and at least so far haven’t been good enough to break into the SL first team (which to be fair does seem to be running away with the Belgian league). I hope the third, Thuram-Ulien, proves to be a blinding success. But like others I can’t see the need for a third keeper (a fourth if Pope, now on loan, is included), even if it was sod’s law that after many of us suggested as such Hamer and Alnwick were both unavailable for the Middlesbrough game. So we don’t know yet if we’re just a dumping ground/feeder club. It also seems that Sir Chris did indeed want to sign a new forward, Dom Dwyer, but the new owners were not inclined to back his judgement. With Smith going for a fee the books could presumably have been balanced to some extent, but it hasn’t happened.
Again, the jury as yet has to still be out. We just don’t know. I never liked Shakespeare. If you enjoy a jolly romp at a theatre, or delight in use of the English language, there’s a lot to be said for him. But dressing up fairly basic philosophical issues into drama in a fashion which leaves the end-result entirely a matter of interpretation (ie what you already think/believe) always left me cold. Drawing conclusions about Duchatelet at this stage would be tantamount to writing another bloody essay on the Bard.
I think we need some sort of measure by which to assess what he actually does with us. With this in mind, let’s have a ‘Tintinometer’, with a scale of 0-10. ’10’ is equivalent to: ‘my role in life is to provide Sir Chris with all the backing I can, without undue interference, in order to take Charlton onwards and upwards, at The Valley’; ‘0’ is tantamount to: ‘Charlton are now a feeder club and a place where I can give some Standard Liege fringe players some match time, while ensuring that I make no fresh investment in the club which will be run on a breakeven basis as quickly as possible’.
He has to start off on a totally neutral 5. Moves which could result in a downgrade in the near future include the sale of any of Kermorgant, Morrison, Solly or Stephens, even if money received is reinvested. We are in a relegation battle. The dismissal of Sir Chris I don’t want to think about. The absence of any such moves, plus the drafting in of another forward, could equally produce an upgrade. We shall see.