Ah well, news that the youth cup game against Arsenal has been postponed has resolved at least one of my dilemmas. Would have liked to go along to add to the backing, but time is of the essence at the moment (which rather begs the question why spend some rattling off yet another on thoughts about Roland) as my place needs fumigating again before my French partner Suzanne arrives on Wednesday and before we head off together on Thursday for a spot of fishing. And snowmobiling (apparently), whalewatching, and a few other assorted activities in Iceland, with (if we are lucky) the Northern Lights thrown in for fun.
This junket, which was planned some time before the fixture list came out, means that I’ll also be having to pass on Saturday’s trip to Sheffield for the cup game. If all goes according to plan (and schedule), when we take the field I shall be somewhere in the middle of nowhere (literally), possibly digging holes in the ice to catch some dinner (or holes in the drifts to dig out Suzanne if she gets a bit over-enthusiastic with her snowmobile). With luck, and barring erupting volcanoes or frostbite in extremities, I’ll be back at it in time for QPR, no doubt in a T-shirt basking in the balmy UK weather.
Perhaps it’s a good time for a break in any event. I don’t like feeling negative about Charlton-related developments (I think a fault of mine over the years has been trying to be too upbeat, especially about some players’ performances, as I really want them all to turn out to be world-beaters). If I’m due a period of being sent to Coventry, I’m happy that it isn’t actually Coventry and if distance and isolation helps a sense of perspective I ought to be spot on by the time we get back.
Let’s try a bit of interim perspective, if that’s possible. Our overriding priority for this season, before and since the takeover, has been to avoid relegation (of course we hoped for something better in the summer/autumn, but the absence of strengthening until virtually the first game cast doubt over what might be achievable, while subsequently injuries have left us stretched). I can’t see relegation as a blip at the start of a brave new era; it would be a massive setback. I’ve followed us in the third flight enough times in my life not to be full of glee at the prospect of doing so again, especially so soon after getting back up. I don’t entertain any notions of us being ‘too big’ for the third flight (how can we?); if we get relegated it will be because over the season we were one of the three worst teams and have to accept that. So the following questions are addressed purely in terms of whether changes made, in my opinion, increase or less the risk of our being relegated.
Do I believe Duchatelet is completely indifferent to whether or not we are relegated? No, despite the indications in The Voice of The Valley about the adjustment to his purchase price if we go down. Any such clause would seem like sensible business practise in light of our position and doesn’t amount to a compelling reason to think that we have just been bought as a feeder club. Does he want to get us into the Premiership? Yes, there is every reason to believe that he does. Why wouldn’t he, whether it’s about money or ego? That’s the good news/positives out of the way.
Have the changes made to the squad made relegation more or less likely? I don’t think there’s any question it’s the former. For sure we needed strengthening in the window. But for me that amounted to retaining core strengths (including team morale and character, in the form of key players). By all accounts (again drawing on The Voice and other bloggers), in addition to disposing of Alnwick, Stephens and Kermorgant (and of course Smith), Morrison would have gone if an offer had been sorted out, Evina and Pritchard may well have gone on loan. Who else might have been sold if offers had come in and/or they were fit will remain speculation.
Irrespective of the abilities of the players brought in, we have 18 league games left to get out of the bottom three. Others have commented on how many points we may need to get. The way the league is panning out we could get lucky and finish fourth from bottom on a low points total. But as desperation sets in others will be fighting and it’s reasonable to expect those around us to average more points than they have to date. Our position is precarious (but not yet desperate) and all we can do is watch, wait and hope as far as the league is concerned during the week ahead. Even a target of 50 requires 26 points from these 18 games. That’s more than an equal number of wins/draws/defeats.
In short, Sir Chris stressing that the new players have to hit the ground running is an understatement, especially if there are more coming in during the loan widow. They are in new surroundings, a new country, with new teammates, and (so far) no experience of Championship football (or of playing on our pudding of a pitch). You hope for quick miracles and early understanding, but it is an enormous ask. We could easily after a while come together and begin to play well, learning to focus on the strengths of a changed team, only for it to be far too late. And while this is going on, will some players who it seems the club was happy to move on be really committed to the task? I hope so.
Which of course brings us back to Sir Chris. It is given that his contract situation, and that of a number of players, was an utterly undesirable state of affairs for Duchatelet to acquire, for which the previous owners are to blame. However, the idea that it makes sense in our situation for him to take his time to assess the boss and to make a real decision at the end of the season rings hollow to me. Understandable perhaps, but not what we need in our position. There’s an element of sentimentality involved for sure, given our deep affection for Powell. But we don’t have time on our hands and surely it would help rather than hinder our cause if the players (new and old) were made aware in no uncertain terms that the manager has the backing of the owner. I happen to feel he deserves that.
Now some other quibbles. We were told that Duchatelet would not have day-to-day involvement. Well, if he’s a bit bored and does after all have time on his hands, I don’t mind if he spends it looking at day-to-day affairs. But when it comes to undermining the manager’s position by getting involved in player selection that’s unforgivable. Sure, there’s a process of getting to know each other, working things through. But if you don’t trust his judgement to the extent of who goes on the pitch (let alone selling players he wants to keep) replace him with someone you have faith in or do the job yourself.
Reading The Voice was depressing, including the suggestion that the family area may be relocated to where I currently sit (surely we are not going to be in a position where we want to give people a reason not to renew?) but mostly for the account of Kermorgant’s departure. Either that article is wrong, and the sentiments that he expressed in the South London Press interview are wide of the mark, or the club statement giving the impression that everything was done to try to keep him is misleading. Decide for yourselves. It does drive home the point that Meire may well be intelligent, articulate etc but she doesn’t pay the piper. (Another anecdote from personal experience is that the guy I sold my company to had a PA; she was his ‘eyes and ears’ in the office and everyone knew it; the guy often complained to me that she was being treated unfairly by others as she was frozen out; the fault was his, not hers, for putting her in that position. I’m sure Meire’s a lot smarter and more discerning than to simply report back everything said and done, but she’s a piper too after all.)
In short (again), putting to one side for now whatever vision/strategy Duchatelet has for Charlton, the tactics to date have been (in my opinion) dreadful. It simply isn't enough to think he's a successful businessman so he can't be dumb (I keep remembering the '5-year plan' that the Icelandic former owners of West Ham had for that club). Dumb is a bit all-embracing and covers a multitude of character traits which in some situations can be strengths and in others weaknesses. Perhaps he’s a fan of Von Clausewitz. “It’s better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past”, or “pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination”. If he is, I hope he doesn’t forget “obstinacy is a fault of temperament. Stubbornness and intolerance of contradiction result from a special kind of egotism, which elevates above everything else the pleasure of its autonomous effect, to which others must bow”. I don’t think that one’s meant as a compliment.