Friday, 31 January 2014

'The Secret To Survivin' Is Knowing What To Throw Away And Knowing What To Keep'

So there we have it. We’re in the bottom three and have disposed of/failed to retain three players who without question would have been on the pitch at Wigan come 3pm tomorrow: the first-choice goalkeeper (assuming of course that the manager picks the team), the main central midfielder, and the major striker (who just happened to have been the most popular and talismanic player at the club – was that ultimately his undoing?). My dictionary definition of progress is ‘forward or onward movement, advance, improvement’; the definition of lunacy is ‘great foolishness’. Only time will tell which of the two the changes, including of course the incoming players, will be the more appropriate label (from a purely pro-Charlton perspective).

All of this is entirely subjective, it has to be, we have to go on how we feel without knowledge and be prepared to be proven wrong. I feel gutted. The changes smack of someone believing he has bought a club that is failing (in the purely financial sense we were) and in need of radical change on the pitch. This season has undoubtedly been a struggle to date. But if someone had told us in August we would be without Solly and Cort, have disruptive injuries to Hamer, Jackson, Kermorgant, and, having said goodbye to Fuller, Haynes (I see his move to Notts County has not exactly worked out) and Obika, that the major striking replacement, Sordell, would barely feature (quite possibly for good reason), and that the owners were not able/willing to commit new funds, it would hardly be surprising to find us in a tough place. So with a new owner we looked forward to strengthening, the priority being retaining Championship status and nothing else.

Instead we have key elements of the team ripped out, in a fashion which at best amounts to a massive gamble, if – and it is a very big if – the priority is to stay up. Of course, nothing is a gamble if you are convinced you are always right, whatever you do has to be a sure thing. And the golden rule is don't gamble with what you aren't prepared to lose. If you are indifferent to the downside of losing, it really isn't a gamble. Selling Stephens and bringing in a replacement would be understandable (for me), selling Alnwick is purely to accommodate a new keeper we didn’t need for financial reasons (which isn't to purely ignore them), letting Kermorgant go – and I simply don’t buy the ‘explanation’ on the club site, which tried to give the impression that all was done to try to keep him – is just a poor decision. You can't get away from the feeling, based on what has been written and said, that Yann would still be with us if the guy who put faith in him (and was rewarded for that faith) had the full backing of the owner of the club. 

We don’t want to revisit League One because we’ve seen it (recently), we know what it’s like. If Duchatelet believes that his actions to date (and we have to assume they are his) improve our chances of staying up, I believe he is wrong. If we find ourselves back in League One next season, we are the ones who will still turn up to support the team, because we are Addicks, and because we know the club will keep its identity, whoever comes and goes. If we survive and prosper, nobody will be more delighted than me - and I will very happily eat whatever is put in front of me, be it humble pie or cheese. This really is not to say I now feel we are likely to be relegated, just that what was confidence in us avoiding the drop has been replaced by a feeling that it's now in the lap of the gods.

Perhaps it does boil down to basics and gut reaction (most things usually do). I have no interest in the team I support being part of somebody’s network, for whatever ultimate purpose. I want us to be owned and run by people who care as much about the club – and what we value – as the rest of us and who prioritise what is in the best interest of Charlton, nobody else. Perhaps Jiminez/Slater didn’t truly appreciate what appointing Sir Chris did for us. It put in charge a guy who embodied values that epitomise so much of what resonates. The chant of ‘we’ve got our Charlton back’ wasn’t an accident, neither was the response of the crowd – and with this the team – in moments of adversity since.

Now Sir Chris is tasked with somehow gelling a new group of incoming players, individuals with no experience of Championship football (except for one) and who have to settle into a new country, plus learning to play with each other. If he succeeds, he (and his staff) will deserve enormous credit. If we go down, there is no question where the blame will lie. If he is replaced, for me, at least for a period of time, it’s over. It’s no sort of welcome for the guys coming in, they deserve better, but what will be the crowd’s reaction if they struggle early on? It seems to me that no value whatsoever has been placed on the character and team spirit that has served us so well over the past couple of years. To risk those qualities instead of building on them smacks of stupidity. 

How can I be so negative when we’ve actually signed what in normal circumstances would be viewed as an exciting, young new forward (indeed potentially two)? Perhaps it’s because we go back to definitions of progress and insanity. It all depends what your priorities are.

Others have penned eloquent farewells to Kermorgant, all of which I'd echo (with one minor qualification; we were behind the goal when Kermit scored his first for us away at MK Dons and know that his header hit the post, came out, hit the keeper and went in). Suffice to add that some former players get a good reception when they return and some don’t. A quick ‘baramoter’ would a 10/10 for Robert Lee, 0/10 for Darren Pitcher. Yann is guaranteed at least a 9. A fellow Addick has already suggested the possibility of him turning out for Bournemouth in the rearranged fixture and scoring to send us down. May it not happen (please Yann, have a prior agreement to pretend to chip the penalty). He goes with all our best wishes for the future and our regrets about the circumstances of his departure. The same applies to Alnwick. Selling him was, in my opinion, cheap and cynical.  

The post last night was ‘how does the world look tonight'?. For a brief period it was looking better. It ain’t now. For the record there is a formal downgrading of the Tintinometer, from 5 to 3, with the rating retaining a ‘negative watch’ status for a possible further downgrade to junk status.

Someone Having A Laugh?

It seems that not everyone at the club is today involved in the transfer scramble, and that person does seem to have a sense of humour. Along with others, I’ve just received an email entitled ‘Charlton Athletic Pitch Hire – Swap the Park for the Pitch’. It includes prices for selected dates/times in April and May. Is there any need to expand/spell out the obvious?

We wait to see what the world looks like when the window closes tonight and to assess all the ins and outs on a net basis. But there’s nothing wrong with comments in the interim, just on the grounds of whether a move makes us stronger or weaker. Disposing of Alnwick? Obviously from a financial perspective, having shifted Thuram-Ulien’s wages from Standard Liege to us, it makes sense. Presumably if Hamer had been fit and an offer came in, he might have left instead. From a footballing perspective (ie does it make us stronger or weaker) of course only time will tell. But exchanging a guy who Sir Chris brought in in September and who has performed admirably since getting his chance, for a keeper who – while of course I hope he goes on to be a star for us – has to be short of match-practise and is unused to the environment, is at best an unwanted gamble given our predicament. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

How Does The World Feel Tonight?

So, how does the world feel today? No question better. 24 hours ago it was hard even to take pleasure in the kids’ superb victory away at Southampton, given the feeling that the best we could hope for is that those making the grade would end up pulling on the shirt of Standard Liege (on loan, or for undisclosed amounts). With the potential departures of Kermorgant, Stephens, Wiggins, Morrison et al, there was the impression that anything to cut costs was being embraced and that Sir Chris was being sidelined and excluded from any footballing-based decision-making process to such an extent that it wouldn’t have been that much of a shock had we woken up to find he had decided to walk.

For me, the three most encouraging things have been first, his reported comments (regarding potential sales and incoming players); second, that it seems possible that Kermorgant won’t go (and that Powell expressly wants him to stay); and third, the possibility that we will bring in a player not already on Duchatelet’s wage bill (ie the Polish striker). The news that Wiggins has signed a new contract in that context is really the icing on the cake. Confirmation of the departure to Brighton of Stephens is hardly welcome, but within the context of the day’s overall developments it is at least understandable.

Irrespective of who has and might come in, I still very much hope that Kermorgant decides to stay with us. Progress comes in different forms. When Sir Chris (and the board) created a new team more than two years ago it was to get rid of the sense of failure that hung around the place as there was no prospect of progress through tinkering. That isn’t the case now. Progress involves building on and adding to what are strengths. Kermorgant, as Sir Chris said better than I, has been and is a real strength for us. All the signs are that with reassurances about direction he still might decide to keep faith with us and stay. My mind is wandering back to the Nicky Bailey song about a certain offer involving a spouse. Well Yann, if you are out there and still weighing up the pros and cons, my French partner Suzanne I’m sure won’t take it amiss if …. (it’s OK, she won’t read this and I’ll deny everything, some problem with translation). So come on Yan, keep the faith and a place in Suzanne’s heart.

If Monsieur Duchatelet isn’t yet convinced of the need to secure Sir Chris’ position it ought to be enough to know that whether he stays or goes remains the acid test of our belief in your intentions.

Looking at actual moves, good luck to Stephens at Brighton. He’s a more than decent player, one who with the right players around him could well emerge as a very decent player. But for me the game is all about partnerships in key areas. I’ve been less impressed than others with the Stephens/Cousins combination in central midfield, not because both aren’t good players but because paired together we seldom had the drive to stretch teams. Neither is a box-to-box player and the end-result (for me) is that opposition defences were seldom pulled out of position through pace, passing and movement. It was the best pairing we had, but not enough, especially with the departure of Stewart, who was capable of making things happen when supplied and in the mood.

That does rather beg the question of what’s best now, barring fresh blood. The suggestion that Pritchard might go out on loan (along with Pigott, who does need more time to develop) indicates that our prevailing options for two central postions are Jackson, Cousins, Gower, Hollands, and Hughes. It is time for the skipper to step up and re-establish himself in the role, especially as accommodating him of late has led to the unsatisfactory options of pushing Stephens or Cousins out wide, into roles that don’t suit them. It’s been a difficult season to date for Jackson, with injury, but barring a fresh signing for this position it seems to me he plays and is accompanied by whoever offers the best combination.

Up front, we have to wait for developments, ie whether Yann stays or goes and whether the Pole comes in or not. The sale of Smith and likely loaning out of Pigott means that as things stand we have Church and Sordell, plus the incoming Gucci. Church has many qualities but here too as a partnership him and Kermorgant didn’t have the necessary devil in the box to really unsettle defences. There can’t be any question that the hope at the start of the season was that Kermorgant and Sordell together would be a potent force, with a poacher alongside a guy who creates and contributes his fair share. Clearly that hasn’t happened to date (they have only been paired at the start for the first two games of the season and since then one more) and if Sordell doesn’t return to Bolton it’s up to him to prove his worth.

Last night I feared that the Tintinometer was already redundant, but the decision to merely place the rating on watch for a possible downgrade rather than take it to zero seems justified. Let’s hope we feel the same way come Saturday morning, because once the window has closed there’s a fight to be won.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Last Ditch Plea

So Sky is reporting that we have agreed terms with Bournemouth for the sale of Kermorgant. I always like to keep posts short, so let’s confine this one to a few messages. To Duchatelet, you are out of your mind if you think this makes sense, unless your vision for the club includes indifference to relegation. To Kermit, please don’t go, you don’t have to agree terms. That said, if you do decide to sign nobody will blame you given what seems to be going on. To Sir Chris, we hope you keep the faith and the team spirit intact. The supporters are behind you, although this one seems in the mood to invade Belgium. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Introducing The Tintinometer

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.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Humiliation Averted

So, the evening wasn’t entirely wasted. We got to see the goals from the Youth Cup at half-time and humiliation was eventually avoided. As an anniversary present for Sir Chris it wasn’t what he would have wanted, it wasn’t what we really wanted (the performance and the prospect of a replay), and with Bournemouth apparently winning tonight the outcome isn’t what my French partner Suzanne will have wanted (stupidly I exchanged a freebie voucher for that game as she is in London for the weekend but soon realised that both we and Bournemouth would need to lose for her to get to use it). But at least after a miserable first-half we managed to apply some pressure and avoid defeat, almost winning it towards the end.

In the event the pitch looked ragged and heavy but was perfectly playable (and for the record I’d add my apologies to all the others to the Barnsley fans – and Addicks who had to travel further than I did - regarding Saturday’s fiasco). The team selected for the night had to balance the demands of a tough trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday and the need to pay at least lip-service to the FA Cup. Hamer got the nod in goal (just what the loan signing of Thuram-Ulien means for him and Alnwick of course remains to be seen), Wilson and Wiggins the full-backs, Morrison and Wood in central defence, Jackson and Cousins central midfield, Kermorgant and Church up front, with Pritchard and Cook being selected for the wider positions. A mix but looked strong enough on paper.

However, selection can mean less than application and preparation and, in front of a meagre crowd (despite the restrictions there were plenty of seats available), we made what many will feel was a predictable start. It doesn’t take much for things to go against you when you’re not truly up for it, especially when the opposition are and the ref’s a bit slow. An indifferent opening spell turned into a poor one as the ref failed to spot a blatant shove in the build-up, one of a number of craftily foul challenges by Oxford that the officials seemed oblivious to, which resulted in a corner and one of those goalmouth nightmares that sees a bit of a scramble and a bit of a shot take a wicked deflection off Morrison to leave Hamer stranded.

Not long after and Cousins was caught dawdling on the ball and their guy played it into the path of another who took it on and beat Hamer. 0-2 and a debacle was becoming a possibility. It could have been worse before the break as one of theirs shot over from a good position, while all we had offered was a good run by Wilson into space and a dangerous cross not converted, plus a late penalty appeal followed by our first shot in anger after 42 minutes. Basically we hadn’t troubled Oxford as nothing was happening to pull them out of position, everything was too one-paced and predictable, with the honourable exception being the work done by Cook.

There were no changes at the break, presumably on the grounds that singling out up to three would have been unfair and to make them go out again and do better. With Oxford having had the break to think about it, and causing us fewer problems, we did start to look as though we could make something happen. And when we did it was quite simple. Corner, near post run by Morrison and neat header in.

That raised the crowd and the team and thereafter we were the more likely, even if it was to require a good turn around the post by Hamer to prevent them getting a third. Pritchard, who has struggled to have an impact, was replaced by Green, whose ability to cross the ball was to make a material difference. One ball in from the right saw Jackson get in a decent header which went just wide of the post. I’d like to find the words to describe our equaliser, but if truth be told after that near miss I decided it was time to take a quick break for a Jimmie and missed it all. Apparently it was a ball in from Green and something of a scissor-kick from Kermorgant, a beauty but I’ll have to take others’ word for it.

The chance to win it at the death came as Harriott – who along with Pigott had replaced Cook and Church - rose at the far post to get the header in only for it to hit their defender close to the line in the face. Five minutes of stoppage time failed to head off an unwanted replay.

Let’s leave it at that. It was no game to welcome in Monsieur Duchatelet and his people, no game to celebrate Sir Chris’ tenure, and no game to linger in the memory. Oxford, despite a fair amount of questionable tackling, deserved to get something out of it for their first-half efforts and hopefully to reward their fans who made the delayed journey. Let’s just hope that the dome gets back on the pitch quickly as the rain is coming down again and that on Saturday we get back to the serious business.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Duchatelet Statement Positives

I was just getting ready to ramble on about the game tomorrow (we know that, barring a last-minute deluge, it’s on and I hope there’s a bumper crowd ready to provide a warm welcome to Monsieur Duchatelet whether or not he’s there in person), about transfer rumours, and/or about life in general (including just why was I at the ground to use a season ticket voucher to get a ticket for the Bournemouth game for my French partner Suzanne, even though she tried to poison me over the holiday period). There was a danger of a bit of negativity, based not least around some of the rumours, but have just seen the statement released on the club site and, reading between the lines, what it contains is undoubtedly positive.

So the statement related to key concerns first (sorry, the poisoning attempt may have to wait). Number one, Duchatelet refers to Charlton having “a rich history, a cherished stadium ….” It is indeed a cherished stadium and if describing it as such is indicative of no plans to turn it into affordable housing that’s a real thumbs-up.

Number two, he says he’s having regular discussions with Chris Powell “about his plans for the rest of the season …”. That’s not quite along the lines of ‘Sir Chris is one of the finest young managers in the country and I would be daft to consider making a change, I want to tie him up on a new contract’ but here too it’s a positive statement. At the least it suggests no preconceived ideas about any managerial change.

Duchatelet confirms that Richard Murray “will act as the spokesperson for the board” (just as Powell will “represent the first team”). That at least suggests that Murray will be more than a figurehead. There is another board member announced, Katrien Meire, who according to the statement “will be working at The Valley from now on”. That will have sent us all off scrambling to Wikopedia, where she is described as ‘legal and international relations manager at Standard Liege’. Presumably no more. One potentially murky element is the fact that the search seems to reveal that she is also an agent for players, including (if this is the same person) Belgium’s newest starlet Michy Batshuayi (the report was about whether Arsenal had made a bid for him; back off Gooners, he might be ours now ….).

The statement concludes that “we will do our best to make sure that there are many more reasons to be proud to be associated with the club in the years to come”. Amen to that. So as an introduction, I’d see the sentiments expressed as all-round positive. The title of this post might have been ‘silence isn’t always golden’ and there’s no need for that now. Over to the team (and us) to deliver the victory tomorrow that would mean a great deal all round, for morale and for the basic implications for our league position.

So why was I concerned? Well, it’s fair to assume that our new owner, our manager (and his staff), the players, the fans, and all right-thinking members of the human race have a common goal in ensuring that this season does not end in relegation. The takeover increases the chances of that, as has a four-game unbeaten run over the holiday season (albeit with only one win and with a poor performance against Sheff Wed). But we are still in a position where it could go pear-shaped. After all, three teams will go down and there’s a long way to go.

For me, our major asset in this situation is the character and determination that the players and management have demonstrated through the past two seasons. Every club says there’s a good spirit in the dressing room, but often this is bs. The only evidence of a good spirit is the way the team performs, not in terms of quality but in terms of togetherness. I don’t think anyone can doubt us on that front of late. Leading on from this, the spine of our team has been Hamer, Morrison, Jackson and Kermorgant (which is not in any way meant to belittle the contributions of others, most obviously Solly and Wiggins but many others).

Now in the past couple of days we’ve seen confirmation that Stewart has joined Leeds and that Obika has gone out to Brighton. Stewart may not be the finished article but if put into a good team he may well shine (I will gloss over whether I think Leeds are a good team); with the exception of the last time I saw him (Sheff Wed, when he had a mare) it seemed to me he applied himself well and made a valuable contribution. Good luck to him. Obika would have been welcome back again, but it’s not to be. We’ve also seen speculation regarding Morrison and Stephens and have concerns about other saleable assets (Solly, Kermorgant).

Of course all teams change, but ask me what would be likely to scupper our prospects for this season and it would be upsetting the dressing room. Hamer got injured and lost his place to Alnwick. Since coming in, I haven’t seen him put a foot wrong (I do regard distribution of the ball as low down on the priority list for a goalkeeper). Now Hamer, if he’s really fit again, might well accept that there’s no case for him replacing Alnwick, unless and until the latter loses form or gets injured. Equally, Pope may well accept that with plenty of time on his hands being number three is fair enough. But I would expect all three to be heartily hacked off if one of the early post-takeover moves was to bring in another goalkeeper. Now Yohann Thuram-Ulien may well be a fine keeper, I hope he has a splendid career. I may even hope he ends up with us one day. But this isn’t it. It’s not that we don’t need another goalkeeper, it’s that bringing one in, especially one that might expect to come in as first choice, would be decidedly counter-productive.

I honestly don’t know if we’ve brought in Thuram-Ulien or not. The reports/blog posts yesterday suggested we had, but there’s been no confirmation from the club. The piece on the ‘agreed’ loan deal published on Get French Football News was clearly written by either a moron or a lazy journalist who can’t be bothered to check his facts. Commenting that we have “one of the worst” defensive records in the league is just wrong. Eight teams have conceded more than us, which puts us at the bottom end of the middle third. Not outstanding, but when set against the fact that only three teams have scored fewer than us, as others have pointed out, our priorities are midfield and up front. With Hamer/Alnwick, Solly/Wilson, Wiggins/Evina, Morrison plus Wood, Dervite and (hopefully before long) Cort, we are covered and have more than enough quality to leave well alone.

I find it hard to believe that Sir Chris would have made another keeper a priority, which in turn might suggest that if Thuram-Ulien does come on board he isn’t deciding on who we need/don’t need (again, Duchatelet’s statement does provide some reassurance on that front). With Stewart departing, bringing in Ajdarevic does have obvious rationale (although I’ve no idea whether he’s match-fit or indeed what he feels to be his best position). Beyond that, getting Morrison (who with apologies to Solly got my vote for player of the year last season and would get it for this if the vote was held now) nailed down on new contract would seem to me to be a real priority. Make him happy, keep the keepers happy, reassure Kermit that the club is back on track and, along with Jackson, we have the spine in place to build around. The alternative scenario would see to me to be obvious and clearly unappealing.

So, onwards and upwards, starting tomorrow. Blimey, if the good run continues I might even hold out the hope to Suzanne that she could see us win when she comes along to the Bournemouth game, having this season assured her that the points were in the bag against Millwall, Leeds and Sheff Wed. Perhaps there lies the reason for the poisoning attempt. You see, it might be a splendid tradition to put a sixpence in the Christmas pudding, but putting a brass weight, one caked in months of accumulated fat and grime (who actually needs a set of scales?), into a tart au praline and handing the piece to your partner has to be questionable. If the teeth didn’t go, at best it would have sat in my stomach for years to come, setting off every airport security check; at worst … well, I’m no doctor. Perhaps by the time she arrives for the Bournemouth game we will have a full squad of French/Belgian players. That might appease her, were it not for the fact that she’s not especially enamoured with French men at the moment, due to the (alleged) activities of her president. Sometimes I just can’t win (he is male, so I get the rap).

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Looking Forwards; And Backwards

You hope for a number of things in any meaningful cup draw, especially as they’ve been thin on the ground for us in recent years. A good test against top-flight opposition (Fulham away was fun, despite the result), something decidedly money-spinning, or a pairing that offers a good chance of progressing and getting the dosh and/or glory further down the line. To be pulled out of the hat to travel to Huddersfield, a team we lost to tamely at home in the FA Cup third round last season and who have already this season put us out of the Capital One Cup (and who beat us on their patch in the league) clearly doesn’t press any of these buttons, even if we do eventually progress by beating Oxford (who of course we also played against in the Capital Cup this season), whenever the match takes place.

The only good thing that can be said about the draw is that if we get past Oxford and/or Bournemouth progress against Burton Albion, the scheduled game at home against Bournemouth will have to be rescheduled. That might offer the opportunity for a decent stretch of time between games at The Valley; if we do play Oxford during the week ahead and the home game against Barnsley goes ahead, the next match at home (barring of course a cup replay) would seem to be Birmingham on 8 February. It was pleasing to see the club release a fuller statement on the nature of the drainage problems and clearly even a few weeks with no matches played on the surface can’t cure the underlying problems. But it might allow some short-term planning without interruptions regarding what can be done.

Absent that, for the foreseeable future we live with the surface and I’d suggest trying to make it a positive. We know what the conditions are like, teams coming down will be aware of them but won’t be used to them. I’m not suggesting that necessarily we go out-and-out long ball, but surely, with the pitch the same for both teams, we can give some thought to how we turn this to possible advantage rather than just concluding that at best a difficult pitch will hamper our fight to move away from the relegation zone.

Of course, if the Oxford game is further put back, we may have to wait in the event that Roland Duchatelet has any desire to make a formal introduction to the fans, to give some outline of his plans and expectations. If the Barnsley game also falls foul of the weather/pitch, he could end up with a few unused Eurostar tickets and, as above, it could be well into February before he might be introduced to us. If that’s the case, it would be good to get some prior indications. The clearest of these remains extending Sir Chris’ contract (he, being the guy he is, might say the players’ deals come first, but the stability and reassurance we are looking for rests on no change of manager).

As others have commented, at the least ahead of a clarification of plans and the motivation for buying us Duchatelet is entitled to a warm welcome, something more than just giving him the benefit of the doubt. The stage had been reached whereby a change of ownership was if not necessary then clearly desirable, given the previous owners’ reluctance/inability to provide the financing necessary to ensure we progress (which obviously in the first instance means no relegation). As yet we know very little about the guy and why he has been buying up football clubs across Europe, but the decision to retain Richard Murray, as non-exec chairman, is welcome (whether some role was the quid pro quo for him not retaining a stake in the club, as he was reported to have wanted, will have to remain idle speculation). He will be judged on his actions, beginning with Sir Chris.

If there’s another positive for me from reading between the lines, it’s that Duchatelet’s creation of a mini-network of European clubs would suggest that the purchase of Charlton isn’t indicative of someone intent on a single project (ranging from asset stripping/property development all the way down to having a plaything). It’s reasonable to assume that he won’t be able to devote all his time and energy on us, suggesting the appointment of someone to do the day-to-day stuff. We want him to fall in love with us (who could fail to?), obviously we want some of his money, and we want him to leave footballing matters to those who truly know the game.

As for the Jiminez/Slater legacy positive or negative issue, it’s always going to be a mixed record. The initial investments, the appointment of Sir Chris (and that of Paul Hart), and the simple basic comparison of where we were when they bought us and where we are now do lend support to Slater’s claim that “in every important respect we leave the club in a far better state than when we took over three years ago”. They didn’t asset-strip, they didn’t move us away from The Valley, and they had a plan based on progression and development, one that they proved unable to see through. We were never a plaything for them. Nobody can know what might have happened if they hadn’t come along, even if it’s reasonable to assume that another buyer for the club would have been found sooner or later.

Against this, the ridiculous lack of communication (which started with the secrecy which surrounded who was actually involved in the takeover) and important statements which depending on interpretation were either misleading or economical with the truth, plus the treatment of certain figures at the club, weigh against them. In his Huff Post, Jiminez states that when they took over “the club was also just days away from slipping into administration”. Set this alongside Slater’s comment in the programme for the match against Swindon at the start of 2011, when paying tribute to Murray, that “he saved the club from almost certain administration (the previous summer) while he sought new investment”. So, just how long did we spend just ‘days away’ from administration and why would Murray, having done the necessary to avoid administration in the summer, would have been days away from a similar fate just a few months later? All of which brings me back to the still unanswered question (for me at least) of just who was going to put us into administration?

Early this season Slater’s rejection of the Voice of the Valley claims about a sale document having been put together and circulated sounded hollow at the time. Perhaps those denials are behind Jiminez commenting in his post that “our position at the club has been the subject of huge speculation over the last few months” (ie subsequent to the denials that the owners were looking to sell up). And his claim at a recent supporters’ meeting (going on reports, I wasn’t there) that the five-year development plan was still on track now appears simply laughable. Slater was always personable and entertaining, but we knew he wasn’t calling the shots when it came to finances. In that Swindon programme statement he said that “we will always live within our means”. A laudable ambition, but did they think that promotion to the Championship would enable an end to losses? If the owners’ ability/willingness to continue to fund our losses had come to an end, what was wrong with saying so?

With honesty, openness and fair treatment of those who may have criticised their actions the legacy would have been very clearly positive. It’s not often we say something positive about Palace, but the way that their chairman went on radio after the departure of Holloway and spoke well, openly and honestly, about the situation that had developed and the outcome stood in stark contrast to the way things were running for us. I hope that changes with the new owner. We may be de facto stakeholders in the club by virtue of the role that fans play at any club, but we’re also happy suckers in that all we really want is for Charlton to thrive.

The criticisms of the former owners in turn cast some doubt over any other statements, such as Slater’s that in Duchatelet “we believe we have found an investor with extensive knowledge of football”; indeed, talkSPORT’s ‘man in Belgium’, Rudy Nuyens has commented that “everybody that has worked with him says he might be a big man in business but he doesn’t know anything about football”.

I don’t really care if Monsieur Duchatelet does or does not know anything about football, as long as it isn’t the case that he doesn’t know anything but thinks he does. Put in place/retain the right people and let them get on with it and we will embrace you, just as given our situation at the time we welcomed the former owners,

Friday, 3 January 2014

Apologies To Oxford Fans

I doubt that any of us are surprised by confirmation that the cup tie tomorrow has been postponed. I can’t vouch for the amount of water dropped on it over the past week as I decamped to Amsterdam with my French partner Suzanne to see in the new year there (for the record it was great fun, with the enjoyment enhanced by the news of Jackson’s late equaliser, although the Dutch seem to lose their inhibitions that time of the year when someone puts a firework in their hand; they were going off in all places all night, in a less than organised fashion). But judging from the weather there, and the fact that at the moment our playing surface is veering between the bloody difficult and the downright unplayable, a damp morning seems to have been enough to have the game already called off.

I’ve no interest in indulging in conspiracy theories related to the club’s desire to play a game which it would presumably have lost money on, to shift the loss to a new owner, or indeed to secure a place in the fourth-round draw by any means. But I hope we have the decency to formally apologise to Oxford and especially their supporters. They’ve been robbed of a decent day out and many will probably be unable to attend a rescheduled midweek game. It would be a decent gesture on our part to offer financial recompense to them, or even to offer to play the game at their ground (were that to be allowed by the rules), but given our current financial condition I guess that’s not going to happen.

Weather conditions may be exceptional, the Doncaster postponement at half-time may be written off as one of those things. But having played all subsequent games at home in difficult conditions and now having a match called off a day in advance it’s a real embarrassment. Just when the league gets involved and what a club’s responsibilities are regarding playing surfaces I’ve no idea, but if there are problems with next Saturday’s home game I’d have thought it reasonable for questions to be asked at an official level. With that in mind, it feels to me like time for the club to make a fuller statement than the comments made to date, including what remedial action is possible in the short term. Colin Powell and his staff should not be left to carry the can if the current state of affairs has arisen because of a lack of investment/a cutting of corners when it comes to the playing surface.

In the interim, we await confirmation that the purchase of the club has gone through, with the fresh media reports suggesting that it has but as yet no announcement from the club. Suffice to say, if Monsieur Duchatelet wishes to begin a tenure on the right note he will quickly confirm that Sir Chris is being retained – and vice versa.

And as a postscript, since penning the above it has to be fair chucked down and there has been confirmation of the takeover on the club site. Now over to you Monsieur Duchatelet.