First off, I didn't go to Watford on Saturday so can't comment on just how bad it was. I'd half-scribbled something on Friday but ran out of time; then, after news of the work permit farce and pretty clear evidence on Saturday that the morale of the players is at a very low ebb, couldn't for the life of me work out on Sunday anything meaningful to say/add to what others were outlining (which of course presupposes that sometimes I can). But in the harsh light of a cold Monday let's give it a go.
My first reaction to the outpouring of negativity is - allowing for the fact this followed an embarrassing rout - to wonder why people are surprised by the turn of events (I don't mean losing 0-5 on the pitch and the board not realising that Luzon would need a work permit). I've made no bones about my attitude towards the consortium model, for the compromise that it involves regarding a club's identity and purpose (for supporters) and for my perception of the chances of it succeeding, even in the broadest sense (let's define this as just progress). I've also been critical (and I hope I didn't go too far in this, it was never meant to be personal) of the stance and approach of our owner, albeit based solely on inference from personal experience (including having seen some succeed in one area and take from that the belief that they have the ability to succeed in others without any experience and understanding of the new area or recognition of the role that luck and circumstance usually play in success) and from what has been done and said; I've never met the man and he has never outlined publicly (to the best of my knowledge) why he wants to be involved in football, basically leaving us all to guess.
For some Addicks - and once more I'm not knocking this approach - none of this need matter as long as we're doing well/OK on the pitch, so by implication there's the possibility of an over-reaction when we are not. I just happen to think that some of the issues are related. Take for example the strength of the squad. Some have commented, with good reason, that an opportunity was missed during the loan window after a better than expected start to the season to strengthen in key areas (most obviously up front) to mount a real promotion challenge. A possibility perhaps (and Coquelin was brought in) but also a decision. Duchatelet has from the start made no secret of the intention to prioritise (relative) financial stability and I think made it know that if we were still around the play-off spots come January the balance could shift. So not surprising that caution/prudence prevailed; equally not surprising that at least some players may have been adversely affected by the lack of ambition.
The situation's obviously different now; and unlike last season there are no material cup revenues to help reduce losses. So while I hope to be pleasantly surprised, what grounds are there now for expecting significant net new money being invested in the squad during this transfer window? I'm assuming that changes will be made (the importance of January was after all cited as a factor in the dismissal of Peeters), but with Watt already brought in would expect departures too, for financial reasons. Whether or not we end the month looking stronger or weaker remains to be seen (in terms of track record the positive rebuilding of the squad in the summer has to be balanced by the - in just footballing terms - truly stupid changes last January). I do nevertheless just want this window over with asap so that this element of uncertainty can be put behind us and Luzon and the players can get on with turning things around.
Now try to see this all from a player's perspective. Never mind last January, the apparent indifference of the club when it came to dispensing with the services of the excellent Morrison at least from a distance gave the impression - rightly or wrongly - that loyalty and commitment to the club count for nothing. Last January we had the impression that any reasonable bid for any player would have been accepted (yes, the contract situation for a number of them was a material factor). This time around will it be any different? Of course it's nonsense to talk in terms of players as chattel (let alone in Cole-speak 'slaves'), given the money they are paid. But motivation and morale come down to fine margins and if a number of the current squad believe they will be obliged to pack their bags at the drop of a hat why go the extra yard/mile, especially if you think that some others aren't?
Again, it may only be when the window closes that we can really think about regrouping under a new head coach. We managed this last season as Riga followed Powell in largely ignoring the crop of loan signings and utilised the team spirit that Sir Chris had engineered, all of which reflected well on him and the players. Given our current league position, form, level of confidence etc, and at least rumours of unease over the choice of Peeters' replacement, character and commitment may well be tested again. We're not yet in an outright relegation struggle but clearly may soon be and - while it's at least premature - I can't help remembering Lennie Lawrence's explanation for relegation from the top flight, along the lines of only being able to go to the well so many times.
It's a challenge, for Luzon, the players and the fans - and whatever sympathy there may be for the players in light of recent events that will only go so far if we continue to slide as we already have enough ability for that not to be the case; whether the players have the stomach for it remains to be seen and if they're found wanting on that front it will be unforgivable, irrespective. Nevertheless, it's a challenge that I'd suggest will have a greater chance of being met if the board/owner do more than pay lip-service to notions of unity, or rather accept that unity of purpose/pulling together on the part of all concerned is desirable and that achieving/sustaining it requires more than 'back me because I tell you to'.
Now I don't really trust people who say they never lie (just as I wouldn't have confidence in someone who has apparently never experienced failure). There are occasions when a small untruth is sensible and kind, when an outright whopper is the best (even in extremis the moral) alternative, and when not outlining the whole picture is appropriate - all of course provided the motivation is honourable rather than a (usually futile) attempt to paper over your own wrongdoings/shortcomings. But if you mislead your friends for no good reason something ain't right; time to question yourself and what was the purpose, perhaps to reassess whether the person/people involved are really friends as for sure at the least you are not valuing their opinions/feelings.
So first off, stop telling us what we 'must' accept or do. So far, Duchatelet has told us we must accept (to date only the possibility) of players being loaned to Standard Liege (those who are brought in but don't live up to expectations and get farmed out to other consortium clubs aren't really an issue). Now Meire tells us we must accept the ways and decisions of our owner. Now I've some sympathy for people making statements in English when it isn't their first language. Often when editing for a Dutch company what took time wasn't redoing work by people with poor command of English as you (usually) knew what they were trying to say. What took time was dealing with material written by Dutch colleagues whose English was excellent, as the words and phrases chosen just weren't quite right. But I can't forget that remark by Duchatelet about his football clubs being his 'babies' (we are not and never will be); it may have been off-the-cuff but does seem to be in line with the notion that children/babies should be seen and not heard. Use of the word 'must' only makes sense in a conditional phrase ('if you want to get better you must take this pill'). Otherwise the word is either insulting or makes the phrase plain wrong. It shouldn't need to be said that supporters as paying clients do not have to do anything, unless you define an Addick as someone who accepts all decisions of any owner without question (and ceases to be one when he/she does not).
Second, try to really understand why at least some supporters (never mind the players) are a tad uneasy and accept that it is in your best interests to improve the picture, first by accepting that some goodwill has been lost of late (face it, the world and his dog were assuming that Luzon was always going to replace Peeters). Duchatelet has described Luzon as an "extremely talented coach". Last February, in a club site piece confirming the offer of a new contract, he described Powell as an "extremely good coach", shortly before sacking him (a move which came shortly after Meire was promising to swing on the Bramall Lane crossbar with Sir Chris if we won that game). I couldn't be bothered to try to trawl through to see if something similar was said about Riga and Peeters, but you get the gist. Now I don't have the expertise to be able to spot a good civil engineer from a bad one, so wouldn't try (and would hesitate before buying a consortium of engineering companies with such a lack of understanding of what I was getting involved in). Suffice to say that if you have enjoyed the services of three extremely good coaches and dispensed with them in the space of 12 months, you might ask yourself whether some other problem is afoot, and might just accept an element of scepticism when number four is appointed for the 'long term'.
Third, if you value the club's support base (rather than view fans as a notch below the chattel that are players), in light of the above for crying out loud engage meaningfully with them. I don't mean staged interviews, even open day Q&As. I kept a printout of the March statement from Meire: "we understand the current requests for dialogue and are keen to meet with supporters to hear their views and discuss a shared vision for the future of this great club ... and be assured that we will be making plans to meet with as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible to ensure all supporters are represented". With the Trust recently releasing its appeal, I would ask does the board feel that the promises made in the March statement have been delivered on? And please explain how those March comments square with the recent reported quote from Meire that "he (Duchatelet) does it his way and they (the supporters) need to accept that" (which at least is refreshingly honest and does rather give more insight into the issue of what decision-making capacity Meire and the board really enjoy). Shared vision indeed.
Please note that there is no 'must' involved, simply some 'if .. thens', and the belief that things don't have to be this way. I may of course be just whistling in the wind. Our owner can choose to remain entirely distant, he can give the new head coach his full backing and sack him the next day etc. I do just wonder where the enjoyment for him comes from out of all this. Supporters groups (all of them) want nothing more than the best for the club, so where's the threat, other than the risk of some constructive criticism and some time taken? Unless of course there's nothing to be gained from talking to one's babies.