Friday 15 January 2016

Harder This Time Around

It's not unreasonable to infer that someone had a quiet word in Roland's ear and that for once he listened, a bit. In the hours following confirmation of the unlamented departure of Karel Fraeye (who now becomes the exception that proves the rule that every correct decision to change a head coach has made us stronger) the reports from usually reliable sources pointed to the drafting in of Nebojsa Vignjevic. Nobody can doubt that if that had been the choice the 2% could well have become 98%. Of course, Vignjevic might be a brilliant coach who could have gone on to become a Charlton legend, rather than just the first available network employee not already tried. We shall never know (unless Riga fails and ...).

Assuming that the return of Curbs or Sir Chris were not viable options (both too much of a climbdown for our owner and both with too much self-respect and ability to accept what might have been on offer), the only choice was to reappoint Jose Riga or embark on the sort of genuine canvassing and selection process leading to the appointment of someone with Championship experience that had been promised before - and never done. I think that unless Riga has recently had a change of mind over the pros and cons of working for Duchatelet the outcome was never in doubt. As a contract to the end of the season would have been absurd even by this regime's standards, he (notionally) gets 18 months (like Roger Johnson).

Reaction to the news among Addicks seems to be lukewarm at best, hostile from some. And here again lies the immediate problem regarding just what is it that we want if we have to choose: to stay up or help to hasten a change of regime (assuming that perhaps the ideal option of staying up and a real change of approach from the regime is not on the table)? If it's over and above all else the former, even I'm not inclined to carp (yet). Riga has some earned credit in the bank, the nature and speed of the change gives at least the possibility of an input regarding players before the transfer window closes, and we just might get a bounce from the 'sort of new broom' effect. I don't think it's that surprising that this happens as mentally a group of players can shed some negative baggage ('yes it was us on the pitch but the fault was really not ours').

That said, keeping us up this time around looks to me a harder task than before. Last time we were bottom of the league with 27 points from 30 games (ie 0.90 points per game). Bottom yes, but with three/four games in hand on those above us and four points from being outside the bottom three (with a better goal difference than most above us). Now we have 20 points from 26 games (0.77 points per game), no games in hand, and are effectively four points from 'safety' (given our goal difference). Also, the league looks more stretched this time around; somebody else may fall apart and get caught, but it would be surprising if the three relegated teams did not come from the current bottom five. In other words, we can afford only one of the other four to end above us (and one of them has a de facto five points advantage, another has just sacked its manager - please let them not appoint Sir Chris). And last time around we got lucky; we played away to teams in some disarray at the time (Forest and Leeds come to mind). Perhaps we will be as fortunate, perhaps not.

Most important, I suspect we all remember the key factor in Riga's success. If I remember the reports correctly, Alex Dyer said to Riga on his arrival that there was enough character and quality in the dressing room, if just about all of the network clowns drafted in were ignored (I paraphrase here), to keep us up. He would have seen Hamer, Hughes, Jackson, Morrison, Wiggins, Solly, Wilson, Cousins and Cort and, although he would also have seen Sordell and Reza, must have quickly agreed. Riga relied on the character, cemented by the man who went before him, and we stayed up, in spite of the new ownership's actions. This time around Riga will see Jackson, Solly and Cousins (and of course another familiar face in Poyet) but what else? I'm not saying the others lack the character to be up for the fight and to win it, just that we as yet don't know.

This does also lead us back to the reinvented Duchatelet/Meire 'strategy' (because it is relevant). I am still utterly dumfounded that anyone in their right mind could believe that the chance to watch some Premiership stars of the future is an attractive selling point for customers/supporters (I could get a Sky subscription for that and much more), be they young or old. But leaving that aside, imagine the conversations with the three categories of players that Richard Murray recently referred to as those favoured by Roland.

First, the promising youngster. 'Sign up with us and we will bring you along, give you the opportunity to play in the first team (sorry, can't be sure about the division) and to be in the shop window a good deal sooner than other clubs, and you will get that Premiership move as soon as a cash bid comes in for you'. You use us and we will use you; and those around you in the dressing room are less comrades than cannon-fodder for the greater good of your career. OK, you can see the appeal. But it doesn't exactly embed from the start any sense of loyalty or commitment to Charlton per se and with that a willingness to really give all you have to our cause. Second, the promising (but older) overseas player. Really it is the same argument except that this one can expect to go straight into the first-team squad and, without having spent some years at the club, has even less reason to have any affinity with Charlton.

Third, the seasoned lag with experience of the division we're in. I guess this one goes: 'Now look Roger (let's call him Roger for the sake of argument), you're chances of a switch to a higher division have gone, your chances of getting a deal with another club in our division are not great, you have little or no resale value, and all you're doing is managing the final years of your career as best you can. Join us and you'll get a wage, your task will be to help keep us up and to make the younger/overseas players look good so that we can sell them'. Now there's a fair chance that some such players will have self-respect, integrity and character and put all they have on the line. Just that when the chips are down, perhaps they won't.

In short, this 'strategy' cannot hope to create the conditions for a group of players to out- rather than underperform collectively. Team spirit is an intangible, it doesn't show up on spreadsheets, you can't put it in a microchip. But it can be the difference between success and failure. In the transcripts of the March 2014 annual VIP meeting Sir Chris was marked as saying that before he joined the club as a player Keith Jones told him that there is a difference about Charlton; he couldn't tell him what it was but "you will know it when you see it". We certainly do, our owner doesn't.

Will it prove significant that the club statement yesterday quoted Duchatelet rather than Meire? Possible, but I doubt it. If our owner was inclined to really listen and to consider change, to truly want to improve relations with supporters, Ms Meire would be moved out. It's nothing personal, she obviously has talents, they are just not those required plus an accumulated baggage of ill-will.

All of which does raise the question of just who is going to issue the rallying cry, Duchatelet, Meire, Riga, Jackson, or AN Other (oh would that it were Yann)? This will be the variation on 'yes we have made mistakes, yes we want a serious dialogue with supporters (but we're busy at the moment), but this is not the time for protests as right now the priority is avoiding relegation and we need everyone to get behind the team and play their part'. I honestly feel it would be best coming from our owner, after he has dismissed (or moved on) Ms Meire. Jackson has already done one this season, and a 'once more to the breech' from Meire would be rightly receive howls of derision. So I guess it will be Jose. After all, he only needs to pull out the one he used last time around: "the fans and the players (this evening) must have the same mindset. The sole focus can only be on Charlton and giving everything to the cause".

The first problem is of course fool me once, shame on you .... I don't mean Riga but the board. Let's not forget the 'message from the board' released on 28 March 2014. "Since we arrived at the club in January, we understood the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters" and then, after the 'we are extremely busy right now' bit, it was that we "are keen to meet with supporters to hear their views and discuss a shared vision for the future of this great club", supported by "we will be making plans to meet with as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible". Once we stayed up there was ... the Q&A session at The Valley fun day in early August. 'Ha ha, aren't we clever and aren't they stupid'. It's why, for me, the refusal of the owner and board through last season to actually begin a serious and lasting consultation with supporters, most obviously as represented by the Trust, for the good of the board and the club, was so important, perhaps as much for the keeping of promises than the direct outcome.

The second is that the call for supporters to play their part in securing an objective that we all want does, rightly, have an emotional appeal. Every protesting Addick wants us to stay up, as does every non-protesting/regime-supporting one.

Unearthing the print-out of that board message did involve wading through various bits and I thought I'd end with a competition: just what is the funniest actual quote since the Duchatelet takeover? A couple of personal favourites. First, the classic from Ms Meire, from the 'I'll swing from the crossbar with Sir Chris' annual VIP meeting: "it is an insult to suggest RD would consider relegation; even if such a clause exists (the question related to whether the price he paid for the club would drop if we went down) failure is not an option for him". Murray, on BBC London in February 2014: "it's just a matter of staying up this year and then we will reap the benefits" (of the takeover).


Unknown said...

I agree - Jose Riga not only deserves our support after his previous tenure, but needs it if we want him and the squad to succeed.

sm said...

If we are to be serious about getting out of this mess - then there has to be some unity of purpose from everyone. Supporting the team while opposing the club's management will just create all sorts of mixed messages and will almost certainly end in relegation. All that stuff should be put aside until the end of the season and to when everyone has cooled down so that there can be a cool rational discussion. I share most people's doubts about the clubs lack of direction under RD and the management he choses to implement it - but I very much doubt that campaigning at this stage to change RD's thinking (apart from making sure that he doesn't do anything silly in the transfer window) is unlikely to change anything significantly and will just lead to those campaigning being made the scapegoats should we be relegated.

We perhaps should also remember that the team now has rather a lot of young people, many of whom are very talented and will perform if given the right motivation and encouragement - if they are given mixed messages and subject to carping criticism, as has happened in recent months then they will underperform as sure as night follows day.

Burgundy Addick said...

All fair points. I guess there's never a good time for a comprehensive and sustained protest as it can't help but have a negative impact in the short term. But what's the point - indeed the possibility - of legitimate protest after a season's over? I'd favour making absolutely clear the distinction: everyone turn up (yes, I can see the irony), once inside the ground not a voice to be heard in protest/complaint and everyone singing to the rafters in support of the team, once the game's over and all have left the pitch outside its fair game (of course within the boundaries of acceptable behaviour).

Lungrot said...

The owner is slowly coming to realise that his experiment is not going to work. He's finally admitted that the squad isn't strong enough, which is almost the same as admitting that while we're in the Championship ( and that probably won't be for much longer) he can no longer bring in any more network players, because it's obvious that the standard of the players from his other clubs is just not good enough. The only ones of any quality came from Standard Liege, and he no longer owns them.
The only way he can get any credibility back is to hold on to Lookman and also recruit some decent players with good experience of the Championship or Premiership. He also needs to raise the wage bill. If you run a team on Division 1 wages it follows that you will end up with a team that will be playing in Division 1. That isn't rocket science!
Until those things happen we'll never attract a good manager with experience of the English Leagues. At the moment Riga is probably the best option of those that would accept the job, but he's not ideal.
I totally agree with you that the time to protest is now (after matches). There's no point in doing it in the summer. The lack of season ticket sales will be a good enough protest then.
The owner and his amateur CEO are destroying our club and unfortunately I fear that too much damage has already been done.

Simon Ratcliffe said...

Superb article and full agree with your analysis. I also agree with sm comments. The danger of mixing protest with support for the team is likely to undermine the objective to stay up which every supporter in their right mind must want despite RD.
I think the mantra should be 'Roar on the team,Roast the management'
Lets make the Valley a cauldron of noise for visiting teams,lets galvanise the team and Jose with roaring support. Lets in contrast vigorous protest against the management as sm says ounce the game is over. Lets make the media see the contrast of where our loyalties lie. It will make campaign many times more effective and highlight the passion we have for the club and how it is being wrecked by RD and his cronies. Roar the team,Roast the management!!

Burgundy Addick said...

Thanks again, great stuff. Sounds to me like a plan - and a great slogan!