First off if such confirmation were needed I have no inside information regarding the report in the Daily Fail that Duchatelet is selling us to Australian Football Consortium. Ordinarily I wouldn’t believe anything printed in that vile rag, but on this occasion and at this stage we have to take it at face value, especially as the only rebuttal so far has come from a “club spokesperson”, which sounded as convincing as Karl Robinson’s recent comment that he’d been assured that the club is not for sale. It is reasonable to suppose at least that negotiations are ongoing and have reached an advanced stage. The AFC’s published ‘investment opportunity’ states that the company “is in final negotiations with the current owner of the club” and as AFC’s stated target is “an underperforming English football team” we do fit the bill.
So it’s a bit too soon for celebrations; we’re not getting out the dancing shoes just yet, but they are ready and waiting. Inevitably there are questions and concerns: will a deal simply collapse over money (the price to be paid and AFC’s ability to pay it)? Will AFC prove to be a stalking horse if it is clear we are for sale? And are we jumping (or being pushed) out of the frying pan into the fire if the talk of us becoming an Australian feeder club comes to pass?
The reported sum for the club seems to be around £20m. The figure is almost meaningless until it is clear what would happen to the £54m owed to Staprix (and presumably the debt to Richard Murray). It would appear that AFC doesn’t yet have the funds necessary to complete any deal; its Investment Opportunity document outlined a “confidential capital raise” of a total of AUD55m (which if my quick calculation is correct is around £33m). Not necessarily a problem if investors are close to committing and waiting for more details over the club to be bought. But has to be a worry that AFC is an investment vehicle raising a set amount, one which if the purchase price is £20m doesn’t leave a lot left over for investment in the club and the covering of ongoing losses. Of course AFC could go back to ask investors for more further down the line.
I’d suggest that finances would be a concern in the event of an actual sale to AFC, but no more than that. I find it strange that people say that we are financially secure under Duchatelet. He only has to wake up and decide that he doesn’t want to spend another penny on us and won’t sell unless the debt is repaid for us to be bankrupt. Sure, there’s no reason to suppose that he would treat a saleable asset in such a fashion, but we are nevertheless at the mercy of an old man’s whim. Not exactly stability in my eyes, so the fact that AFC wouldn’t come with unlimited finances needn’t be a powerful negative.
Of more concern to all Addicks will be the suggestion that we might become an Australian feeder club. Personally I hated the network scheme from the start, when it was clear that the best interests of Charlton Athletic were not paramount. Something akin to that, to help foster the development of football in Australia and perhaps even the Australian national team, would be equally unwelcome. However, subject to further information from AFC about their plans if they buy us, I’d only point out that it is only the Mail that has used the word ‘feeder’ and that may be just supposition; the report says that AFC “have their sights on making Charlton the breeding ground for talent from Down Under”. But there is nothing in the AFC investment proposal to that effect.
What the AFC proposal to investors does outline is the potential for “attractive returns on investment” through taking said underperforming club and, as a result of a five-point strategy, get it promoted to the Premier League. Here too in the published AFC document there is no time period specified but the Mail suggests a five-year plan. Have to go back to the finances here as raising £33m and spending £20m buying the club does not leave enough for five years of losses including two planned promotions. After achieving the stated objective, an IPO would follow to provide investors with their return (or presumably the club would be sold).
There’s been no shorted of daft or worthy but failed five-year plans in football. I seem to recall that Icelandic owners of West Ham had such a plan. So we’d be right to be concerned. However, it is at least a plan, one which if it fails to achieve its objective might still very well leave us in a much better place than we are now, to be sold on again. Also, I find it hard to square AFC’s stated objectives and the means by which it envisages rewarding investors with turning Charlton into a feeder club – unless that is seen as a short-cut to rapid promotion. Don’t forget Duchatelet’s network was supposedly a means to outperform once financial fair play rules kicked in (ie never). I think there is a difference. AFC’s investors will only be happy if Charlton are moving towards the Premiership – and on that front there would be clear unity of purpose with the supporters.
And when all’s said and done, we have to embrace any change of ownership – barring of course asset strippers. Our club cannot turn around under Duchatelet, for reasons that don’t need to be stated yet again. It is almost inconceivable that AFC or any new owner would go out of their way to insult and alienate the support base. From what we read it seems that the AFC people are experienced in sport, if not the demands of the English third division. If so, they will understand that outperformance – and achieving success – is not possible without the necessary role played by supporters. It gives me confidence that if a sale does go through there will be common purpose once more, or at least more likelihood of such than can ever be possible under Duchatelet. For that reason alone, if a deal goes through get those dancing shoes out for a new chapter begins, one that we can help make sure results in our club succeeding.