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,


Nick hudd said...

interesting article, think we are doomed to always meet in the cups, your pitch needs sorting soon lads.

Nick hudd

sm said...

We can only judge Duchatelet on what he does but his first few days have been pretty good

- purchased the club
- made Richard Murray Chairman
- spent some money on doing something about the pitch
- brought a new player in on loan

Blackheath Addicted said...

SM, hope I didn't come across as negative about him. Really am not, just really want it all to work well. Also encouraging that the player in on loan is someone Sir Chris seems to know from Leicester, so doesn't look like a case of someone being pushed on us (presumably it also means that we are saying goodbye to Stewart).

Nick, the club has clarified that the pitch problem is due to the collapse of parts of the drainage system and this can only be fixed once the season is over. Have to mend and make do in the interim.

Newyorkaddick said...

BA, I have always thought talk of administration was a smokescreen because the vast majority of the unsecured debt was owed to 'insiders'.

Given most administrations see clubs either liquidated or (more likely) restructured with creditors earning 'pennies in the pound' recoveries, I think it would only have been a remote possibility either pre-Baton or post.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting the financial position wasn't dire in the summer of 2010 or again this season, but simply that claiming administration was ever imminent underplays the importance of the 'inside' nature of the main creditors.

Dave said...

BA - you make a good point about Admin and their use of avoiding it as a positive. I suspect Murray was forced to put his hand in his pocket because of a threat from them that there was no alternative. Yet it's obvious now that Cash wouldn't have allowed this or else a £20m sale would have been thrown away. Jiminez may have had a losing streak in the courts but he's got out of jail free here.

Blackheath Addicted said...

NYA, Dave, football is indeed a funny business. I remember even in first year business studies (many moons ago) that you never consider how much has been invested when it comes to deciding on whether to invest more, but when you have a salable asset simply allowing its potential value to vanish at the cost of continued (modest relative to potential value) ongoing financing makes sense. And as many of us said at the time, just who was going to put us into administration?

I'm also still inclined to see the 'fair play' rules as something of a smokescreen. If I understand correctly there's nothing to prevent fresh equity investment in a club by owners.

Newyorkaddick said...

If an owner is able to inject equity then the potential permitted loss can be greater but still has to be within the £8m overall max.

With the exception of the ultra wealthy like Abramovich, I doubt if many owners will inject more equity which is likely to end up worthless under most scenarios. At least with debt there is the prospect of getting repaid as appears to have happened here.

Blackheath Addicted said...

NYA, call me an old cynic (many have) but I'm not sure that makes the difference. If a club is sold as a debt-free entity the value of the equity purchased would reflect this (as we don't know how our debt has been treated in the takeover the actual purchase price for the equity becomes almost meaningless as the debt, or much of it, could still be on the books).

I'm no expert, but perhaps the tax treatment of debt 'investment' is more favourable (and I'd guess you can give debt superior status such that in the event of liquidation you are first in line).

Anonymous said...

The dark clouds of suspicion and fear gather. So they should. This makes no sense for the Belgian.