Sunday 23 March 2014

Talk To All Parties, Now

I’ve been trying to catch up on the debate over the past week on the merits of the ‘Royal Oak Group’, whether or not Duchatelet and/or Meire should talk to them (and the CAFC Trust, the Fans Forum etc), and if so when. Of course there are differing opinions, for good reason, because we are guessing/inferring when it comes to what are for Charlton supporters key issues and because all this is happening in the midst of a battle against relegation.

Perhaps then the starting point is to put to one side who is right and who is wrong but acknowledge that there are Addicks, however many (clearly there’s more than just me), who have reacted with anything from antipathy/suspicion to outright disgust at the decisions made regarding the January transfer window and the circumstances surrounding the sacking of Chris Powell (not just because it was Sir Chris but also because of what these circumstances might suggest about the priorities/intentions/decision-making process of Duchatelet).

It’s fair to assume that Duchatelet does not want us to get relegated, that however it is quantified the chances of doing so are increased if everyone from supporters through the team and the board are united, and that he wants all Addicks to renew season tickets for next season (and to encourage others to come along and fill up The Valley to try to maximise club revenues). A successful head of an enterprise might consequently conclude that either these disconcerted clients are an insignificant few who can be ignored, and that any loss of revenue that might result can be easily accommodated or replaced, or that they amount to collateral damage as it is inevitable that not everyone will buy into his/her vision for the future of the enterprise. Alternatively, he/she might conclude that these elements’ reluctance to buy into the business model is a failure of communication on his/her part, a failure to allay what might be seen as understandable concerns related to what all would (I think) agree is an experimental and untested approach to the running of a football club.

Let’s also accept that those fans who are concerned over the future of the club are not troublemakers, or just disgruntled alienated elements looking to repeat former glories. They (and I include myself) are concerned because they care about the club and want nothing other than for it to prosper. I happen to believe that this is an asset for the club, one to be embraced, just as I have no issue with other fans who take the view that we should support the team irrespective of concerns over its direction, especially given our situation.

So to come back to the issue of whether to talk and if so when, if I were an advisor to said head of enterprise I would recommend meet and talk to all concerned, now. It’s impractical (or rather would be useless) to have one gathering, so prioritise arranging meetings with the Trust and the Royal Oak Group. Accept that however inconvenient and time-consuming it is a priority to allay the concerns they have as their backing is important. Of course, even if there are such meetings it’s unrealistic to think that everyone would walk away fully won over and content; it’s quite possible that some will leave with their concerns intensified. But you will have demonstrated that you value their commitment to the club – and even being cynical the chances are that you will receive goodwill from many other fans who (for good reason) have a ‘wait and see’ attitude to your plans for the club.

Consider the alternatives: talk at the end of the season or not at all. You are inviting these elements to make a negative interpretation of a reluctance to talk now as this might come across as at best indifference to their opinions (and their support) and at worse a desire to avoid discussing plans for the future because these plans should indeed be a cause for concern for many supporters. You risk compromising their support between now and the end of the season and beyond. If you don’t care about that, so be it.

On other (related) matters, I hope nobody interprets my scepticism/antipathy towards Duchatelet’s actions and plans (or at least what we might infer about them from what has happened) as any hankering for what was going on before. I don’t accept (but may be wrong) that under the previous owners we were headed inevitably for administration. I suspect rather that the longer their failure to find a buyer for the club continued, the lower their asking price would have fallen (arguably to a point at which going into administration was – for them – the better alternative compared with continued funding of losses). I don’t doubt they would have sold us to any Tom, Dick or Harry if the price was right, quite possibly on the basis of a plan to move away from The Valley and/or the sale of players (which is also an implied criticism of Richard Murray for selling the club to them in the first place, although there were obviously reasons for this).

New York Addick posted a comment concerning why some fans felt a need to protest against Duchatelet when the previous owners were a more dubious bunch. They were, but their objectives were (I think) reasonably transparent and until last summer they were in tune with the wishes of supporters. The only way they could make a return on their investment was to get us back to the Championship, possibly then into the Premiership. Fine by me (which is not to overlook their silly secrecy, failure to communicate, and treatment of club employees). To the extent that we have an owner who ensures our survival as an entity, with no plans to move to a new ground, the change is entirely welcome (and I did write as much at the time of the first statement following the takeover).  

For what it’s worth I would have had no problems if we had been bought by an individual/group with it made plain that we needed to reduce losses. We have no right to expect any owner simply to pour in money (although that takes us back to whether in the Championship it is possible to survive without doing so). Just why the previous owners changed tack on the implementation of their ‘plan’ I don’t know (presumably they either ran dry of funds or concluded that the balance of risk/potential return didn’t justify continuing, or perhaps they always intended to look to sell us on as and when we were in the Championship). Such an outcome might not have filled me with joy, but it would not have compromised my feelings/support for the club. Rightly or wrongly, what we have been told and what we infer from what has happened since the takeover have. How many others feel the same way I’ve no idea. So I’d welcome the good sense of a decision by Duchatelet to endorse talks with all interested parties asap before some, however many, feel a need to move from a ‘wait and see’ approach.

Friday 14 March 2014

Support The New Group

I’d no intention of posting anything while away in France, although the decisions that had been hanging when I set off were taken (and might be obvious to anyone who’d read what’s gone before). Just as I had no desire to watch a Charlton game on Wednesday night with ambivalent feelings (I left after the Chris Powell tribute), I have no desire to be writing anything negative ahead of crucial games (I booked this trip before the Bournemouth game was rearranged and regret not being there to contribute to the tribute for Yann that he too deserves, but planned the return for next Friday so that I would make the home game the following day).
However, the post by Wyn Grant detailing the statement by “a group of well-known Charlton supporters” prompted a quick change of heart, only to the extent of giving the group my strong endorsement. The stated desire to engage asap with either Roland Duchatelet or Katrien Miere seems entirely right and appropriate. So is the invitation to others to join. I would expect the CAFC Trust to correctly take some time as its role is to represent Charlton fans in their entirety and no doubt there will be some who, for good reason, feel that the initiative is poorly timed and in that sense inappropriate. I don’t agree with that view, but the Trust quite rightly should take their views into account. 
Outside of that, there are naturally outliers, which is where I feel comfortable. The chances of constructive engagement with the new owner I would guess are limited, but as ever I’d be happy to be proven wrong. He is after all right and the protests of Standard Liege fans didn’t end up cutting much ice (if they are continuing my apologies). So let’s see how this one plays out. 
The case clearly isn’t as simple as ‘Back To The Valley’. Then the fight was against a council objecting to us returning to The Valley (or at worst somewhere in the area) and most of us knew that unless we did as a football club we would die a fast or slow death. The club was owned by people who wanted to return, they asked and we gave and there was unity of purpose. Now this initiative has to take on board the fact that we are in a relegation struggle and divided camps seldom succeed. So this one’s a less easy call for all Addicks right now. But all important decisions involve rejection of something attractive/the embracing of something that’s not 100% positive in the circumstances. I have no doubt which side of the fence I’m on and I fully endorse the new group’s efforts. 
There’s not the time to go into details here and now, but let’s use Yann to illustrate the two views. I suspect that Duchatelet will have looked at the statistics. Here’s a 32-year-old forward who we can get a fee for, who may only have a year or two left and little resale value after that. We have an offer, we should take it. What he will never have seen, or if he did probably wouldn’t appreciate, was Kermorgant getting clattered by an opposition defender, kicked on a dodgy ankle, and get up, puff out his chest, call the defender (perhaps also the ref) something in Breton, and dive back into the fray. We didn’t love him because he was the greatest player to turn out for Charlton (leaving aside the fact that on his day he was superb), but because he inspired – not just us but the rest of the team - by his character and response to adversity. And of course with him still with us we would have had a much better chance of avoiding relegation. As with Sir Chris, if you place no value on such qualities, which don’t appear in the statistics, you make a poor assessment of the risk/return profile. You throw the baby out with the bathwater, and we are supposed to be your children after all.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Not Fit For Purpose

This blog is fast becoming less about football and more a sociology forum. So be it, here we go again. I don’t believe Duchatelet is some kind of ogre, I don’t believe we have some divine right to expect any owner to be prepared to pour his/her money into the club for our benefit. I accept that Duchatelet’s European consortium could work to our advantage over time, in terms purely of league position, if factors beyond his control go his way. I also accept that my views and feelings are based on my experiences, not just with regard to football, and that all we have gleaned about his character, from what he has said and done, strikes negative notes with me because of these experiences.

I also believe that the changes made since the takeover, up to and including the sacking of Chris Powell, have left us materially weaker than before when the crying need was for strengthening, if avoiding relegation is the priority (it has been mine). I don’t believe Duchatelet intended to weaken us, but do believe that the errors of judgement that his decisions have revealed are symptomatic and likely to be repeated, because the man doesn’t understand football and what conditions create success. I’m sure he doesn’t really want to pick the team and decide on transfers, he just can’t help himself because he is right. If the manager (or head coach if you want) makes decisions that are in accordance with his views, all is well and there’s no interference. But that’s a fa├žade, a very transparent one.

Duchatelet now has his chosen puppet installed as head coach and his lead piper in situ to handle the board. No need now to interfere further for a while. I don’t believe in personality strengths and weaknesses, as if there’s some kind of Platonic ideal. I do believe that what are strengths in some situations are inevitably weaknesses in others. People may believe that the fact Duchatelet has made a success in business means he cannot be a fool. I don’t. The (very admirable) qualities that were behind his success are, in my opinion, serious weaknesses in the context of owning/running a football club. It is a different game, one where man-management (at every level) counts for a great deal. I don’t believe Duchatelet has the skills required to make a success in this business.

It’s also possible that my negativity towards Duchatelet is the result of being too up myself. I don’t own the club, or have the money to buy it, why should our opinions matter a jot? Or rather why should I pretend that they might? We are left with a choice to either buy into the Duchatelet model, or passively accept it and see how things turn out, or reject it to the limited extent possible. It’s no different from how we reacted to the forced move away from The Valley. Every Addick made their decisions then and whichever option was taken was no reflection of their feelings for Charlton. Such decisions I think end up being determined by what you get from the total experience of being a Charlton fan.

I keep remembering the very kind lady who was organising the teas/coffees and lottery on the coach for a Sheff Wed away game a few years back. We lost 4-1 and afterwards asked politely – but without irony - ‘did you enjoy it?’ When I expressed my incredulity she replied she comes along for the social side. All about your priorities. Perhaps mine are imbalanced, but they are what they are. They include balking at the prospect of investing emotional commitment to a club which might the next day see its prospects undermined by the greater glory of the consortium. They also include taking offence at the suggestion, whether or not intended to be taken seriously, that we are one of Duchatelet’s children. Just think about it for a minute. Parents (usually and ideally) decide to create a child and embrace all that that involves; there are words other than ‘daddy’ for people who buy children created by others and demand to be loved.

My conclusion is that Duchatelet is simply not fit for purpose. In an ideal world he would be intelligent enough to realise this, abandon and dismantle his consortium and find buyers for his clubs, accepting that at least us will not be worth what he paid. But that’s a pipe dream. When all’s said and done, we still don’t really know why he embarked on his football experiment. Perhaps it is all down to his mummy not showing him enough affection.

We wait to see how important players in the drama will respond. The admirable CAFC Trust is in an invidious position in that it’s role is to represent the fans in dealings with the board. No doubt its main figures have differing views on Duchatelet’s experiment, all of which works against it taking a strong pro or anti position. It will be interesting to see how the Voice of The Valley comes out as it is less constrained in this respect. Richard Murray may or may not still have financial interests to consider, I don’t know. His only weapon is to resign from the board, it is a card that can only be played once (and only used as a bluff once, if at all).

Me? I will turn up tonight (not least to buy the programme as the manager/head coach notes should be interesting), wearing a Chris Powell T-shirt. If the fans register their opinions by singing long and loud in support of Powell (whether as an expression of anger or a well-earned tribute) I shall sing along with them, for as long as it lasts. If not, or as and when the singing ends, I may well exit then. So no match report from me tonight (I’m incapable of objectivity at the best of times and no doubt anything I might write would be coloured by the above). My season ticket renewal arrived in the post yesterday. There is time to decide on that, but the chances of an early offer renewal from me are not good. I’ll miss Millwall and Bournemouth in any event due to a Lyon trip and see how the world looks after a break there and a Lyon Duchere game. To the best of my knowledge they are still a football club.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Ashamed; Thanks Chris, Please Forgive Us

Being an Addick has been for me a source of entertainment and pride, you invest emotional commitment, through choice, and take the highs and the lows. Today I feel ashamed. We’ve sacked managers before, sometimes with good outcomes, sometimes bad, for various reasons. At the time we could ponder on whether they were good or bad moves. But they’ve all been sacked ultimately for footballing reasons, in the hope that someone else will do a better job. At the extreme the dismissal of Sir Chris is no different in that Duchatelet presumably does feel that a change will be in the long-term interests of his consortium (let’s not call it an empire). The difference is that Powell’s dismissal is really not down to his abilities as a manager but what has to be seen as a refusal to accept being treated as a puppet – or more kindly to buy fully into the Duchatelet vision, which includes accepting that in all things Duchatelet knows best.

I’ve never witnessed a manager get dealt a worse hand than Sir Chris over the past year. Having achieved the goal of returning us to the Championship he made changes to deliver a competitive Championship team, delivering at the end of last season a speech on the pitch that left none of us in any doubt about his ambition and desires. He then had the rug pulled from under his feet by the previous owners, didn’t walk away but tried to make the best of his lot, for the good of our club. He kept his council through the takeover and was ready to try to make the best of the new set-up, again for the good of the club, only to see changes made in January that would have given him every reason to walk away. He is then (presumably as I don’t know the details) presented with a contract extension that clearly made changes on ‘footballing issues’ that he couldn’t accept and keep his dignity intact. My feeling is that no self-respecting manager could. Duchatelet must have felt he couldn’t make a change with a Wembley appearance on the line, but once that was removed he can make a change that has the appearance of being purely for footballing reasons. Surely he can’t be stupid enough to believe that we will buy this.

Sir Chris leaves us (for now) with his dignity and growing reputation as a manager entirely intact. I hope he realises that he still has the backing (and unquestionably the deep affection) of the majority of Charlton fans. All I can say is I hope he quickly gets the opportunity at another club to continue to develop his talents as a manager and that once the wounds heal he will retain affection for our club. I hope so, but today we don’t deserve that.

I haven’t yet seen a club statement even to confirm that Sir Chris has gone, but have no reason to doubt the reports. As things stand, we have to say farewell to Sir Chris on Wednesday night and then next week say a proper farewell to Kermorgant, whose departure is testimony enough to the ineptitude (at best) of our new owner.

What happens then? The boundaries are now set. Either we decide, as some have already expressed, that we support the club and that is more important than the individuals in place at any one time. As someone who did go to Selhurst Park it is without doubt a choice/view to be respected. Others will walk away, not renew season tickets. Those that decide to do so deserve similar respect for their views. Whichever camp people fall into leaves all as Addicks. I’m not prone to hasty decisions (hasty comments are another matter, such is the nature of football blogging). But for the first time in my life I will serious question whether being an Addick and what I believe it stands for is no longer compatible with providing the (very limited) support for the club in its present state.

The king is indeed dead (again, subject to confirmation). Long live the republic.

Monday 10 March 2014

Another Take On Options And Alternatives

No point in the ‘blame game’ yet. We have a 16-game season now, with games coming thick and fast. Surely the priority has to be what team structure/formation best utilises the players available to us right now. Every decent team knows its strengths and plays to them; every team low on confidence (and it’s fair to say we are) needs clarity and consistency to keep the game simple, or rather to ensure that players know the game-plan and stick to it.

For me the striking contrast between us and Sheff Utd was that they all knew their jobs on the pitch, they knew what sort of runs their colleagues would make, knew their strengths and weaknesses. By contrast, we looked as if we were making it up each time we had the ball, with an absence of movement ahead of the player in possession limiting his options, leading to either square passing or balls into the front two that asked a lot of them to make anything happen, especially as lofted balls forward were pointless.

So for me we need a clearer ‘Plan A’, with some basic ‘yes’ and ‘no’ options. No more Cousins playing wide right. The limitation in having Cousins and Poyet paired in central midfield – despite the excellence displayed by both of them – is that they are a bit similar in that neither is box-to-box and both seem to prefer the more holding role. They are of course both young and expecting them both to play all remaining games would be an enormous ask. So alternate them and allow one to get a breather.

Wiggins and Jackson clearly like working together on the left side, they know each other’s game. Stick to that combination, injuries and fatigue allowing. That leaves a central midfield berth and the wide right position. Green hasn’t made a convincing case for the latter, at least to start games, so like others I’d go for Wilson in that position and, assuming of course that Solly remains unavailable for now, trust Nego or another (don’t ask me if Nego is ready but needs must). For the central berth, surely Hollands and Hughes have to come into the reckoning (Gower too as and when he’s fit), even if there would be doubts about match-fitness.

The wildcard in all of this is Ajdarevic. Just where is his best position? Central midfield, wide right, or roving in the hole? I don’t know, but Sir Chris and his team have to nail this one down as the guy clearly has ability, we just have to harness it. We are short on creative play and the calls for him to start are loud. I just don’t want to see him thrown in without everyone else on the pitch being aware of what role he’s supposed to be playing.

Up front, to say that we are unbalanced is something of an understatement. We have disposed of/failed to hold on to Kermorgant, Smith and Pigott, apparently failed to land on loan Best or Wickham, and so far haven’t utilised Peter the Pole (ie the target men). We have Church, Sordell, Tudgay and Ghoochannejhad, each of which is crying out for a complimentary partner. Unless Parzyszek makes his mark (talk about him being ‘one for next season’ rather begs the point why he was on the bench for the home game against Birmingham), I can’t see an effective partnership from any two of those available to us.

My conclusion would therefore be looking at 4-5-1 with Ajdarevic given a free role in midfield/in the hole. That would then mean picking someone to play the lone striker. Might not be universally popular, but if his mind is right I’d choose Sordell (if it isn’t Church is the safer option but Gucchi just might work if he wasn’t required to hold the ball). I remember when Spurs played with just Clive Allen up front. His job wasn’t to be especially involved in link-up play, to be the target for balls played forward; it was just to be in the box to get on the end of things, which he did very well. Of course they did have Hoddle, Ardilles, Galvin etc to provide the ammunition.

So my ‘Plan A’ team as things stand would be: Hamer, Nego/another, Wiggins, Morrison, Wood/Dervite, Wilson, Cousins/Poyet, Hollands/Hughes/another, Jackson, Ajdarevic, Sordell/Church/Gucchi. On the bench would be Thuram-Ulien, Wood/Dervite, Cousins/Poyet, Green/Harriott, plus two of the strikers, preferably one of them being Parzyszek to (hopefully) give as the option to revert to 4-4-2. Also available are Evina, Pritchard, Cook, plus youngsters. Whether one or more of them can play a part I really don’t know. Certainly for the three named much depends on their mindset (including just how Evina feels about playing for us after being subjected to racial abuse from one of ‘us’).

You can only find one team in the lower half of the division that’s conceded fewer goals than us but by a distance we’re the league’s lowest scorers. Might seem odd in that context for me to be making a case for going with one up front, but the bottom line is we haven’t scored enough with two up front, so something has to change, something to get the best out of what we have.

It does seem time for Sir Chris to be pulling rabbits out of the hat as, despite the win against QPR, things ain’t working in key areas. The set-up for QPR worked as we were up against a quality team on a poor run; it didn’t work against Sheff Utd as they were a decent team on a tremendous run. Huddersfield at The Valley will no doubt be tough but surely we will have the edge on them when it comes to commitment. They are relatively comfortable and appear to have little to play for. I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that they will roll over, at best they will be dangerous opponents. But for us it is pretty close to a must-win game and we have to turn greater need into greater passion and determination. Win and the pressure eases for us to take three points at Millwall (which would of course remain a ‘don’t lose at any cost’ match).

At this stage in the season every team is where it deserves to be. We are bottom but with the games in hand to change that. We’re also in a situation where it could all be close to falling apart, if the players out of contract at the end of the season throw in the towel. It isn’t exactly optimum either that we go into this decisive phase of the season with Powell’s contract situation as yet unresolved (at least not as of midday Monday, to the best of my knowledge). I’ve no idea whether it’s a case of ironing out a few ‘footballing issues’ (one has to assume one or more of job title, team selection and transfer policy) or whether the two sides are gridlocked, with Duchatelet adopting a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Dream Over, Now For A New One

The dream continues, but not for us. Good luck to Sheff Utd in the semis, they’ve earned their day in the sun (possibly two of course). A very tight game of few chances ultimately came down to who scored first; although whether we’d have got back into it if we hadn’t conceded a second in double-quick time we’ll never know, with that cushion helping them to avoid what might otherwise have been a nervy final 10 minutes or so. We can’t quibble about the result as we failed to score. We all know the pivotal moment of the game for us, the second-half Harriott miss, but there was also one in the first half when a set-piece ball seemed to go through Morrison a couple of yards out. We had the breaks against Sheff Wed, but not today.

I’m not going to go for a full report. Surely every Addick saw the match or by now is well aware of what happened. And it’s been a long day. So just a few reflections from me.

I wasn’t surprised by the ‘two banks of four’ set-up with which we started the game, although the repeat of shifting Cousins wide right to bring Jackson into central midfield and have Harriott start on the left was slightly surprising, given the difficulties that creates for Cousins himself and for us to get much going down the right side, especially as Tudgay tended to work on that side and consequently we saw little of Wilson as an attacking threat. On the other flank, Wiggins was similarly constrained. In any event Sheffield’s two wingers kept them busy enough defensively. It all meant it was very hard work for Church and Tudgay up front to get anything going against larger central defenders, although both were to have their moments.

Defensively, although Sheffield were lively and often more accurate with their passing (they knew each other well enough and each guy knew his job, where to be and what to do), we were seldom stretched in the first half (the one put into the net by them was well offside) and really until the goals came. Harriott’s pace always carried promise, but for the most part it was a case of two teams prioritising not giving the opposition space in the final third and looking to nick something at the other end, from a mistake, a set-piece, or something out of the ordinary.

If anything the second half was even tighter as the importance of any first goal grew. We did have our moment as quick thinking by Tudgay to make a move and be picked out well with the free kick saw the ball knocked back across and their keeper out of position. It seemed to get to Harriott as he was stretching for it, a little off-balance, but the effort only had to go the right side of the post for it to count and it didn’t.

The game was getting to the stage when you wondered which manager might make a change first, who might decide to take the risk and go for it. We made our first change, with Church replaced by Ajdarevic, but he’d barely got on the pitch when the deadlock was broken. It was one of those crosses that you think can’t really get to the far post but was angled and bounced in such a way that Hamer was tempted but couldn’t get there and the central defenders hesitated. When it did get to the far post their guy steered it in the opposite direction to leave Hamer stranded.

OK, so be it. It’s a different game now. But thoughts of regrouping quickly went out of the window as while we were still reeling a little we failed to deal with a move down the left, defenders got pulled towards the ball, and when it was squared their guy had plenty of time to line up a shot. The deflection it took was just one of those things.

If anything disappointed me today it was our reaction after their second goal. There was still time. If we got one back the final minutes would be very interesting. Instead we seemed to be squabbling on the pitch, the further changes made to chase the game - with Poyet and Wilson replaced by Green and Ghoochannejhad, us going with three at the back and effectively a line of four, sometimes five, up front - caused confusion. For a while a third for Sheffield was far more likely than us getting back into the game. We did finally force their keeper into a superb save in stoppage time, but the game was up before then.

Nobody had a great game. Poyet was generally effective but did get caught out a couple of times, Church and Tudgay worked very hard with little reward (and the latter was responsible for creating our real chance). Jackson may have been constrained for much of the game by the yellow card he picked up for a poorly-timed challenge. Until their goal(s) I’d marked down Wiggins as man-of-the-match for us, as he’d stopped his man all afternoon. But even he had a bad 10 minutes or so after they took the lead and seemed to lose some composure.

When you set up in a one-off game to keep things tight and come away losing there’s always the feeling that you might as well have gone for it from the start, couldn’t have turned out worse. Their manager commented on the BBC site that they looked nervous in the first 20 minutes or so and that he was glad to get into the break at 0-0. With hindsight, a more adventurous approach to try to take advantage of their apprehension may have seen a different outcome. But I’ve no real complaints on that front; go ahead and we probably would have won. Also, it was unfortunate that we made our first change just as they scored their goals and then found ourselves having to make fresh adjustments as the game had changed.

We’ve only got a couple of days to lick our wounds as we all know what’s coming up now to the end of the season. Like on Saturday on Tuesday night we have to watch and hope that results go a little more our way before the visit of Huddersfield and then the trip to Millwall. Sheff Utd have ensured that whether or not they can make the play-offs their season still has another high; we have to ensure that our season too ends on an upbeat note. And we all know what that means.

Friday 7 March 2014

Let Some Fun Begin

Can’t go into this weekend without something a bit more upbeat than the last post. There has to be some fun, otherwise what’s the point? So come Sunday morning, at some ungodly hour, I’ll be doing the trip up to Sheffield. It’s one I’m used to, having spent three years-plus in the city; but to the best of my knowledge I’ve never seen us compete in an FA Cup quarter-final (I missed Operation Riverside, and the one against Bolton; if there was another I’ve forgotten it). One game away from a Wembley FA Cup semi-final, the first in my lifetime, to be then one game away from almost certain European football at The Valley next season. Well, even I still have to dream sometimes.

There’s not much point speculating about the team and the formation, given fitness doubts. Suffice to say that if all are fit and fresh enough (with the start of the fixture glut this weekend) the team that takes the pitch would be expected to include Hamer, Wilson, Wiggins, Morrison, Jackson, Cousins and Poyet. Add to that bunch Church, given his current cup record, and Wood or Dervite (both of course if Morrison isn’t available) and there’s only two other places. Presumably a second forward would be one of Sordell, Tudgay or Ghoochannejhad (with the other two on the bench, unless Peter the Pole gets a berth) and the other midfield starting slot one from Green, Harriott or Ajdarevic (unless Wilson is moved further forward).

I’d guess it will be a case, as against QPR, of putting out the two banks of four, to put the emphasis on keeping things tight. The fact that Sheff Utd are in League One is pretty irrelevant for this game, especially given their current form. Having the hoodoo sign over Sheffield, when it comes to the big games, should work to our advantage (I’ m drawing a veil over my last trip to Bramall Lane, when we put in a spineless performance in the Premiership relegation season and lost in the last minute); but who scores first may well be the key to the game.

It was pleasing to see that BBC ‘football expert’ Mark Lawrenson has gone for a 1-0 win for Sheffield. Superb footballer but a lazy pundit. It sticks in my mind that a few years back Rangers were due to play Lyon in the Champions League group stage, having won in Lyon earlier in the season. When asked if he thought Rangers would win he said ‘why not? They won in Lyon’. I have a passing interest in Lyon, due to my French partner Suzanne, and knew that after a very poor start to the season Lyon were by then on a roll. I would have expected an ‘expert’ to have taken a few minutes to check, perhaps even just to be aware because of what you get paid for. Lyon won the game. His ‘opponent’ this weekend in the forecasting game, Bastille drummer Chris ‘Woody’ Wood, is quoted on the BBC site as saying “I’m not too bad at guessing scores” and has gone for 3-2 to us. I’ll settle for that (but might prefer a 0 for them).

Back to the other matters (back to negativity?). I did read in full the report on the meeting between Katrien Meire, Richard Murray and VIP season ticket holders and had a less positive interpretation than others. It did provide some insight into some of the January ins and outs, without papering over the fact that poor decisions were made and unwanted moves occurred largely because of the uncertainty surrounding the club (including Sir Chris’ position). In other circumstances this would be forgivable, even understandable for a guy who’d only just bought the club. In our situation, the absence of clarity left people to draw their own conclusions and make their own plans – and who can blame them? Neither did what was said add much to the prospective balance in the years ahead between what’s good for Charlton per se and what’s good for the Duchatelet network. Only time will tell on that front.  

Where Miere fell down in my view was the (reported) answer to the question: ‘Is it true that M. Duchatelet gains GBP4m on the price of the club if it is relegated. Isn’t this a perverse incentive?’ I’d agree that the question wasn’t perhaps well phrased, giving the implication that he might want us to go down. Even I have never believed that (and thought that a clause to cover the eventuality was entirely sensible). But the (reported) answer was: “It is an insult to suggest that RD would consider relegation. Even if such a clause exists, failure is not an option for him”. Sorry, but that’s just silly. If such a clause exists, why would it if RD ‘doesn’t do failure’? RD failed (to date) with his political career, or was that someone else’s fault? A positive attitude is to be commended, perhaps even essential in any walk of life. But people who haven’t experienced failure (in whatever form, relative to expectations) are not to be trusted. They haven’t learnt from setbacks; and they won’t know how to avoid failure when it stares them in the face.

Let’s just hope that Miere’s answer was a bit tongue in cheek and an off-the-cuff response to a clumsy question. And yes, let’s hope she’s swinging from a crossbar on Sunday.

As for the (potential) flaws in the European network approach to get around fair play rules, I remain sceptical. The week has seen a string of Championship clubs unveil numbers (for losses and debts outstanding) that at first sight appear unsustainable, even lunacy relative to turnover. But so what? The distortion in Championship clubs’ finances comes from the gulf between this division and the Premiership and unless and until that is addressed (and there’s no obvious incentive for it to be) the pull of a GBP120m (and rising) boost from getting promotion won’t be circumvented.

Two recent comments to posts (mine and others) stood out for me. One guy commented that he (or she) doubted it was possible to get promoted from the Championship from a breakeven financial position. I’d go further and suggest that it’s very difficult to avoid getting relegated from that position; perhaps it will be possible over time. The other was along the lines of any good business needs to be profitable (or at least break even). It doesn’t. It’s all about the sustainability of the financing. Championship clubs have more in common with start-ups than mature companies, given that lure of the Premiership.

So, all we need to do tomorrow is sit back and cheer for Notts Forest, Derby, Huddersfield, and even Sheff Wed. Then once Sunday is over, and the fixture list is rejigged to accommodate Wembley, it’s back to the calendar to try to plan ahead. That’s not my strong point (Suzanne is the planning department in our relationship). Months ago I booked a trip to Lyon, sacrificing the trip to our near neighbours. I didn’t know then that I’d also be passing up watching Kermorgant play against us. For what it’s worth, I’m that dumb that I used a season ticket voucher for the game to get Suzanne a ticket as she was due in London that weekend, before realising that the game was almost certain to be postponed (Bournemouth only needed to beat Burton). Planning? I can just about manage the weekend, with luck.

Monday 3 March 2014

I Don't Accept

Here we go again, with the reported interview with Duchatelet by BBC Late Kick Off London and the South East. The intro says Charlton supporters “must accept that their leading players could be sold to Standard Liege in the future”. I don’t accept. Before just (again) accusing the guy of being ignorant, let’s go through each quote in turn from the piece on the BBC site.

“This club (Charlton) also needs to make money”. Well, if we are owned by someone not ready to invest in the club, that goes without saying, whether we are in the Championship or lower leagues. It appears to be our misfortune to have been bought by someone who views achieving a breakeven position in the shortest possible time as the immediate priority, rather than avoiding relegation and implementing a plan geared around progress – which whether Duchatelet likes it or not in the Championship involves funding losses (of varying degrees). This was the inference from the transfer window moves.

“It is not to be excluded that some players will be sold to Standard Liege and play Champions League”. Combine this with the quote from SL’s sports manager Jean-Francois de Sart: “the objective is to share the players. When a player not good enough for the (SL) first team needs some experience he can go to Charlton. When we have a big talent of Charlton he can come also to Standard Liege”. The latter quote perhaps not surprisingly, given the interests of that guy, amounts to viewing Charlton as an SL reserve team/feeder club. The former one, from Duchatelet, comes close. His related later quote is: “If you have five children (ie five football clubs) what is the priority between your children? They are all your priority. I think that is the right attitude”. You arrogant, ignorant fool. You do not have ‘five children’, you own (directly or indirectly) five football clubs, each with supporters with their interests, goals, ambitions etc. If we areyou’re your ‘children’, what parent decides to have children in the expectation of making money from them? At what age are they expected to break-even?

Back to the quotes. “We (Charlton) will be a very realistic club in terms of what we spend. The aim is very quickly to break even, so the fans should expect us to sell players once in a while”. Believe it or not, Roland, there are some of us who supported the club through us offloading Paul Elliot to pay wages, Robert Lee to keep us going, and many more (up to and including Jonjo Shelvey and Carl Jenkinson). Please do not assume we are stupid or unrealistic. Children can be sometimes of course. Selling players in the best, wider interests of the club is accepted. Selling players to another of your children, in order to help that child (to the detriment of Charlton, including the enjoyment of watching Charlton), is not.

The sentiments expressed by Duchatelet display the same sort of ignorance and/or indifference to the interests (goals, ambitions etc) of supporters that rang through from the weekend interview by Cardiff owner Vincent Tan. He managed to further undermine his standing through exaggeration and distortion. I can’t quote exactly but he stated that he saved the club. Wrong. He perhaps ensured that they didn’t go into administration, didn’t get relegated; that isn’t the same thing as Cardiff FC in whatever form would not have ceased to exist if he hadn’t bought them. He said he got them promoted. Fair claim, given the investment made. But then went on to effectively ask for an apology from what he claims is a minority of Cardiff supporters and to threaten to walk away if he gets hacked off. This seems to an outsider (I don’t wish to claim insight into Cardiff supporters’ wishes) to be based on fans actually disagreeing with him over issues that are important to supporters, which for Tan clearly amounts to said supporters not accepting ‘reality’ in that he owns the club and can implement any change he wants to, with reference to no-one.

A decent starting point for Duchatelet would be to accept that he doesn’t know what it means to be a supporter of a football team. Why should he? He might try talking to some if he is interested in learning. We might make jibes at Palace supporters for example, but deep down we know that they care about their club in the same way that we do ours. And it is our club, in a very real sense. We are (no longer) equity holders in Charlton, but we are stakeholders, or at the least an interested party, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about football. To ignore that fact is silly.

To outline in part, I can of course accept Charlton selling players such as Cousins or Poyet, if and when the need arises and if and when the time for them is right (including if and when they decide they wish to further their careers elsewhere). Outside the Premiership that’s just a necessary evil. But while they wear the Charlton shirt they are assets of the club. My desire to cheer them on is based on my emotional bond with my team/club. If they start to be scooped up as and when to bolster a Standard Liege Champions League campaign, to no benefit for Charlton, it is a world of difference (and does revive my previous fear that perhaps the so far anonymous Peter the Pole signed for us on the promise that he might get shunted over to SL if the need/opportunity arose).

Perhaps it’s best summed up by something an older (then) guy said at Selhurst Park before a game against Liverpool in the first season of our spell in the top flight under Lennie Lawrence. He just turned around and said ‘I’ve been waiting 30 years for this game and because it’s here it means nothing’. Too true. Duchatelet’s interests may develop in a fashion that ends with us being the focal point, given the riches of the Premiership. But Roland, I can watch Premiership football any time I want to. Some things are more important.

Not accepting can only amount to one thing when I don’t own the club, which is to withdraw my support, the money that I spend on (and at) Charlton. It is something that, for the first time in many years, for me arises as a possibility depending on how things work out. I will always be an Addick and if my worst fears come to pass it would amount to a case of following from a distance and waiting for the Duchatelet regime to end, which it will sooner or later.

In the meantime, depressingly, the Tintinometer is downgraded once more to a 3, especially given the delay in the conclusion of a new contract for Sir Chris. When the announcement was made of talks being underway I commented that I hoped he would be made an offer that reflected his true worth, not the value corresponding to the world according to Duchatelet. We are back to uncertainty on that front and it isn’t good.