Sunday 18 May 2014

Why 'Move On' When The Direction Sucks?

I may not (yet) be on the nine-month (or permanent?) sabbatical that some have been calling for, but I do feel in need of one after two weddings and a party in seven days (in Oxfordshire, Sussex and Lyon respectively). Timing is everything they say. So when a niece opts to get spliced on the final weekend of the season, obliging my partner Suzanne’s family to put back a party by a week (which proved to be a blessing in disguise according to them, as it chucked down on the original date), and then a mate opts to tie the knot in between, somewhere out in the sticks, you know somebody’s trying to mess with you. They did a good job, especially as the final leg(s) involved getting back to London and home half-cut around midnight to pack and get up in time to get across town for an 06.18 Eurostar/TGV to arrive (late) for a party at which decorum required at least giving the impression of being sober at the start. Fortunately Suzanne was on hand to fulfil that role.

Have the diversions and a little time helped with some fresh perspective regarding my negativity towards our new owner and his ‘vision’ (and actions)? Well, no, at least not to the extent of budging – ‘moving on’ if you like, but if the direction you are being dragged in looks like going over a ravine staying put may be the sensible option, ahead of information to the contrary. We are of course all waiting for news regarding whether or not Riga returns, on how many players opt to walk or are sold, and in what sort of fashion a new team is put together. Personally I’m waiting most of all for the outcome of the promised meetings with supporters groups for them to air prevailing concerns. Those weren’t considered enough of a priority to be held before the end of the season and (unless I’ve missed something) now play second-fiddle to holidays and the outcome of Standard Liege’s Champions League qualification effort. Of course perhaps the board is hoping that avoiding relegation means that they can be quietly shelved indefinitely.

I don’t want to go over old ground, people might get the idea that I’m somehow stuck in my ways. I don’t mind admitting that the journey under Sir Chris was one that I was happy to be on. The football wasn’t often pretty (but did provide some rousing moments/games the memory of which I’ll treasure) and contrary to popular belief I didn’t think he was the greatest manager on the planet; he was (and hopefully soon will be again) a young manager learning his trade, capable of progressing and developing with us. Of course that might have proven not to be the case, but I was happy for us to find out, not least because of the admirable virtues he’d instilled in the team, through his personality and choice of players. I think Riga’s smartest move when coming in, reflected in his recent comments, was to ensure that the spirit and determination was sustained. For that he and the players deserve considerable credit. We can only hope that the next crop of players have similar qualities.

That journey/chapter is indeed over. The problem now is that everything we know and can reasonably infer about the next one fills me with dread. Perhaps, given that the best I can now ‘hope’ for is a draw in our bet (which would require circumstances that I really don’t want to come to pass), and may well end up handing over to him a bottle of his choice, it’s useful to address what Wyn Grant wrote in Voice of the Valley regarding the new regime. The piece was, as to be expected, reasoned and fair. Where we seem to differ is on emphasis and the balance of doubt.

Wyn noted that he felt there were mistakes made in the January transfer window. I think that’s an understatement. They were dreadful howlers, moves which led me to conclude at the time that our new owner was nothing more than an asset-stripper as there seemed no other reasonable explanation. Either Duchatelet made the decisions himself, in which case he presumably believes he knows better than others about football (especially Championship football), or he was advised by someone he trusts but obviously understood little of our circumstances. But calling the moves mistakes at all is only possible from the point of view of a primary objective of strengthening the team. From Duchatelet’s perspective, we stayed up and he cut his outlays, getting transfer fees and shipping in people who were in any event paid by his consortium. In that context the changes involved risk, given the financial implications of relegation, but if your priority is to move asap towards balancing the books they can be justified. Even this kind interpretation (rather than simply gross ignorance/arrogance) says something about the goals of our owner.

Wyn acknowledged that the Duchatelet vision may not be utopian and may not work. Again, our only disagreement here is the emphasis. For me, it is a sterile and utterly unappealing vision – and this comes from an avowed European federalist. Just what constitutes it working? I’m inclined to suspect it means us making no net drain on Duchatelet’s finances (and ideally – for him - a positive flow) and an increased pool of available players, especially developing players, to shunt around at will to the benefit of the consortium rather than Charlton per se. I may be wrong here of course. Perhaps Duchatelet will decide that the net worth of his consortium is maximised by a drive to get us into the Premiership, which would presumably involve us being sold/loaned first-choice Standard Liege players. Perhaps. Then again he could change his mind.

There’s no concept of the owner being driven by what is best for Charlton per se and further moves which are not in our interest seem inevitable. We were told we ‘must accept’ players going to Standard Liege. I didn’t when he said this and still don’t. The drive to strengthen the academy has been almost universally welcomed and viewed as a real positive under Duchatelet. I hope it turns out that way, rather than a feeding centre for the consortium. Some may see no real difference between developing young players and accepting selling some on, which has been going on as long as I’ve been an Addick, and the new set-up. I think the difference is considerable, as under the former sales were made in the interest of our club per se.

Also, I’m no fan of the fair play rules. Whether or not they end up getting thrown out by the courts, they seem to me an ill-conceived and unnecessary attempt to address perceived ‘problems’ where none really exist (or rather where they do exist are already dealt with, albeit sometimes with negative consequences for individual clubs). I’m no expert on the thinking behind them, but they seemed to arise at a time when there was concern that with Man City joining Chelsea and Man Utd in terms of financial clout the Champions League could end up being dominated by English clubs with an ‘unfair’ financial advantage. Leaving aside why the authorities felt moved to act now, when clubs like Real Madrid have benefited from ‘unfair’ support from their cities/regions for decades, the fact that since then PSG have hopped on the bandwagon and that English teams are not dominating the Champions League suggest the need for FPR is questionable at best. Just how FPR morphed into trying to impose an unwanted structure for all leagues beats me. Perhaps it was just a cover to hide the real motivation.

Wyn noted in his piece that the Duchatelet vision at least puts us in the vanguard of a European trend. Being to the fore – or rather trying to take advantage of – a set of unnecessary and unfair rules which I believe will end up being either thrown out or circumvented does not fill me with joy.

Wyn also quite fairly pointed out that those, including me, who feel nothing but disgust and dread at what we have learnt to date about life under Duchatelet have yet to come up with some better alternative and that without one things could have been a lot worse. Fair enough, I’m certainly not privy to what went on from the time the previous regime made the decision to put the club up for sale and the takeover. But there are clues. When Voice of the Valley published its article on a prospective sale and the related document, it was in terms of a sale for £40m-plus. The previous owners had to spend months ratcheting down their asking price and would presumably have had to continue to do so. No-one can know whether this would have unearthed potential buyers at a yet lower price or whether administration might have resulted, but I’m inclined to believe the former, just because it would have made more financial sense for the old owners to continue to cover the monthly losses while lowering their asking price to try to flush out other buyers.

We could of course have been bought by someone/something based on a plan for a forced move from The Valley, something which the alleged sale document alluded to. But is this likely? Anyone coming in would surely have been aware (or made aware) of the history on this front. A move away from The Valley under whatever circumstances would have resulted in mass supporter defections, seriously undermining the case for a purchase (unless a new owner concluded that he/she could still make enough by accepting the football club ending up being run down/shut down). In other words, the Back To The Valley campaign would have made any prospective owner at least very, very wary.

That does raise a related question. One comment from the previous post asked a fair question as to whether I was as disgusted by the sacking of Parkinson as that of Powell, with the suggestion that both were pretty much a case of new owners installing a new man. The answer is I wasn’t. I was surprised at the time, was far from convinced it was the right move, and was concerned about what might come next. That pales in comparison with disgust at the dreadful hand Sir Chris was dealt by the old and the new regime and respect and admiration for the way he coped (and that disgust is only intensified if the recent report that he is still waiting for his settlement is true). In any event, it reminded me that when Parkinson went the bookies installed Dennis Wise as the odds-on favourite to succeed him. I don’t know if they had inside information or were just putting two and two together given previous ties, but is it also possible that the outpouring of opposition from Charlton fans to the idea of Wise taking over was material in the owners not going down that road? If Jiminez/Slater had appointed Wise, should our appropriate response have been ‘oh well, they own the club now, we should support them/give them the benefit of the doubt’ etc?

So I’m still sitting, waiting, not budging, not moving on if you like. I’ve been surprised by some blogs/comments expressing optimism over the prospect of some investment in quality new players heralding a positive new era. It’s possible of course, but where is the evidence to believe that we will be investing in quality players (quality in the context of the Championship)? The goal is to break-even and that isn’t going to put us among the highest payers in the division, where the club is going remains uncertain, so why should a quality player choose to come to us? Rather the reverse appears to be the case. Whatever the pros and cons of the possible departures of Hamer, Morrison and Dervite, and Poyet, in these cases it appears that the player involved is assessing whether their interests will be best served by moving on, if so to a higher-paying and/or more likely to prosper club. We shouldn’t be cynical about this relating to higher pay as no doubt we would do the same. And as indicated by Morrison’s recent comments, they have done us service. If they go they go with our best wishes, with the same applying to Hughes (no issue there), Green and Evina.

Trouble is I’m not really sure what might come out of the board and supporters meetings that might materially ease my concerns. Duchatelet isn’t about to change tack. Perhaps what might count is some insight into just why he wants to own football clubs, what is his real motivation and objective. I want something to believe in. I feel that we had that (which is not to overlook the adverse aspects of the former regime). For sure it’s gone, but please tell me what are the positive aspects of what seems to be on offer now (other than that we continue to exist, in a fashion).