Seems these days people can’t even pass comment on our unappealing new kit without being accused of being a Duchatelet apologist or a serial moaner, or even worse some sort of inane ‘glass half-full/half-empty sort of a bloke’. Perhaps best to stick to what we know and what from that we can reasonably infer. Suffice to say that the exceptional level of criticism of our new owner isn’t down to a number of us having some collective attack of the moaning minnies, it’s because what is happening is unprecedented, an experiment which may or may not work (even if we were able to agree on a definition of what constitutes it working from our perspective as fans). Perhaps that’s bound to polarise opinions.
We know that Bob Peeters is our new ‘head coach’. We all of course hope that he proves to be a blinding success, but let’s park that for a minute. None of us were surprised that the new guy is Belgian. So unless Duchatelet had some change of heart when it came to the terms offered to the head coach, ie dropping the elements that Sir Chris clearly found unacceptable, the appointment was a matter of selecting a Belgian prepared to accept these terms (on a one-year deal). I don’t know how many ‘candidates’ these parameters leave you with, but it isn’t being unduly negative to point out that the pool of talent meeting the criteria has to be significantly smaller than without such restrictions.
We know that Katrien Meire was quoted on the club site as saying that Jose Riga was a “very serious candidate” for the post but that “with a number of strong candidates we had a difficult decision to make to choose between them”. We also know that Peeters was quoted on the club site as saying that “the owner contacted me and asked if I was prepared to take the job”. The Red Robin rather beat me to it in highlighting what might appear to be something of a contradiction here. My dictionary definition of ‘candidate’ is “one who applies to be chosen for an office, position”. If we feed in what Alex Dyer said in his interview with the South London Press about how players since the takeover were selected, what is reasonable to infer is that aside from Riga all other ‘strong candidates’ were totally unaware that they were being ‘considered’. It’s reasonable to state that in the real world they were not candidates at all.
I have absolutely nothing against Belgians and really don’t care that Peeters played for Millwall. It isn’t a Dennis Wise situation. But to say that Peeters’ task looks a tough one isn’t being negative. He will have to get the full support of players old and new who will at least suspect that he didn’t choose to sign them and who may not have a free hand when it comes even to picking the team. I hope he has the character to achieve this.
I don’t mind admitting that, irrespective of the circumstances of his appointment, I did Riga a disservice in dismissing him as a ‘yes’ man when he came in. He did as good a job as anyone could have done, by harnessing the team spirit and by largely (but no, not completely) ignoring the players dumped on us in January. In her statement of thanks to Riga Meire noted that “he faced an extremely difficult job in keeping our club in the Championship, having to do so with a number of our young academy players”. Just how does that square with previous comments from the board to the effect that ‘we knew we had to strengthen the team in January’ and the fact that we sold three first-choice players that month? If the board want us to be positive can we please stop being fed obvious b/s.
For a sense of perspective on Riga, he didn’t ‘save us’ from relegation but made a very important contribution to that end, as did the players. Perhaps his best decision was to listen to Dyer (if the contents of his interview are to be believed, and I have absolutely no reason not to) saying that there was enough in the dressing room to avoid relegation and to make decisions that have ended up enhancing his personal reputation as a manager (it will be interesting to see how he fares at Blackpool, if that goes through). Whether these decisions – and a feeling that he was more his own man than I hastily concluded – ended up ruling him out of staying at Charlton only one person knows (and it isn’t Riga himself).
On the playing/staff front, we have seen Hamer and Dervite take up what were obviously better options for them than we put in front of them (they, along with the other departures – and of course the rightly revered Colin Powell – go with our best wishes). We wait to see whether Morrison and/or Poyet will stay. We’ve also seen enough reports/comments to suggest that an attempt to sign Barnsley’s O’Grady have foundered on wages. It’s not unreasonable to infer from this that, in line with the stated Duchatelet goal of getting us to (or as close as possible to) a breakeven financial position asap (and possibly linked to this the supposed vision that we are merely moving ahead of the curve when it comes to an FPR-driven adjustment in Championship finances) we are offering deals to players that compare poorly with at least the bulk of Championship teams, which at least suggests that as and when these players have alternatives they will be inclined to take them.
That, like the parameters restricting the choice of a new head coach, restricts the available pool of talent that we can compete for. The pool of course may end up being big enough to produce at least a competitive Championship team/squad. The signing of Zak Ansah may prove to be a case in point. I hope so.
All of this isn’t being unduly negative, as the result of some personal bias (anyone who actually did their homework on this blog – and I wouldn’t advocate it as I trust we all have far better things to do with our time – would find criticism from me of people leaving early, booing, howling at every misplaced pass etc and of me for giving far too generous player ratings as I just want them to be worldbeaters). As an Englishman (and Briton/European) and a football fan of course I’m looking forward to the World Cup. Weeks of solid footie on the box, bring it on. As for England, there are good grounds for optimism regarding prospects over the next four years, given plenty of developing talent, and of course I hope we do well in Brazil. Just suffice to say I’d want substantially better odds than 25/1 to put money on us to win the thing as just about every material factor argues against such an outcome. Can we win it? Of course it’s possible. Just highly unlikely – and believe it or not the outcome won’t be influenced by our level of optimism/pessimism pre-tournament. Equally, if I were a Derby fan I’d probably still be feeling gutted over the Championship play-off final but by now thoughts might be turning to the fact that there’s every reason to believe they will be there or thereabouts at the end of next season and that if promoted at the end of it they will probably be in better shape to compete in the Premiership than if they went up.
Bookies aren’t risk-takers; they only set the odds and offset in a fashion that delivers acceptable returns. Before Peeters’ appointment I printed out a few bits with a view to a post and never got around to it. One was that PaddyPower had us at 40/1 to win the Championship, on a par with Sheff Wed, Brentford and Birmingham and shorter odds than Millwall, Blackpool and Huddersfield (Rotherham hadn’t made it into the Championship then). SkyBet had us at 40/1 (only Blackpool at 66/1 were longer odds), and on 14/1 to get promotion (here too only Blackpool had longer odds). For relegation SkyBet had us at 9/4, the same as Millwall and Huddersfield (Blackpool were 13/8). Since then nothing has shifted. SkyBet has us joint-third favourites for relegation (with Huddersfield and Millwall with Blackpool and Rotherham the shorter odds).
The point isn’t that the bookies are geniuses and we’re sure to be headed for another relegation struggle, but rather that there isn’t, as yet, good reason to believe this won’t be the case. Peeters may prove to be an outstanding manager, we may retain the waverers and sign a clutch of good new players and have a great season. I hope for these things, but right now the evidence to support such hopes is absent.
Something else still absent. Lest it be forgotten, in late March Meire said in a ‘message to Charlton fans’ that “since we arrived at the club in January we understood the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters”, that “we (the board) are keen to meet with supporters to hear their views and discuss a shared vision for the future of this great club”, but also that “it is currently an extremely busy time”. I may have missed something, there may be efforts underway behind the scenes to convene meetings of which I am unaware. Otherwise each passing day without the convening of meetings – most obviously with the Trust but also other groupings, including the Royal Oak Group – only pushes us further in the direction of concluding that genuine communication to address fans’ concerns isn’t just not a priority but rather an unwanted inconvenience. No amount of staged interviews will suffice.
Finally (I’ve left this to last to ensure that anyone wishing to object had first to suffer the ramblings above), to those who feel qualified to cast judgement on who is and who is not an Addick, I’d like to state another two facts. First, I’ve been a Charlton supporter all my conscious life and nothing will change that, yet I don’t think for a moment that gives me any reason to talk in terms of who is or is not an Addick. Second, some supporters, however many (clearly I am one of them), felt disgusted and alienated by what has happened since the takeover.
We need more Addicks, not less. I’m tempted to think (not on the basis of any evidence it’s true) that one factor behind the previous owners’ evaporation of commitment to us was disappointment over the crowd size on our return to the Championship. We averaged 17,485 in the promotion season (with a high of 26,749). In the first year back in the Championship we managed an average of 18,499, despite higher away support and more attractive fixtures. Last season we averaged 16,134 (with a top attendance of 23,600), or 59.5% of capacity. I can’t say whether the new season ticket pricing arrangements will be the answer, but any efforts to increase attendance are to be welcomed (we can’t ignore the possible impact on floating fans of West Ham’s move). I just wonder why as things stand such efforts are not extended to address other facts.