Friday, 23 January 2015

'The Dangling Conversation' Or A Mass Of Contradictions

Let's have another meander through our situation - hopefully to come up with something positive at the end of it (there's always a first time). Let's start with what we can agree on: an acceptance that all Addicks want the best for our club and that our owner does too, that all concerned have their foibles, strengths/weaknesses, sometimes make mistakes, that the chances of achieving our mutual goals are increased if we're all singing from the same sheet (on and off the pitch), and that not much in this life is perfect. Now for what divides us.

We are led to believe that Duchatelet has little or no understanding of what motivates supporters so, whether true or not, let's educate him. I generalise of course out of necessity, but I'd say we go out of habit, for the social side, for entertainment (ie just liking a game of football), and/or for a deeper commitment (no, it's not religion but shares some characteristics). The last is born out of the knowledge both that to truly enjoy the good times/moments you have to have an emotional attachment to the outcome, which also means risking a measure of self-generated misery over the bad times, and that there's a good deal involved with this that isn't entirely rational. We have disdain for Palace supporters, for obvious reasons, while knowing full well that in most cases but for factors beyond our control (location, family habits etc) we'd be among their number, and that, curious as it seems to say it, they are motivated by the same factors as us; just as we are justifiably proud of our club they inexplicably feel the same way.

So what do we want, what will satisfy our needs (to the extent that we are happy to continue to paying customers)? Of course Champions League would be nice, promotion would be very welcome, absent these entertaining/exciting football a bonus. At the other end of the scale staying in the Championship is the basic requirement, although for many of us relegation, while utterly appalling, wouldn't be the end of the world as far as continuing to support is concerned. In between, bottom line would be belief in progress, good reasons to believe that the future will be bright (in essence a paraphrasing of Sir Chris' end-of-season appeal to the previous owners, which fell on deaf ears), and evidence that the players and management are of the same mind and that this translates into the team giving their all on the pitch, which elicits a similar response from fans. Powell gave us that last one in spades. Add in one more 'wish', that at the least as paying customers our wishes and aspirations are treated with respect such that, whether or not we are, we do not feel like we're being taken as mugs.

While we may have delusions of grandeur, based on our past, catchment area etc, when sober we're not daft enough to think of promotion as any sort of right, that we might in any way 'belong' in the Premiership. Any new owner of any football club has a vision in mind, whether that is 'just' being the custodian for a period of time (and I raise a glass to them all), pouring in money to go for promotion for whatever reason, some personal objective, or to milk the thing for all its worth (of course in an ideal world this would be one criterion of the 'fit and proper person' test). I'd suggest that supporters are willing to make compromises if there are tangible benefits such that at least some of their desires are satisfied (eg a Man City-supporting friend of mine is prepared to live with his team being a branch of the Abu Dhabi marketing department).

So I'd also suggest that we have had - and still don't have - any issue with an owner prioritising financial stability, not promising an all-out drive for promotion etc. Not the root cause of the problem, but without that the focus falls on the other items on our wish list. In the early stages of the season, despite my lack of enthusiasm regarding other matters, I was at least content that Duchatelet and his people had assembled a squad that would probably be competitive enough in this division (as things stood not strong enough to go up but little risk of relegation) with a 'head coach' who was personable, intelligent, and seemingly committed to the cause. However, the owner's response to the wheels rather coming off is, I think, indicative.

Now the guesswork: what does Duchatelet really want? We've been trying to pin this down from the start, not least as his answers have been confused: 'if not me, then who?', 'the community ...' (ie some version of philanthropy) etc. We've had a broad idea of the strategy: contain losses, draft in consortium players not needed at their club (and/or capable of filling a hole for us already filled elsewhere), promote youth, wait for other Championship clubs to suffer from the fair play rules. Forget for now the obvious flaws (including any understanding of the intangibles involved in team sports and how you achieve outperformance), it is at least a plan. But a plan can't be the actual motive, only a reflection.

From reading around a bit I thought one particular comment was insightful (although I can't vouch for its accuracy). This was that Duchatelet would be prepared to sell Standard Liege, if at a profit. Why is that so important? I'd venture it's because if he did sell them for a profit, he was right - and vice versa. We have been told that Duchatelet doesn't do failure; perhaps more accurate words would be that he is unable to contemplate failure. On this reading, the fact that the Belgian electorate (for all its disparate elements) didn't flock to his new party can be put down to the ideas it expressed were just ahead of their time - but weren't wrong and will be accepted sooner or later. Funding losses at various football clubs is a necessary evil to cover the period until the success of the strategy shines through - and in the interim if one or more clubs is sold for a profit (perhaps to turn to others) this is only further proof of the genius of the plan. Whatever happens cannot be the fault of the plan or the man whose plan it is.

In other words, to follow the argument, the real motivation may not be to make money out of football, but to be proven right (the measure of which is the making of money). Put simply, we are part of an experiment, the whim of a rich man. Of course that doesn't mean he's immoral or has an evil agenda, he perhaps genuinely believes that what he is doing is the right way and that, whatever the teething problems, his babies will ultimately benefit from loyally backing his every move.

So when the wheels came off rather of late, it wasn't because the opportunity wasn't taken to strengthen the team in the loan window, or heaven forbid that something's wrong with the plan. Must be down to a bit of temporary bad luck and perhaps the head coach losing the plot. So replace him, that'll do the trick for now. Who's around and available to take over the training? Done and dusted (now the work permit's in). Move on. Now what's this about the supporters not being happy? Just trust me, I know best, and keep turning up and singing 'Guy Luzon's red and white army'. What's this about some players not being happy with my choice? Doesn't matter, be ready to ship them out draft in some others.

Now just go back and see how this sits with supporters' aspirations. Just what is there to believe in? The answer from Duchatelet has to be, well Duchatelet. Believe in me because I know a good/excellent coach when I see one (all the evidence suggests he does not, having disposed of three to date), because I know how football should be played (ditto), and because my plan will succeed (let's be kind and say jury out).

Now all of this may be misguided. We then fall back on: if so, persuade us otherwise (if you place any value on the contribution that the fans make to a successful club), we do really want to believe. Our owner has in the past acknowledged that he is not always strong on communication, so perhaps that's not possible. I'd suggest that's another way to explain away any notion of failure: must have been an inability to properly get my message across rather than the message itself. Now any sensible businessperson knows his/her weaknesses and looks to bring in around others who can compensate. Meire may in other circumstances be a strong communicator (in addition no doubt to other admirable qualities), but it's not easy getting across to doubters the idea that all they should do is have faith. As we sit bottom of the form table we have head coaches who aren't allowed to manage (the degree of intervention in team selection, transfers etc remains an area of speculation), a CEO/board that I believe (but could be wrong) without true decision-making capabilities, uneasy supporters and, if the rumours are true, some unhappy players. Not my idea of unity.

I did at the start promise some sort of conclusion, ie where do we go from here/what happens next? Some things I'd rule out. I don't imagine Duchatelet is going to walk way; he cannot, that would be failure; he would (I'd imagine) be prepared to sell the club, if at a profit (success), but where any such purchaser willing to pay over the odds might come from I haven't a clue. Neither is the strategy going to change; it can't change because it's right.

So I'd suggest it all goes one of three ways. First, nothing off the pitch changes but Luzon manages to get a possibly reshaped squad into reasonable order and the results stabilise/improve and we see out the season without relegation. In that event, the owner will be happy enough and the supporters, to varying degrees, remain just that. Second, we fail on the pitch and get relegated. In that event the owner's not happy but will be content that it was all the fault of others, including supporters who didn't give him the backing they should and a head coach who will be shown the door; the supporters will be disgusted and season ticket renewals reflect this, but all to no practical avail. Third, there's a welcome effort on the part of the owner to at least adjust the approach, to reach out to supporters and by doing so acknowledge their role in the fortunes of the club, to acknowledge mistakes, to give reassurances over issues such as team selection and transfers (ie no interference), and to really take on board fans' opinions (on matters a little more important than what pies are on offer). 

Once again, if you want unity, be prepared to make the effort required to try to achieve it. In that event, the chances of the first outcome would, I believe, be greatly increased. 

Finally, when we talk about having/wanting our Charlton back, let's not lose sight of what we pride ourselves in off the pitch. I don't suggest for a minute that the supporter who reportedly questioned Meire on the way back from the Watford game behaved in any way inappropriately (all I have read says otherwise). Let's make sure that remains the case in the period ahead. Duchatelet has witnessed protests closer to home that seem to have gone well beyond the boundaries of acceptability. Nobody involved is evil and should of course be treated with respect. We're not babies who've had our toy taken away. Whatever happens in the remainder of the season we will all have the opportunity to assess what it means for us.


Maidstone Addick said...

As mentioned by others elsewhere,there doesn't seem to be any strategy whatsoever. The owner is a modern day Howard Hughes, we never see or hear from him, the communication coming out of the club is at the lowest level I can remember. They don't seem to want to actually buy anybody. I hear he point blank refuses to deal with agents, surely that would put 95% of players out of reach anyway. I've even lost count of the amount of loan players we've been 'linked' with this season, any half decent ones just go elsewhere, it's all very concerning. Wouldn't it be great to have a conversation with RD and ask questions such as, what is your reason for buying and owning the club? What do you really think you can achieve with your current policies? Where do you think we will be in 2 seasons time? Do you really think our 7 million a year loss will improve by playing poor, dull, negative football while watching the fans drift away, attendances dropping game by game, and our league position doing the same? Do you really not care about the increasing wave of negativity from the supporters and now the players? Are you going to actually do anything about it, if so, what? Please prove me wrong by winning 3-0 at Wolves then stuffing Rotherham, I feel if we don't beat Rotherham next week, we are in real trouble (If we're not already).

Addickted 2 said...

'Howard Hughes'

That is an incisive comment.

Andy said...

I think he is a rich man bored and he has a theory of how to run football clubs he wants experiment with.

Agents, middle men and transfer fees are a major cost for any football club. If you have a network of club and a large 'stock' of players you can pass players (and managers) between clubs without incurring any of these fees.

The problem of course is, in order to be successful on the pitch you need to be able to go outside the network to get the exact player your team needs; swapping players between Standard Liege and Charlton (or other more obscure clubs in the network) is probably not going to work unless they happen to have a player with the exact qualities you need, who also happens to be surplus to requirements by their current club (unlikely!).

He has dabbled in politics now football.

Anonymous said...

How can we predict or second guess the super rich when they're beyond our realms of reference. Why buy any business that runs at a loss, unless your plan includes a cost effective way of changing that? Why Charlton? Does Mr D. like football?

The problem I see is that if everything is run from the top down by one ego and IF he's not up to scratch with this particular specialism (i.e. football). Then you will surely end up with a network of failures. Where are the board? The DOF, technical director, advisors the support in top positions above the coach. The plan to minimise losses seems to be to minimise the squad and the club. I find that very worrying.
Also if the owner's not a supporter and seems to show little interest and ambition then it creates a very confused impression!
Still baffled and addickted Herne Bay

Blackheath Addicted said...

Thanks for the comments. I too am truly puzzled and there does seem to be at least a Citizen Kane aspect to it all. But I hope nobody's in any doubt that I hope for three points tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

My heart says HOPE
My head says NOPE