Friday, 5 February 2016

Nothing Changed Off The Pitch

Let's get the important stuff out of the way first (and a much-needed explanation for the above photo). This is not some out-of-date joke, already dealt with by Addicks in their thousands, but a belated attempt to educate. I am reliably informed by my partner Suzanne that the French veer towards the US rather than the British use of the word 'fanny'. Apparently it is a term used in boules/petanque, that if someone loses 0-13 (which evidently amounts to an humiliating defeat) he/she has to 'kiss fanny' (as per photo). I can only suppose that if our new signing had been around for the Colchester/Huddersfield/Hull experience (technically the aggregate was 1-13) there would have been some puckering up required, with the queue headed by an ex-head coach whose name begins with 'F'.

Obviously we welcome Rod Fanni, along with Yaya Sanogo, and hope they both go on to become Charlton legends. Are we left stronger or weaker at the closure of the transfer window (and before the next loan one opens)? Can't be certain but I'd say we are probably stronger, perhaps not because of who has actually come in - Fanni and Sanogo to add to Jorge Teixeira, plus Poyet, Johnson and Williams (who is now of course also added to the departures list) - and who's gone - Watt (whatever the rights and wrongs of this one we have got used to life without him), Vaz Te, Moussa, Pigott, Parzyszek - but as there wasn't a major sale (Lookman, Gudmundsson) to help cut this season's loss. Such a move (which does of course require a concrete offer, which may or may not have been received) might have seriously undermined Jose Riga's efforts to haul us out of the doo-doo (by the way another word which has a different meaning in French, something that a baby holds onto, presumably not while filling its nappy), especially on the back of the splendid victory at Rotherham.

There has to be a special mention in dispatches for Polish Pete. I've seen plenty of players come and go over the years but not many that I can state with confidence that I witnessed every minute that they played for the first team. I can think of one other, the goalkeeper Ron Willis (I do remember the occasion but am indebted to 'The Valiant 500' for the details). He managed more time on the pitch for us than Parzyszek, lasting more than the first half of his only game in 1967/68. I still remember him coming off badly in a collision of bodies and subsequently wandering around his box vomiting repeatedly before having to depart. At least I remember something he did on the pitch. I'm sure there are others, but Parzyszek must also be right up there when it comes to our most disappointing signings, given the circumstances around his arrival. Perhaps he will go on to carve out a glorious career, perhaps even as a footballer. For us he can serve as the shining example of the fact that buying young, promising and foreign is no guarantee of a higher resale value.

I don't think it's surprising that over the past couple of weeks the 'Duchatelet out' campaign(s) have been off the front pages, given the return of Riga, the tremendous Rotherham result and the approach of another vital match tomorrow. Every Addick wants us to avoid relegation. But I hope our owners/board don't get the notion that anything's changed as regards whether or not we want them out. Others may feel differently but if we won every game left I'd still want them gone. It isn't about just the results, that after all would make us just customers. And the time for talking to Duchatelet/Meire (other than to help smooth a change of ownership) has long passed.

They have had ample opportunity, repeated chances, to learn/change and taken none of them. I still get the impression that these two regard consultation with fans' representatives as a chore to be undergone if really pushed rather than an useful asset to help them to do their jobs better, as if fans were motivated by the idea of a cup of tea in the boardroom and a pat on the head rather than wanting to see our club thrive. Personally I'm rather fed up with these periodic halfhearted apologies from the board for past mistakes, as if these were somehow unavoidable, par for the course for any Championship club etc. It struck me as significant that there was no great reaction from Addicks to Sir Chris' latest comments in the News Shopper; they only confirmed what we already believed to be true (ie we already believed him, along with other ex-employees such as Kermorgant and Dyer, rather than Meire).

Riga does continue to impress. I very much liked the way he dealt with the curveball in his interview on the club site after the Blackburn game. The question was 'there was a protest outside the ground after the game; is that affecting the players at all?' He dealt with the potential banana skin very well, just stressing that the fans wanted the same thing as him and the players (which is true) and that he felt that during the game "they were with us" (again true). In other words the silly and provocative question was sidestepped. There will after all be more of the same to come from the fans (both the support and the protests).

Others do not. I was disappointed with the accounts of MP Matthew Pennycook's meeting with Ms Meire. His statement outlined "four key points of particular concern". These began with "while the club does have a positive vision for the future ..." and that "there is a widespread perception that it is being poorly executed". Sorry, but it doesn't, it has a vacuous and utterly unappealing 'vision', one which was put together after the (predictable) failure of the first; and if you have a crap strategy it really doesn't matter whether how it is executed. The other three 'concerns' were equally vapid. It came across as just a bit of showboating in the wake of the protests. Perhaps next time he could pretend to be a potential investor and then at least he wouldn't have to actually meet Meire.

Meire herself, rather than accept that a strategy to rely on financial fair play to deliver a level playing field was doomed to failure, continues to bark at the moon. In the recent MailOnline piece (yes, I was obliged to check something from that awful rag) she described the change to FFP rules as "ridiculous"; they are not (and they were entirely predictable). The piece commented that she had been "a target of personal abuse"; anything personal or offensive should be condemned, but I've not heard anything chanted during protests that come into that category. It is simply unfortunate that she is in a position that she does not have the skills for.

I'll end on what I regard as an optimistic note. We knew from the start that a few protests weren't going to result in Duchatelet deciding to sell. It probably will be a long haul. But for all the bluster that comes from the board right now, the evidence suggests that when confronted with his failures Duchatelet does eventually give up, as long as he's given a path out which might not look like failure.

My research is never extensive, I'm far too lazy for that. But I was intrigued by an extract from 'The Vivant Experiment in Belgium'. This noted that in 1998 Duchatelet expected his new party to win 5-15% of the vote. After the June 1999 election, with Vivant having registered 2.10% of the vote for the Chamber of Representatives (and 2.0% for the Senate) he announced "a dramatic reduction in the level of his financial involvement, closed down most of the party local offices, and introduced a membership fee". In the conclusion section three lessons were highlighted, two of which seem relevant to us. First, that (as Duchatelet seemingly acknowledged) it was a mistake to try to attract a sizeable share of the vote with an "innovative" message and that Vivant's programme "should have been researched more thoroughly", in order to appeal to 'innovators' (ie the youth and intellectuals). Second, while the previous election in 1995 had focused on social security/taxation, the next one did not, which meant that Vivant had little or nothing to say on the perceived pressing policy issues.

In short, the party's focus was out of date, the strategy fatally flawed, and the tactics employed failed. Duchatelet's response was to cut costs. Does all of this sound vaguely familiar? Vivant did stagger on for some years, winning 1.20% of the vote in the 2003 federal election, but eventually it sort of backed itself into the VLD. In other words, Duchatelet withdrew from the whole project rather than continuing to get nowhere in the polls.

When it came to selling Standard Liege, Duchatelet found what he called his "perfect solution". He was quoted at the time as saying that "the situation was a complicated one as the fans don't like me". We don't like you either (here too it's not personal, we've never met you, it's just about what you are doing to our club), so it seems we have in place one necessary but not sufficient condition for us to get new owners. I'd suggest there are at least two more required.

The money is quite rightly pivotal. We can't say whether or not Duchatelet made or lost money out of owning Standard Liege. I've seen reports saying that he paid either EUR34m or EUR41m for the club in 2011; I've seen it reported that he sold it in 2015 for EUR30m but there is also the issue of the EUR20m reportedly withdrawn from the club in 2013. Perhaps there are verifiable and accurate numbers somewhere but I've not seen them, so it doesn't seem possible to say categorically that he lost money on the investment over a four-year period (ie he failed).

According to Meire in the Mail piece, Duchatelet has invested a further GBP20m in us since the purchase (I'm assuming GBP14m here). We are still loss-making and absent material (and regular) player sales will remain so. I struggle to think of anyone in their right mind being ready to fork out for us a sum that could mean a profit for Duchatelet, which does look like a serious stumbling-block.

But perhaps there's one more factor, a less tangible one, which might help explain why Duchatelet was prepared to sell Standard Liege but is not ready to even talk to potential investors in Charlton. He owned Standard for almost exactly four years and ended up selling on to the person who had become deputy chairman of the club. Leaving aside the money, it creates an impression of responsible stewardship, with Duchatelet talking of it being a "comfort" to know that the club that he loves (or professes to, just as Meire seems to think she loves Charlton) is "in good hands". In short, whether or not he made money, and whether or not Standard Liege fans will remember his time as owner with any affection, he could leave with at least the facade of having been a 'good daddy' possibly intact.

If Duchatelet sold us now, after just a couple of years and under pressure from the fans, he would look like either a failure (through almost certainly losing money) or someone just interested in the money (which may or may not be the case). Also, when he sold Standard he said he was staying in football, just not in Belgium. Sell us and it's hard to see him as still being in football with the few he would have left dotted around Europe. No chance of returning to politics, all but out of football, what does he devote his remaining 350 weeks to (his reference, not mine, to some sort of average for his time left with good mental and physical health)? Family for sure (and rightly so), business interests also. But what else? Perhaps someone can come up with some suitable projects away from football to give an elderly visionary a fresh focus. 


Dave said...

BA - thoughtful as ever. In terms of leaving Standard without causing too many waves, I think we should remember this is his back yard. He has a public persona in Belgium and it would have been folly to do otherwise. Not sure the same necessarily applies outside his home country and maybe less so across the Channel. He's far less likely to get a brick through his living room window from an irate Charlton fan (like myself),

Blackheath Addicted said...

Dave, I do agree that we have to get closer to his home base if we are to have results. Like you don't advocate any form of threatening action, that's not the Charlton we want back. Business interests and the Belgian media are areas to focus on. Just wish he had the character to actually come to a game.

Anonymous said...

Nice bit of research and analysis BA. I remember Pete trying to receive a throw in, not control it and lose it. Nothing more, but oh what a memory...

Pembury Addick