Wednesday 30 November 2016

So, What Is The Plan?

I've only so far had the chance to listen to the YouTube video posted by the club, some sixteen-and-a-half minutes for our new manager Karl Robinson to make what he would of a series of bland questions patted his way, with his interviewer going out of his way not to mention the elephant in the room (in truth it's not just an elephant, it's Dumbo along with all of his mates, plus an orchestra playing the theme tune). I've no idea if the questions were prepared, or if the answers were in any meaningful way edited. All I can say is that the recording left me completely confused, on a number of fronts.

For sure, we can't expect at this stage clear answers to the big questions. Is Robinson naive or arrogant to evidently believe that he might succeed where others have failed, or is he just so desperate for a job or cynical enough to take this one in anticipation of a decent pay-off? Should we place more weight in his remarks about our club and its potential, or the previously reported comments (if accurate) to the tune of Charlton being a basket case? Only time will tell - and for now quite rightly he deserves the benefit of the doubt and our support, just as Duchatelet and Meire did when they arrived. Nor is it reasonable to expect Robinson to say anything critical about the regime having just taken its shilling, or anything meaningful about the protests.

However, there are some things he has said which I think merit closer inspection - and not just the bit that any decent video editor keen to present a positive profile would have edited out or had him reword. Early in the interview Robinson talked animatedly of 'hating' any description of a player's performance as 'hard-working', which he said should be taken as a given. When asked later what had gone wrong for him at MK Dons Robinson struggled for an explanation and reverted to saying that he had 'worked as hard as he could'. Perhaps the requirements for players and managers are somehow different in that respect, or perhaps Robinson is still at a loss when it comes to why his often successful and promising time at his first managerial position ended with him being sacked.

Robinson outlined that he was sold the job by Duchatelet and Meire, commenting that they had approached him with "a plan, a clear plan" which he obviously found attractive. He also commented that Charlton is a club "going in the right direction". Some obvious questions arise. Just what was the plan as sold to Robinson? If it is a clear plan/vision for our club, could we, the supporters and stakeholders, please hear what it is? Is the plan a variation, or refinement, or restatement of Meire's conference talk of Charlton being a fish farm for young players? If not, why not share it with us? Something that apparently sold Robinson on our club might help to persuade some supporters to reassess their attitude towards the regime. In a subsequent BBC piece Robinson is quoted as saying "it wasn't a financial decision (to join us), as the owner sold me something I wanted to do". OK, just what was that?

Of course, this assumes that the regime does actually care a little about the opinions and actions of supporters rather than just paying lip service and at the same time being willing to try to spread disgraceful lies about the nature of the protests. It also assumes that Robinson is not just putting a positive gloss on having been sold a pup. If the plan is 'our priority is to get back to the Championship as soon as possible' it is meaningless, just empty words, especially when set against Duchatelet's track record: invest some but not enough and hope to get lucky and outperform as a result of the regime's great insight into choosing managers and players. Let's not forget Richard Murray's previous description of Duchatelet's goals when we were in the Championship: to get promoted and to break even, which at the time were obviously incompatible. Robinson may have the benefit of the doubt, but the regime lost it a long time ago, for good reason, so in the absence of any elaboration we may well be inclined to assume the worst.

Robinson's reported comments on the protests are just disingenuous, arguably for good reason, but he skates on thin ice. "There is a support element that feel that is what they want to do" (ie to protest). Wrong, on two counts. First, the protesters and tacit backers can fairly claim to be the majority of Addicks, not an element. That there are Addicks against the protests is also evident. Second, I don't think there is one protesting Addick, myself included, who wants to be protesting; rather we want our club to thrive and believe, rightly or wrongly, that this requires a change of ownership. "Something has happened before me ... As fans, we will always have our problems and arguments. Some say they are right and some say they are wrong". Sorry Karl, but if you've nothing sensible to say best keep it buttoned. The protests did indeed happen before you and they will continue with you - unless CARD opts for a break - as you are not a sufficient reason for them to stop; and please don't go along with this notion that the protests are no more than well-organised grumbling over results and relegation; you must know it runs far deeper.

And if as he says Robinson needs to learn more about the protests, just check out CARD posts and the recent Getting To Know The Network podcasts. I haven't yet had the chance to listen to the latter in full but just looking at the emails (which say all that needs to be said about Duchatelet's knowledge of football) should be sufficient to conclude that disgruntled ex-employees of the club tend to tell the truth and the regime does not.

Thursday 24 November 2016

'... Look Around You All You See Are Sympathetic Eyes'

We now have official confirmation of the appointment of Karl Robinson, like his predecessor afforded the title of manager but unlike Russell Slade not apparently given a three-year contract, rather one for two-and-a-half years. Perhaps the regime is working around a three-year plan which commenced in the summer. Slade lasted for six months of it, so Robinson gets the remaining term. Presumably the next in line will be hoping that Robinson doesn't last much longer than Slade, if he/she is to have any hope of a reasonable term for his/her own post-dismissal pay-off.

I know, let's not be too cynical, even though all the evidence we have supports such a stance. There has been no reversion to a network appointment - although as raised elsewhere just what the thinking is behind bringing in Chris O'Loughlin, as an 'addition to the club's coaching staff', remains to be seen. So does whether Robinson will want to bring in some of his own men as assistants, or whether he has agreed to work with those in situ.

In other circumstances it is an appointment which would have us feeling cautiously optimistic. For sure the jury has to still be out over whether he is the exciting, innovative and successful young manager suggested by much of his time at MK Dons, or whether he has flattered to deceive and came up short when the pressure was on. We would, quite rightly, give him the benefit of the doubt (obviously the fact that the regime considered him to be the most suitable candidate means nothing) and hope that it proves to be the former, for the good of our club.

However, I'm always a little wary about someone who has been in the same job for some time and leaps straight into another at the first opportunity; good for the bank balance but perhaps not optimum when it comes to learning from the previous experience and taking a little time to recharge the batteries. He was only sacked on 23 October and in managerial terms Robinson is, so far, a one-club man, having been at MK Dons for six years as manager (before that assistant manager, before that coaching at Blackburn). So it remains to be seen whether he has the range of skills and qualities to bring us success on the pitch, against the obviously difficult backdrop he will face.

There is no question of the anti-regime protests being halted, temporarily or otherwise. Given this, what Robinson says in his press conference - and he is bound to be asked - will be examined closely. We've all seen the reported aside at the Bristol Rovers game to the effect that supporters' protests now have to stop. Hopefully Robinson either didn't make such a remark or has learnt quickly that it was inappropriate. Any suggestion that his coming to the club is grounds for a rethink would be the height of arrogance on his part and would display a lack of understanding of the actual nature and rationale of the protests, rather than the deceitful version offered up by the regime.

After all, the mere fact that our owner has recently disgraced himself again - if the reports are accurate - by insulting us once more should be sufficient to keep up the protests momentum. If Duchatelet did indeed say to the Belgian media that the protests are the work of some disgruntled ex-employees backed up by those unhappy with a female CEO he is an outright liar as surely even he isn't so self-deluded as to believe such nonsense. Meire tried to taint us with her racism allusions and that was equally disgraceful - and utterly at odds with the evidence.

So two splendid victories, a cautiously positive welcoming of a new manager, and no let-up in the protests. Translating 'support the team, not the regime' isn't an easy balancing act. But it is the best way forward for the good of our club. 

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Neither Rhyme Nor Reason

We should remember that English is not the first language of our owner, so when he spouts nonsense it is always possible that he simply doesn't understand the real meanings of the words he uses. I can make myself understood in French, but make all sorts of errors when speaking the language, much to the amusement of my partner Suzanne. Sometimes when together we have to pause and ask if the other really meant what was said (even sometimes when there is no alcohol on my part involved).

So when our owner sends a message to talkSPORT's Jim White concluding with "these protests have nothing to do with reason. Therefore, whatever we do or say, the core actors within that group will always criticise" it would be unfair simply to conclude that this is the latest batty outburst from a misfit who is living proof of Von Clausewitz's advice not to confuse stubbornness with strength of character, one who having failed to win any sort of argument or to browbeat his babies now feigns indifference rather than facing up to and learning from his evident failures in football and politics. We might instead start with the meanings of the key word he uses.

In case our owner is unaware, 'reason' can be considered to have two broad meanings in English: cause (ie motivation or justification for action) and logic (whereby reason is a substitute for argument form and rational thinking). And there is scope for confusion. Suzanne not long ago was the lucky recipient on her birthday of a little sign which read, in French, 'I must remember, Nick is always right'. I had no end of trouble getting the translation correct, as in French to 'be right' is to 'have reason'. So when Duchatelet claims that the protests have 'nothing to do with reason' he could mean that there are no good reasons for supporters to be protesting, that the protests are illogical, or simply that the protesters are wrong and he is right. Only he can say for sure, but let's take them in turn.

I think all would agree, perhaps even Duchatelet, that the first option, that there are no good reasons for supporters to be protesting, is a non-runner. It's not necessary to detail every avoidable error and misguided strategy which have led to our current situation and outlook and the efforts of the regime to blame anyone but the two key players.

The second option, that the protests are illogical, requires a little more thought. There is a line of argument to support Duchatelet's claim, namely that all Addicks want Charlton to thrive yet many are acting in a fashion which works against that. Most if not all would agree that the strong backing of fans is a necessary requirement if a football club - especially one which has an owner and top management hoping that bare minimum investment will prove sufficient - is to outperform. Whether or not the protests have been a material factor behind our current position is a rather sterile debate. As a protestor I would accept that they haven't helped in the short term - but would balk at any suggestion that they resulted in our relegation.

So if you state the argument simply - all supporters want the club to thrive; some supporters are behaving in a fashion which might not be helping the club to thrive; therefore some supporters are not behaving reasonably/rationally - it has some merit, or at least is not obviously irrational. However, we all know this isn't the full story, or the only line of argument. The other one reads: all the evidence since Duchatelet bought our club points to the conclusion that we cannot thrive as long as he remains our owner; we as supporters want our club to thrive; therefore we need to do all that we can - within the bounds of what is acceptable - to encourage and engineer a change of ownership for the good of our club. There is nothing unreasonable or illogical in this argument, it is quite consistent and rational. Duchatelet may not like it, even may not agree with it; certainly it doesn't suit his interests. But he cannot on this basis claim that reason is on his side.

That does leave the third option, that Duchatelet believes that he alone 'has reason' and so anyone who disagrees with him is 'without reason'. He may believe this. But if he does, you'd have to conclude that he is living proof of Von Clausewitz's advice .....

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Questions Answered

As I was going about my business over the weekend after the Swindon game there were two Charlton-related questions on my mind: first, how does CARD take the protests closer to our owner's heartland?; and second, would the manner in which Russell Slade was appointed - ie the hollow claim that the regime is capable of learning from its mistakes - get him a longer stay of execution than others? Didn't have to wait long for the answers.

The 'Taxi for Roland' stunt is splendid, fully in keeping with the wit, intelligence and effectiveness (in terms of positive media coverage, not yet in terms of getting rid of the regime) of the protests, and the accompanying fortuitous encounter with birthday-boy Duchatelet for the banner-wielding fans at Sint-Truiden, the 'Live Feed' recording, will go down in Charlton history, when the sorry chapter on the regime is written. It must have been upsetting afterwards for an elderly owner of some football clubs to have been told by some PR upstarts that it wouldn't be a good idea to deliver another lecture to his errant babies about his birthday burger being sacrosanct, so the pompous ire had to be directed elsewhere: sack the manager, for it cannot be Meire, or the Boy Scout.

I was out last night and only saw the news on a late return. And when you're late out of the traps you struggle to find anything original to say. I spent a bit of time Googling around a theme of when does farce become tragedy (or vice versa) but there's just no point in trying to be clever (it's never worked for me in the past). Fact is nothing going on at our club can really be considered tragedy and I'm not sure for most involved it even stacks up as farce.

Slade will presumably keep his mouth shut about events off the pitch, at least until the cheque has cleared (does that phrase show my age?). He can't be that surprised, given the league table and our owner's track record - and if the emerging reports are to be believed the undermining presence of his successor at recent games. He may not look back on his time at Charlton as the highlight of his career, but having signed a three-year deal in early June when he looks at his new extension and patio doors he might reflect on a good decision to take on an impossible task and get paid off asap. That is of course deliberately too cynical, I'm sure Slade took the job in good faith and did his best. Just that few if any in the football world will blame him for the failure of his tenure and when he moves on to his next lower league appointment, perhaps after a bit of a holiday to get away for a while from winter and Brexit blues, I'm sure he'll be feeling fine. (Have to say though, when it comes to being damned by faint praise the epitaph of being thanked in particular for "the processes and disciplines he has instilled at the training ground" takes some beating.)

The fact that the regime statement doesn't mention anyone taking charge of the first team even temporarily, plus the reports from others that the next guy already had one foot in the door, suggests that an appointment will be confirmed in good time for Saturday's game. Clearly no need this time to have to pretend to go through an application and appointment process. That in turn points to no good reason to go against the reports that one Chris O'Loughlin will be next on the conveyor belt (whether or not as manager or with a reversion to head coach remains to be seen). I know absolutely nothing about the guy, would just warn for what it's worth that getting embroiled in and identified with a Duchatelet network at this stage of your career doesn't look very bright, however hard you've found it to get a job in Northern Ireland. You could end up like Meire. Sorry no, no possibility of that as you will be out of the door long before she has the self-awareness to walk or her employer the common sense to sack her.

Meanwhile, the 1.5% owner can't have any sense of tragedy, let alone failure. If the price for Lookman in January doesn't prove to be high enough to keep the loss at an acceptable level, add in Konsa. Leave it to Meire and the PR team to peddle the nonsense about promotion being a 'number one priority'.

The only people for whom this situation comes close to a tragedy are those who care about our club. That includes some of the players, most obviously Jackson and Solly (and I really can't blame many of the others for not giving a monkey's and going through the motions), but primarily of course all Addicks. It does not include the regime and all its cohorts and hangers-on, including those companies daft enough to recently sign deals. They will not be forgotten when it comes to consumer boycotts, even after the regime has left the building.

In the face of never-ending farce, most Addicks are doing all that is possible: support the protests and inevitably care less and less. There have been some great pieces recently from others outlining with some despair how they are becoming increasingly indifferent to our fate on the pitch. All I can say is be of good cheer, put the emotions on hold. I'm into my second season of boycott but don't (yet) have any doubt that once they have left I will be back, whatever division we are in, and I'm confident that the passion will be rekindled. The response to the latest events is really just a shrug of the shoulders: it's what these buffoons do because from the start they didn't know how to succeed and without the backing of the fans success - in the sense that we understand it - is near-impossible. If the efforts of our guys in Belgium spoilt a certain man's birthday lunch I am absolutely delighted. The ridicule is only going to intensify and Christmas is coming soon.