Wednesday 28 February 2018

Positive Overall But Why Confusion Over 'Parties'?

Am I alone in being a little confused by Richard Murray’s statement on the takeover? He said on 20 January, according to the club site, that “I’m aware of two consortiums and one is further ahead than the other” and that “they are still in negotiation – they are active”. On 7 February, again stripping from the club site, we had “as far as I know, and I’m not kept in touch blow by blow, we still have two interested parties. I still believe one interested party is far closer to doing a deal because I think they are very close on price with Roland”.

Today we had “I said in January that negotiations with two parties on the takeover were continuing well ... although the takeover has not yet been completed, the good news is the terms of the deal, including the price, have now been agreed between the parties and we are now just waiting for their respective lawyers to finalise the sale and purchase agreement”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that we have had confirmation that the sale has not fallen through, that is by a distance the most important news. But why the obvious confusion? If a price has now been agreed between “the parties” that must be a reference to a buyer and a seller. But it is perfectly clear that previously Murray when referencing ‘two parties’ was talking of two potential buyers (with a third party. Roland). We all know since then that Alex McLeish was involved in a consortium which dropped out (because Duchatelet was asking for too much money), those reports dated 18 February (ie after Murray’s update earlier in the month). So was that consortium one of the two potential purchasers and, if yes, was it the one that in January was considered the front-runner?

Surely Murray wasn’t trying to gloss over something with his use of words. There would be no point as everyone can easily see through any such move. And we all appreciate confidentiality agreements, plus the fact that Murray is not party to ongoing discussions. But what was wrong with commenting on the known fact that a consortium pulled out of a deal? If that buyer was the January front-runner, it’s not unreasonable to infer that the price agreed with buyer number two will be lower than mooted at the time, unless Duchatelet did manage to engineer a bidding war until one party backed out.

Hopefully none of this will matter within a few weeks. I still hope to be doing my dancing in Lyon before the end of March and a prospective return to London, but if it drags on (again) I’ll take comfort from the fact that I’d be able to get to The Valley to celebrate.

Bad Decision, Just As In 1957

Thought I’d slip this one in before the avalanche of stuff in response to Richard Murray’s promised takeover update - which hopefully will at least confirm whether or not the consortium involving Alex McLeish was one of the two bidders he spoke of when he met the Trust, whether that consortium (now gone) was the bidder furthest advanced at the time, and if so whether the other bidder is still in the frame, whether they and Roland are closer together now than they were then, and perhaps whether the shortest route to the offices of the bidder would involve digging a hole through the centre of the world.

Whatever the outcome, there’s no question that the success/failure swingometer – the former being new owners and promotion, the latter the reverse – has moved in a negative direction of late. February saw no new owner and we’ve just been turned over rather badly by a side which will almost certainly either get automatic promotion or one of the play-off places. Add to that, injuries to Kashi and Dasilva, ones which will apparently involve them missing at least the crucial games in March. The positive scenario for us on the pitch involved the return from injury of Pearce and Bauer, plus Fosu-Henry and before too long Mavididi, and an increasingly important contribution from the new boys Kaikai and Zyro, plus the returning Ajose, all outweighing the loss of Holmes (and Ahearne-Grant).

That combination would in turn see the team go from strength to strength and into the play-offs with confidence high and the wind in our sails. Obviously doesn’t look or feel like that right now; rather the points dropped late on in games recently have left us in a struggle for the final play-off spot, with nothing seeming to gel as yet (put simply the loss of Holmes, Ahearne-Grant, Fosu-Henry and Mavididi has hardly been balanced by the contribution of Kaikai, Zyro and Ajose, with the scales now tipped more clearly against us without Kashi and Dasilva). Duchatelet may not have a firm deadline for a sale, but obviously the time for the team to deliver the sort of form which could still deliver success is running out.

But that’s not what I was going to write about. Instead I had an email this morning from a fellow Addick asking me if I went to see the Lyon Duchere game on Friday evening. Now like all stories you have to begin at the beginning.

Back in December 1957 my mother and father were discussing what to do on the last Saturday before Christmas. Like now, the weather wasn’t great and my mother was doing her best to persuade my father that time would be better spent spent shopping for gifts than trudging to The Valley and back (of course there has to be a bit of poetic licence, I hadn’t yet been born). She won him over – and we know what happened next. As far as I know they just never talked about it again, I never heard it suggested by my mother that shopping might once more take priority.

Fast forward to Friday evening and there was a choice to be made. It was freezing cold outside but we could walk the short distance and sit on a hard plastic seat to watch Lyon Duchere v Entente SSG (I won’t repeat the background to the game, all in the previous post for anyone interested). Or we could stay in, enjoy a good bottle of red along with the second instalment of Suzanne’s coq au vin. It didn’t take a genius to guess what my other half was thinking and, although she is very good at not apportioning blame if something she has decided to go along with goes pear-shaped, with a weekend of sport on the TV coming up I was persuaded to give the match a miss.

We kept up to date with the score and going into stoppage time Duchere were trailing 1-2. We were consequently delighted when it flashed up 2-2 as the final score. Looked as though we’d missed a decent game, but no matter there will be others, just what my father thought.

The email was to direct me to something in The Guardian. Something about ‘two goal of the season contenders in the same French third division match’. Watch it (just for the absolute belter that was Duchere’s last-gasp equaliser) and weep:

Thursday 22 February 2018

Devil In The Detail

Of course nothing from me in terms of news on the takeover. So just a message or two to Roland. First, if you believe for a moment that holding out indefinitely to get the price you think you deserve will flush out new buyers or higher offers you should write down the plan, take down that enormous file labelled ‘stupid ideas I’ve had since buying Charlton’, and add it to the pile. When there are two main bidders and one walks away saying the seller is demanding too high a price, the other is not exactly likely to lift his/her bid. And the chances of a new potential buyer coming to the fore are similarly reduced as more people view the seller as just delusional.

Second, if you think for a moment that you should delay a sale because that will annoy the supporters, including those who keep disrupting your disco practise, write down the notion, take down that enormous file .... Yes, we have the champagne on ice. But it can stay there for as long as it takes, we have an unlimited supply of ice and while we wait we just practise our own dance moves, for the very large party when you’ve sold.

To matters on the pitch – and what a relief an away win can bring! Prior to the weekend, since my arrival in France Lyon Duchere had played four, won none, drawn one and lost three, including two at home against what would have been considered moderate opposition (Les Herbiers and Concarneau). Add in the demise of the venerated Paul Bocuse (this is Lyon, France, the large special supplements to commemorate his life are still on sale) and I was beginning to assume Jonah status. To be fair Duchere’s bad run preceded my arrival. You had to go back to 24 November for their last victory, since when they had lost three and drawn four out of seven.

We managed to take in the second half of the recent home game against Concarneau (kicking off at 8pm on a Friday evening isn’t exactly compatible with a good meal and a glass or two of red). My partner Suzanne had checked the score early on: Duchere were 1-0 ahead and all was well. At half-time she checked again: merde, 1-2. So off we went to lend our support. But while Duchere had a very good chance early on to equalise, as the game progressed they seemed to run out of steam and ideas against a side happy to keep its shape and play on the break. Defeat it proved to be – and in a tight league that saw Duchere drop into a relegation spot (normally four teams out of 18 are relegated from National, France’s third division, but this year for some reason there are only 17 – the eighteenth place reserved for ‘Exempt’ – and three will go down).

So even though against Concarneau Duchere hadn’t looked like relegation-fodder, confidence must have been low going to take on handily-placed Marseilles Consolat on their turf. I’ve only managed to see brief highlights on the Duchere site but it looks as though they put in a disciplined away performance and took the points courtesy of a big defender planting a header from a corner into the net. The 1-0 victory has lifted Duchere back up to 12th in what is for the most part a very tight league – another three points would see them up into joint fourth. In any event, the top three continue to run away with it. Grenoble won the top-three clash on Friday, 1-0 away to Red Star, which saw them take over from Rodez (who could only manage a 0-0 home draw with Les Herbiers). Grenoble have 38 points from 21 games (they’ve scored only 23 goals but have let in just 13 – must be a delight to watch but how Robinson would love to have a defence that secure), Rodez 36 from 20, and Red Star 33 from 20. Then there is a five-points gap to fourth-placed Cholet. Never say never, but with two automatic promotion places and the team finishing third going into a promotion play-off, the picture at the top looks reasonably set.

That does leave teams like Duchere with little really to play for – except of course avoiding relegation. And for sure there’s work to be done to build on last Friday’s victory, to really turn things around. By this stage of the season the stats don’t lie and the problem is clear enough: Duchere are the league’s lowest scorers, having hit the net just 18 times in their 21 games (Creteil have scored the same but have played two games less).

I hope I can get along to tomorrow evening’s match (which may depend on Suzanne’s patience as tonight we will have Olympique Lyonnais in the Europa League, when they will be defending a 3-1 first-leg victory over Villarreal, followed over the weekend by all the Premiership action and another round of Six Nations rugby). It will be against Entente SSG, who currently occupy fifth place. I’d no idea where Entente might be so did a little research. Seems the full name is L’Entente Sannois Saint-Gratien. Seems that Saint-Gratien is a suburb of Paris, a little to the north. The football team was founded as recently as 1989 and seems to have had a chequered life. According to Wikipedia, until the mid-2000s the team was in National. But then it was apparently denied promotion to Ligue 2 by “an administrative error”, for which they were awarded compensation. I thought by now I’d heard most things in football, but a team not getting promoted because of poor admin? After that seems the team struggled, was relegated in 2008/09 and then relegated again, to CFA2, in 2010/11 when the club went into bankruptcy protection.

Looks like Entente SSG have clawed their way back up since then. And in that respect they have been moving alongside Lyon Duchere, who I’ve seen promoted from CFA2 to CFA1 and now to National. And the parallels do start to get a bit spooky. Having been founded in 1964, by people who left Algeria at the time of independence, in 1993 Duchere finished top of the third division only to be denied promotion also, according to Footeo, for administrative reasons. I suspect that in both cases there were real reasons, involving ground facilities and other financial matters (perhaps someone better informed can let us know). But I’m tempted to ponder on whether before in the history of football has there been a game played between two clubs which have both been denied promotion because of poor paperwork? Perhaps sometimes, like with the purchase of a football club, the devil really can be in the small details.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

In Limbo

No unveiling of new owners, no photos of identifiable parties in the directors’ box to encourage fresh speculation (at least none that I’ve seen), and for the third game in a row no victory (despite going into each game with high hopes and spending most of them confident of the three points), so no play-off position (and the widespread view that we’ve tossed away seven points in these three games). We’re in limbo for sure: waiting for confirmation of a takeover, boycotting Addicks waiting for a formal deal before returning, all Addicks waiting to see if Karl Robinson and the squad have what it takes to get us promoted - clearly the answer is ‘so far no but we are handily placed and with key players coming back from injury and January loan signings bedding in there are grounds for hope.

On the takeover please don’t look here for any inside information. I don’t know which of the interested parties is supposed to be involved in the ‘done deal’ (I keep checking the Australian Football Consortium page for any change of wording), nor do I know what has yet to be tied up before everyone signs off. Like everyone else after the euphoria of ‘done deal’ was digested all we are left with is downside risk: will something crop up to scupper a deal? If so, will other interested parties step in? And if so will Duchatelet be prepared to accept the lower price they will be offering?

There are for sure conflicting issues over timing. A buyer might want to drag things out, even to the summer, to avoid having to fund monthly losses. But if a new owner’s goal is to get us promoted, he/she/they will surely be aware that the chances of this happening are increased if a deal is concluded asap, given the boost to supporters’ morale and some clarity for Robinson and the players (no, that’s not an excuse for underperforming). Presumably a deal at this stage of the season will include clauses (affecting the purchase price) to cover whether or not we are promoted this season. We want promotion, ergo a deal now please.

On the results front I can’t comment on whether we should be blaming our inability to finish off games with more goals or our inability to keep a clean sheet for the recent points dropped. Obviously the answer is both – and the statistics speak for themselves. Of the teams above us only Shrewsbury have scored about the same number of goals as us, everyone else more (even allowing for extra games played). And they have conceded 24 against our 38. So we don’t have an identifiable strength.

Without wishing to jump the gun I’ve been trying to place the current team in the context of others which have gone on to compete in the play-offs (perhaps leaving aside Lennie’s heroes). It is after all unfair to set it against Sir Chris’ League One champions; they were head and shoulders above the rest from the start of the season through to its end – although if there is a comparison to be made it’s that team’s record for the final 10 minutes of a match, which was outstanding (if I remember correctly). Phil Parkinson’s play-off side was still an unbalanced mix of Premiership/Championship players and others which ended up missing out in the play-off lottery, arguably unfortunately (we should have beaten Swindon over the two legs) but ultimately because they were not clearly better than the others in the mix. And the team under Curbs in 1995/96 really limped into the play-offs with little chance of success.

If there is a comparison to be made – and yes I realise it is an optimistic, perhaps wildly over-optimistic one – it is with the 1997/98 campaign. For the first half of the season, probably longer, we were not setting the division on fire, even though Super Clive was banging them in with abandon. If my memory serves me well, it was only around Christmas/New Year, when we beat convincingly Middlesbrough and Notts Forest (admittedly in the Cup), that we really began to believe. And it was really only in the final 10 games of the season – when we conceded three goals (none in the final seven games), won eight, drew two and lost none – that we really came good, going into the play-offs with real confidence (albeit with a very good side in the shape of Sunderland to be overcome).

It is up to the current squad and management team to produce a repeat of this performance. Yes, there’s no Kinsella or Mendonca but the opposition isn’t as tough either. It can be done – but until the team does start to show that it is improving and making the most of its assets I really don’t want to hear the sort of comments made about Doncaster by the admirable Chris Solly. Please don’t talk in terms of what we should be doing against teams like that, we haven’t earned the right. Go out on the pitch and do it, then take the (deserved) plaudits.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Still Hoping

Obviously Saturday didn’t exactly go according to the script: no late transfer window sales (and bids rejected), a couple of potentially exciting additions, plus evidence that our daft and absent owner is actually communicating with those at the club who might know something about football (obviously these have risen in percentage terms with Meire’s departure), just needed three points and a return to a play-off spot with game(s) in hand to sustain the momentum. I can’t comment on the game itself (and regrettably we are currently two bloggers down, hopefully both will soon be back and fully fit), on the impact of Robinson’s substitutions, but it sounded like although their decisive goals came late we were not exactly robbed.

So be it. I’m just surprised that some seem ready to write off the season. Yes, a change of ownership, hopefully this month (better still today) is the number one priority. But that’s hardly in conflict with getting promoted too. We had no realistic chance of a top-two spot before Saturday, we’ve surrendered three points, but what’s changed? Seventeen games left and we’re two points off a play-off place with two games in hand, behind a side that’s lost five in a row and just sacked their manager, not adrift of others above us, with nobody coming up fast beneath us (except perhaps Southend, under some new manager).

I wouldn’t say we deserve a play-off place, that we are playing well enough to merit one, or that we will get one, let alone that at this stage we would be confident of going up if we get one. We really shouldn’t give a monkey’s. If – and of course these are big ‘ifs’ – we can get key defenders back and if we can find a way to play to maximise the assets we have going forward (whether or not this involves the returning Ajose) there is at least the potential to go into the play-offs in a much better state of mind than at present. Momentum matters so much (so does luck) and there is a chance, no more than that, that the form team with a settled line-up in the closing stages of the season will be us. If we fall apart over the next half-dozen or so games and it all goes to pot, so be it, then we plan for the summer and our third consecutive season in this division (in my lifetime this is our fourth stint in it and so far we’ve never had to suffer more than three seasons before getting back up).

As for Robinson, any speculation over his position at this juncture seems to me to be entirely pointless. If new owners come in and want a different guy in charge, perhaps one that will also want his own support team, fair enough (and if anyone suggests that’s all that Duchatelet did we should remind them that Sir Chris was offered a new contract but refused to sign it because of the terms). In that event hopes do indeed start to be geared around next season. But if I’d just bought the club I’d be focused on the chances of promotion this season. And I fail to see how sacking Robinson at this stage of the season advances that cause, whatever his pros and cons, especially just after we’ve brought in a couple of fresh loan players whose motivation may wane if they feel they’ve landed in a club in transition rather than one going for promotion.

We know (and have known since the start) that Robinson isn’t perfect. Shooting from the hip can be applauded for what it says about openness and honesty; yet we know that actually making sense of what he says can be challenging. My particular favourite of late has been his attitude to players’ workrates. Here are a few recent quotes: “Listen (on) Marshy you don’t see wingers working that hard anywhere up and down the country (and the same with) Ricky Holmes” (before he was sold); “the way I judge players is how hard they work and what they do on the pitch”; and “Karlan has really moved mountains this season, he has worked so hard and I think fans are beginning to see that on the pitch” (before he was shipped out on loan). All well and good, you may say. But then go back to the first (staged) interview he gave on becoming Charlton manager. I wrote this at the time: ‘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 (he went on to say when asked what had gone wrong for him at MK Dons that he had 'worked as hard as he could').

We can (and should) forgive the occasional meaningless outburst. But it’s reasonable to question the sort of mindset that the above quotes suggest, whether this is a guy who can perform well under pressure. He is still only 37 years old and we are only the second club he has managed. So time on his side and scope to learn from mistakes, if he can. Either way, if we’re to go up this season we need him and those around him to be at their best as well as the players - and the new owner(s).