Tuesday, 19 June 2018

What next?

The fixtures for our forthcoming season are due out on Thursday. Never before can there have been less collective interest in or more apprehension about them.

We are still reluctantly-owned by the disinterested and clearly rankled Roland Duchatelet. Seemingly piqued by his failure to get the Aussie Football Consortium to meet his financial demands, he continues to look to slash spending. Following last week's surprise sale of Ezri Konsa and news that Josh Magennis is available for the right price, rumours this week suggested Patrick Bauer was on his way, possibly to Blackburn Rovers and that Harry Lennon, another Academy talent, was also going. These high-handed changes to the squad can't be helping negotiations on a price with assets moving out.

Lennon now looks set for a move to Southend and Charlton appear to have responded by offering Aribo and Fosu improved terms. Reports also suggest that Bauer has had a £2m price tag put on him in an attempt to prevent him leaving. I had to laugh at that one. If you don't want him to leave you make him a proper offer to stay or put a silly fee on him. £2m is simply positioning your bait for a bigger fish. You could also argue that dangling bigger contracts in front of Aribo and Fosu will help your negotiating position on them.

Then we hear this week that Roland won't pay for a pre-season tour, so we look like being the least prepared for a season in our history including the recent years under Duchatelet where it's been patently clear on the opening day that we have had limited and/or unbalanced squads incapable of maintaining a serious push for promotion.

So, with Roland's running costs meter hammering at around £800,000 per month on top of what's approaching a £60m debt mountain you can see why the Aussies might be prepared to wait and see if they can get the club for the right price and not be legged over by the avaricious billionaire. Christmas would be a good time to let Duchatelet sober-up to the realties of end-of-season debts approaching £70m if he doesn't get real and move aside. If we are struggling by then there should also be little chance of him thinking he can squeeze a bit more from the price and he may just have to cut his losses and slunk off.

It does also raise the serious prospect of no deal as we kick the season off. As things stand the mood in the camp must be pretty demoralising finding out who's being sold, who's up for sale and who else is leaving the club. I am sure the players will have had very good holidays with friends and families but news of no tour due to funds and the prospect of little or no spending on new players will hardly leave caretaker manager Lee Bowyer with a full deck of cards. In that scenario, it is entirely plausible that we will struggle once again in this God-forsaken division.

What must all those who renewed their season tickets early be thinking? All that promise of new owners and at this moment the prospect of another chaotic season of more failure. I would be complaining I had been sold my season ticket on false pretences and asking for my money back, although I'm not sure to who you might ask as there are no credible senior managers employed by Duchatelet any longer.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Brinkmanship

It would appear that the sudden and surprising sale of of Ezri Konsa to Brentford  was a consequence of Roland Duchatelet's frustration with the ongoing negotiations for the sale of the club. 

Duchatelet took a week off from swanning around his empire in St. Truiden to be at the Valley this week in order to run the rule over the club's running costs and put a red line through what he could. Konsa was sold, Magennis is up for sale and more staff will be losing their jobs. All this when the club has been operating with a skeleton management structure since Meire did a runner at Christmas.

I actually saw the miserable looking billionaire as he wheeled out of the ground onto Harvey Gardens one evening this week. I was taken by surprise and could only manage a venomous stare as he flounced past talking to a colleague. 

A weirdly worded comms message on the Official Site spoke of the "club's owners" being in town, deliberately failing to mention him by name. It also made the point that the club needs to prepare for the new season and news followed that Bowyer will stay on in temporary charge of the first team. No doubt we do need to get ready for the new season but the actions look more like a statement of intent designed to up the ante rather than any real concern about the impact of not being ready in August. All this from a man who all but abandoned the running of the football club last season.

Richard Murray has also been forced to comment again and has told the Supporters' Trust that negotiations with two parties (Aussie and British) continue. He either knows no more or is not saying beyond that but it looks like frustration may be the driver for Duchatelet's actions this week and the sale of Konsa will be a deliberate show of strength to the Aussies of Duchatelet's ability at this point to press terms. The Aussies will already have invested heavily in their bid and will be very keen not to be left with nothing. 

Rick Everitt has also said that the number of the stakeholders in the Aussie party is hampering negotiations, presumably because there are more opinions, more questions and more approvals to obtain throughout this farcical process. Could that also have been the cause of the EFL's 'fit n proper person' delay?

We have to hope that the deal will get done but there remains the chance that the Aussies will be prepared to draw the line and walk away if Duchatelet tries to push things much further. The sale of Konsa would, presumably, result in a corresponding adjustment to the purchase price but you can be sure that Duchatelet will pocket something from the exchange.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The strange case of Ezri Konsa and Brentford FC

The glacial Aussie takeover of Charlton Athletic FC is apparently "imminent." Well it has been for most of this year and we are still waiting. He wants out and they want in but there's something there that's been clogging up the mechanism  and it isn't the laughable 'fit n proper person' test.

There have been strong views from some who claim to be in the know that the Aussies have struggled with the finances. They certainly did struggle when they first came to the table early last year but the strong hope was that they knew what was needed when they returned and the addition of Andrew Muir gave us all hope. I haven't been in the 'they can't afford do to it properly' camp but the sale of Ezri Konsa to, ahem, Brentford has me reaching for the top shelf.

Konsa has reputedly been lined-up by all the top clubs and it's been a matter of when, not if, he would slide into the Premiership for £5m. The lad himself must have been drifting off at night whether he was more likely to emulate Ademola Lookman or Joe Gomez. It must have come as much of a surprise to Ezri to find out that his promotion is to the Championship and the mighty Bees as it has to the Valley faithful. I should point out at this stage that Brentford are an established Championship side with an ambitious stadium move underway and they gave a great account of themselves last year. Indeed, their move for Konsa must be applauded as bold and well-informed. 

The problem is, what have they paid for him? Their club record fee was apparently £2.5m for Sergi Canos last year and the fee for Konsa was the standard Duchatelet 'undisclosed.' My thinking here is that if it was any way above £2.5m then the Bees would have been very keen to get it out in the open as proof of their ambition to their supporters to help sell season tickets. Logic would also suggest that Duchatelet and the Aussies might support that argument as evidence of a good deal for a good player that justified the sale, irrespective of who is trousering what part of the fee.

My fear is that the reason the fee is once again undisclosed (but not common knowledge like many of the others) is because it's not something Brentford are bothered bragging about (just yet) and that Duchatelet/the Aussies are also keen that we don't know because it raises uncomfortable questions. Questions like, is this Duchatelet's last greedy grab at the till? Do the Aussies hold so little sway even now that they couldn't stop a cheap sale or maybe because they too need the money to smooth their takeover.

The truth will out in a couple of years when the accounts are unwound but it will have become bloody obvious by then if we have, once again, let circumstances sell us short. I really hope the Aussies are prepared to explain just what's gone on over the past two years and we don't get everything swept under the carpet once again, but my money will be on a cast iron Non-Disclosure Agreement which prevents anyone bad-mouthing the contemptible waste of space that is Roland Duchatelet. One crystal clear fact that will go to the grave with him is that for all his business success, his four and a half year ownership of Charlton Athletic was a total failure of epic proportions. The missed opportunity was criminal but the wanton disregard for the club shameful and the way he allowed himself to be duped by a few trusted advisors when the avalanche of evidence to the contrary was all around him, was quite incredible.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Nearly there....

Not long now folks. Not long before the sound of trumpets and the herald of a new era after four miserable years under the unambitious, disinterested and hopeless Roland Duchatelet.

Chief-Exec-elect Gerard Murphy has been busy behind the scenes doing PR work and he has been faultless so far. Appearing in the Directors box at Shrewsbury was the biggest sign we've seen but he has also visited the training ground and has spoken incognito to reveal some of detail about the protracted takeover negotiations and to calm fears about the future by making it clear that Roland Duchatelet isn't walking away with anything other than the wapping loss he deserves and that once he's gone, there will be no more involvement and no further risk. He has also shown a keen interest in the history of the club, being particularly interested to learn of the rapid rise in fortunes under Jimmy Seed eighty years ago and seeking a museum visit as I understand. I am also impressed that the Aussies seem intent on running a meritocracy that will see them interview and appoint the best person for the managerial vacancy.

In terms of that takeover, it would also appear that four of the seven Directors who have a future charge over the club have refused Duchatelet the opportunity to put the club over a barrel in the greedy hope of extracting more money downstream through a lease deal. In time we will learn their names and they should be recognised for putting the club before their own material benefit. It is interesting to note that Duchatelet could have bought those Director's lease rights out under the existing contract for £4-7m or thereabouts, so his interest in hanging it out versus his potential net gain must be put into some context.

Great to hear, too, that Steve Avory, the driving force behind the highly successful Academy has been recognised with the Eamon Dolan Award for Youth Development. Avory is a man of conviction who has firmly rooted the Charlton Athletic Academy and seen it flourish under his leadership. I can only guess at how satisfying it must be to watch top class football and be constantly reminded of the great job you have done by watching players you have seen mature and develop.

Whilst the players are tanning themselves, whoever is left running the shop has managed to start arranging pre-season friendlies in addition to putting season tickets back on sale. The masses will wait to purchase their season tickets once the takeover is announced so that their hard earned goes directly to  the Aussies and the future of the club and not into Duchebag's pocket. That big Welling opener will take place at Park View Road on 7th July. I will be there.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Shrewsbury Town 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Shrewsbury Town duly closed the door on our season this afternoon with another one-nil victory to win the tie 2-0 on aggregate. The defeat consigns us to another season in League One. Under the unambitious and disinterested Roland Duchatelet that would seem unbearable and actual home gates would tank even further. At least we have the promise of new ownership and some hope for next season.

It was a better showing from Charlton than on Thursday night and we had plenty of first-half possession as the home side were content to sit back and defend. We played some neat passing football down the flanks and across the pitch but we were again desperately short of any serious goalmouth action. Crosses, when they came, were inevitably knocked in hoping Magennis could out jump a pair of centre-halves and a goalkeeper in close attendance. We should have had a penalty before half-time for a pretty blatant handball which clearly changed the direction of the ball and which the referee must have seen and somehow decided it was ball-to-hand four yards from goal.

The Shrews scored after the restart and that effectively killed the tie. We huffed and puffed and managed a number of corners but every dropping ball was hacked clear and every attempted Charlton shot on target was blocked. Kaikai had several half-chances but failed to strike any of them cleanly which seems par for his course. He and Doodoo have typified what has been wrong with this season. Two 'strikers' clearly not up to this standard of football and both brought in as cheap offerings to try and appease the masses after having let Novak and them Holmes leave. Magennis was left to forge alone for much of the season and we even brought back 'no goals' Ajose when we had no other options. 

For me personally I shared something in common with Roland Duchatelet this season - neither of us saw a game in person. For Duchatelet that's nothing new but for me it was a first since I started going as a boy. I am praying that the Aussie takeover will see the end of Duchatelet's malign influence. Rumours that he will retain a landlord interest or that he will have a percentage of player sale values going forward until he gets his price would be sickening and might yet make me feel too uncomfortable to return but I guess that all depends on what the deal is. I could live with it if he's taking the massive multi-pound loss he deserves and I have to believe the Aussies are too shrewd to pay him more than the club is worth, whether that's all upfront or over a period of time. 

I enjoyed my visits to Park View Road this season and non-league football is more reminiscent of the game I used to watch before money came to really dominate it. The football was honest and competitive and I saw some superb goals and real camaraderie between the players and the supporters, even if there are only 400 of them. It was great to stand on the terraces again with a beer when warm enough and not to have to deal with any visiting arseholes or to be filmed by police officers as I arrive or leave the ground (I see that the Shropshire Constabulary used pepper-spray indiscriminately on a crowd of Charlton supporters in the stand today as they sought to arrest someone). Good, too, not to be harassed by jobsworth Stewards following orders and refreshing for the Chairman to say 'hello' when he recognised a few of his club's supporters at an away game and ask what we thought of our chances.

New ownership will, hopefully, fire my burners once again but Roland Duchatelet (and Katrien Meire) have definitely broken the emotional bond that has had me following the club loyally home and away since 1977. Perhaps it will never be the same again even after I return. Along with hundreds and probably thousands of others that will be Duchatelet's legacy. That and the record books which will show the club dropped out of the Championship and established itself as a third division side for the first time since we climbed out of Division Three South.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Charlton Athletic 0 v Shrewsbury Town 1

A fairly evenly contested first leg at The Valley this evening but Shrewsbury showed a tad more quality and deserved their one-nil lead. We aren't out of it yet by any means but the odds will have swung strongly in the Shrews favour and they will have the confidence and the momentum required to see us off on Sunday.

In many ways the game was a microcosm of our season. Largely competitive but we have been ham-strung by our failure to adequately balance our capabilities upfront at the start of the season. The decision to allow Novak to leave on deadline day and the failure to have at least a decent replacement lined-up meant we started short of striking goals and that has continued throughout the season. We have scored fewer than any side above us and our top scorer (Magennis) is only on 10. That and the subsequent mistake by not investing in a goal-scorer in January sits very squarely with Roland Duchatelet, for whom the last couple of season at least have all been about damage limitation in terms of his finances and footballing losses. The fact that we actually sold Ricky Holmes, our rival top scorer, in January without replacement in January underlines the folly.

The gate last night was also a disappointing 14,367. Yes, it was live (I was one watching) but many were saying they thought the actual attendance was much higher. This is a consequence of the ridiculously over-called and fiddled attendances under Duchatelet's regime. What we saw last night was an actual 14,000 gate when most of our season ticket holders actually bothered to come to a home match and when the club did not overstate the attendance with several thousand comps that they either didn't give out or which weren't used.

A Tweet from Rick Everitt this evening suggests the Aussies will conclude a deal tomorrow and that the takeover is very near. They were at the match this evening and were being shown around by Paul Elliott. That is the best news of today and it promises some hope in the coming weeks assuming our season ends on Sunday. If we are to miss out, I shall take some small comfort from the fact that Duchatelet's poor judgement, ultimate lack of ambition and parsimony has cost him in the long run. He won't get the price he has been holding out for and the record will show that in four years under the richest owner in our history, the club dropped a division, became a laughing stock and had real, long-term damage done to it's reputation and it's fanbase by his personal failure to engage in it's proper running or to reign Katrien Meire in when she was blatantly mis-managing the club on a disastrous scale.

I really hope I can return next season to a new ship, a new crew and some genuine hope and honest ambition. That's all I have ever asked for supporting this club - anything else would be a bonus.