Sunday, 18 January 2015

The trouble with Roland Duchatelet

It has been a a very difficult last couple of months for Charlton Athletic fans. Since our last win away at Reading on 8th November, our record reads, drawn, lost, drawn, drawn, lost, drawn, lost, lost, lost, lost. That sequence has seen us go from play-off contenders to relegation worriers and seen us wimp out of the F A Cup once again.

Something had clearly gone wrong with Bob Peeters and his management of the squad. We were disjointed, lack-lustre and some players were very visibly half-hearted. The squad were carrying injuries and Peeters was having to make-do. He was flat and was not speaking hopefully about the transfer window. In fact,  he was even unenthusiastic about the imminent arrival of Tony Watt, a striker Standard Liege had paid Celtic £1.3m for in the Summer. "If he must come" was what Peeters actually said. He was also making relatively lame excuses for our results and didn't seem too bothered in how he conveyed them.

It should not have been a great surprise then, that Bob Peeters was sacked last Saturday night after losing at home to lowly Brighton after the latest half-hearted showing. However, the news did come as a surprise to most of us when it broke on Sunday evening. Peeters had only been given a one year deal in the first place and he wasn't expected to lead us to promotion. Everyone seemed content on a season of consolidation and scraping a top-half finish. We were all surprised and delighted by our early season form although it built some unrealistic expectations amongst supporters which exacerbated the angst caused by our poor form from October. The style of football, it has to be said, wasn't great, trying to win matches from the back four, but we were enjoying being hard to beat and the points had us at the right end of the table. More significantly, the Board appeared to back their man. Roland Duchatelet hasn't been particularly vocal since acquiring us and he has said practically nothing since the back-lash from the sale of Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens and the sacking of Chris Powell. Instead we have heard from Katrien Meire, his appointed lead and the club's Chief Executive Officer. She has given us programmes notes and we have heard plenty from her on the Official Site, although most of what she has been involved in has been peripheral to the playing and management side of things. However, she was firmly supportive of Peeters in the Brighton programme and was clear that the Board (Roland) was supporting him. 

News of the sacking on Sunday night was brief and we were told more would follow. Unfortunately, Katrien then screwed the communications up on the Monday and compounded the problem in the days that followed. The trouble for Katrien was that the supporters had already jumped to Network conclusions and found internet rumours supporting the annointment of Guy Luzon. She first made the pretence that we would be carrying out an exhaustive search for the best candidate available but was very quickly calling a press conference to tell us what we already suspected, that the best candidate for the job was actually the under-employed Network manger, Guy Luzon. The press conference was embarrassing because a few lukewarm questions from the assembled journos exposed the paper thin and patently laughable cover story.

The over-whelming reaction from supporters was hostile; we don't like being lied to or having our intelligence insulted. Indeed, the normally on-side CA Supporter Trust (CAST) felt moved enough to write an open letter  complaining about the mis-leading of supporters and calling for an open dialogue and engagement with fans. The under-current to this letter was the fact that the Board have failed to communicate with supporters about the strategic direction and plans since the Summer, in spite of promising to do so once the season had finished and Championship survival had been secured. So they were, quite rightly in my view, prompting Duchatelet and Meire on this point. 

The notion that you can't inform supporters about your longer term plans because you are struggling is a pretty poor excuse but the real threat of relegation was probably why they chose to be wise after the event. The investment in the new pitch (the Yann Kermorgant Memorial Playing Surface?), plans for redevelopment of the training ground and the acquisition of a relatively expensive, non-Network striker served to calm the supporters and defer anymore awkward questions.

The response to the CAST letter, it would appear, was an article in the Evening Standard from Miss Meire under the title of "fans must accept how we run the club." The article attempted an apology but was still patronising and we were told that we "need to accept" that the owner "does it his way." She also said that it was up to the club to prove that Mr Duchatelet's business model could be successful which I think got things around the wrong way and actually introduced a huge doubt because the club patently aren't proving the success of the model.

Due to a coincidence of timing, the Fan's Forum, were due to meet Katrien this week, so they had a chance to hear her explanation first-hand and her response to the CAST letter. The Fan's Forum was a sop to bridge the gap between the supporters and the Board. It's made up of a number of volunteers who sit in each of the home areas and they take supporter complaints, predominantly about the hygiene factors of attending matches at the Valley (food, toilets and smoking etc) to the Board. I believe this includes CAST members, so I was very interested in what Katrien might have to say given the obvious opportunity to address the mountain of criticism.

Unfortunately, the update from CAST was a little hard to follow. It looks like the terms of their right to speak with the CEO means they can't really say what was said. However, it would appear that Katrien gave "a sincere speech" at the start of the Fans Forum (sounds like feedback in the official programme notes of the 1940's) and referenced her article in the Evening Standard and blamed Roly for having taken the decision and her looking like she didn't know what was going on. Amazingly, the CAST article said it welcomed her response and then contradictorily stated that "there were several key points in the Evening Standard article which we assume is (sp) inaccurate."

The CAST article then gets a bit lost by reiterating supporters concerns and calling for more engagement between the Board and other Supporter Groups without given us a view of her reaction. I assume she either refused, was non-committal or she wasn't actually pressed on the point. It finishes by trying to sound a positive note that we should all put the weeks events behind us, get behind the team and the progress (sp) of returning to winning ways (again, very 1940's programme notes). All a bit of a cop-out for me. I hope all present made the trip to Vicarage Road yesterday and noted some progress/process. Katrien was daft or bold enough to make the journey on the train and was subject to some verbals on the way home. I don't condone that but she can hardly be surprised if she really understands the strength of supporter opinion over this matter. Perception is reality and simply following orders and ignoring it is guaranteed to make  the situation worse.

On reflection, I think Bob Peeters was disappointed by Roland Duchatelet's reluctance to help him strengthen his squad in the January window and, as he has now said, was looking over his shoulder at Guy Luzon since his sacking in October at Liege. That's not to excuse our results under him but I think it would explain his demeanour and behaviour in recent weeks.

So, we remain in a right old mess. The Board still don't get it and there is no sign of any indication or willingness to communicate openly with the supporters. The CEO's lack of experience and naivety has been ruthlessly exposed and, all-of-a-sudden, she is just a puppet, not a CEO operating with autonomy, albeit to an agreed mandate. The short-sightedness of this policy is glaringly obvious to all of us who have lived through the Gliksten and Murray eras which makes it all the more frustrating. We grew up being treated like mushrooms under the Glikstens and were then welcomed into a room of bewildering white light by Mr. Murray which we basked in and reflected that light in our view of the Club. It also coincided with the best period in living memory for Charlton supporters but I am willing to accept that's all it might have been, coincidence. We had a professional CEO who was trusted to run the club and who communicated as openly as possible and who also travelled proudly on public transport with the supporters. Some rail at Murray for not speaking out but we should remember that he is now a minority shareholder with no big say and he lost the right to that when he sold his stake. 

Roland Duchatelet is a very rich man and he has been for a long time. He will be accustomed to doing what he wants, hearing what he wants and, frankly, not really having to listen too carefully to what anyone says. He is a man with a  conviction of a Network of Clubs model and he has the personal wealth to indulge his ideas. It also means he doesn't have to spend any time listening to mere supporters of these clubs, let alone answering any impertinent questions from them. I am sure he is convinced of his model and is only being patronising in the way he deals with us in the same way I am when my children nag me about things I know better of. The trouble is, his Network model was highly reliant on the successful implementation of FFP and that isn't happening anytime soon, if ever. Also, we are not children but paying Customers. If it all goes wrong for Roly at Charlton (and any of his other clubs), he will lose a bit of his fortune but will move on. As paying customers, we too can decide to move on and find something else to do on matchdays. The diehards (like me) won't, of course, we will still go and suffer it. But our club could be left in a far worse state that when Roland rode to the rescue a year ago. I was there when home gates were regularly below 5,000 and we were a very small club no-one wanted to watch. I really don't want to see us end up there once more - at my age and with no prospect of redemption in my lifetime I could really contemplate packing it in if that were to happen again. My guess is that this season is going to continue on it's downward trajectory and we will finish just out of the Millwall zone. However, that will take us backwards six years in playing terms and we will start next season a smaller club in the Championship with home gates closer to 10,000 - step back twenty years although I can't lay all that Duchatelet's door. A subsequent relegation might complete the downward spiral.

Beyond that, it's hard to see where we break the cycle unless Roland has a change of conviction or he sells us on. Even if he is converted on the road to Damascus, he doesn't need to tell us or Katrien he has changed his mind or seen the error of his ways. The only option open to us in the meantime is to mobilise and press for change. It sure as hell isn't coming from the Fans Forum or the Supporters Trust. There are probably still too many Charlton fans who are simply satisfied that we aren't the financial basket case we were under Dumb and Dumber for any storming of the barriers, but that's perhaps not as far off us it may appear, particularly if we continue at the current rate of decline. The supporters at Standard have had enough of Duchatelet and are fighting for new ownership. I wonder how long before we join them?


Anonymous said...

Unless incredibly lucky, most clubs are financially insecure but does the trade off for us have to be a stubborn dictatorial owner who's "network model" is so obviously flawed.

I see no reason why the appointment of Luzon will suddenly see us improve, my obvious prediction is that we will continue to tumble and that Luzon will be replaced before the end of the season and that Riga will be asked to come in again.

I know ive said it before but would administration been any worse under the previous buffoons, at least we would have attracted more potential suitors, short term pain may have meant long term gain.


Anonymous said...

Dave very well said as normal. One point I would make though is I'm not sure why the supporters trust come in for stick in your article and often elsewhere too. I wasn't a member , but having read their statement this week which was very sensible , I joined up immediately. Ultimately the chance of a few supporters getting any joy from Roland is nil . At least , if we have a well supported representative body , it might rise to negligible !

Cheers albury

Phil said...

Excellent stuff Dave and sums up my feelings and I believe those of the overwhelming majority of Addicks. To a degree Katrien has been hung out to dry but at the same time has exposed her naivety if she thought she could pull the wool over our eyes. I thought her comment about Roly " wouldn't want to waste his time " ( in respect of attending last week's press conference ) was very telling and she tried her best to retract it. I sense there is genuine anger over last week's events which range from being partronising to total incompetence. Ultimately Roly will go of course and we'll all still be here but I think it's going turn very ugly before then. Depressing times I'm afraid. Phil.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Dave. The only way out for Roldand IMO, is to get three (non-network) players (probably on loan) - Goalie, holding midfield, and striker - in an effort to keep us out of that Millwall-zone. If he doesn't, then I fear the worst.

Malcolm said...

Very well said, and written,apathy does nothing for the soul, and the soul of our club is being dismantled bit by bit over the owners belief of the "network".

I have supported Charlton for some 64 years now, since my Father first took me 64 years ago,one has to be hardened to support our club, in those 64 years, only a small portion has brought any kind of success to the club , or indeed its supporters, and here we are again facing another dark tunnel.

I, with many others walked to Woolwich town hall to get us back to the valley, I would walk again to get our clubs soul back.

It would be well advised for the owner to heed the words of Robert Sarver, made after he withdrew his bid for Rangers, where in his words, the supporters and the community own the club, he would of been just the custodian.

Swedeaddick said...

What an absolutely spot on article, thank you Dave.

Anonymous said...

have been supporting cafc for 47 years,i was one of the few die hards that endured selhurst park and am proud to have done so but this season is my last season,dont get me wrong i'll still be a fan but im not paying to see the club that we all love being run into the ground by some pratt who thinks he knows more about football than football people,he's an idiot who employs idiots,who then turn into liars and hope that we will swallow the bs they are spreading around,well as far as i and my family are concerned enough is enough and we are voting with our feet,im sure we wont be the only ones either.

what has happened at standard is what we need to happen here,not the violence we saw there but a peacefull determined action on every home game,fans should go into the ground as normal and then just as the ref blows his whistle to start the game every fan should get up and leave,if that dont send a message peacefully then im not sure what will.

all the best for the future cafc one day i hope to return.

Chris said...

Very well put. This season is now on a knife edge and with it, potentially at least, the Club's medium-term future.

The irony is that I have little doubt that Roland Duchatelet wants the Club to succeed, and not just in the short-term so that he can make a quick profit, but in the long run too and sustainably so. I also suspect, in his own mind, that he believes he's doing things in the "right way" so that he will create a "community" the Club's supporters are part of and proud of.

The problem is not what he "intends". For my own part I'm not even that bothered about the lack of communication, in part because fans will always focus on short-term results, whatever the rhetoric. The problem is execution.

Duchatelet may have a vision, but it would appear to very woolly. There is no real evidence of the planning, structure, discipline and recruitment we might have expected to see. The refusal to appoint a network wide director of football, for example, an obvious need given the stated strategy, and the lack of a "proper" CEO at Charlton, reflect a lack of serious commitment and drive and, almost certainly, a complete failure to understand the execution challenges he faces.

A risk with a highly intelligent and successful man can be a tendency to view the competition as stupid. In reality, there is nothing Duchatelet has thought of that other clubs in the Championship aren't aware of or aren't already doing. Moreover, they are spending more money doing it. Only when he understands and accepts this is he likely to change. If Luzon can get that message across then he'll prove to have been a very good appointment.

Stevie said...

Excellent piece. I have been looking forward to this article since you mentioned it in your match report yesterday. It didn't disappoint.

You are spot on with your assessment of the Supporters Trust. Whilst these guys mean well, they are failing to attract the support of the wider fan base and seem out of touch with how people really feel. They make some noises but they seem to lack conviction and in my opinion they need to take a tougher line towards the club.

It seems to me that they are too worried about the fact that the club doesn't recognise them properly as a trust. If the club doesn't recognise them as they would wish, then they need to do more to increase their own support and eventually their voice will be so loud that the club can do nothing but recognise them.

Thanks for a great article and keep up the good work!

harveys gardener said...

"fans must accept the way we run the club" is treating her customers with contempt. I have two words for Katrein:-

Gerald Ratner

Anonymous said...

Good article just one point to add, most of the players themselves didn't want Luzon and actually aired their views to the Management that they wanted Riga! This is a true fact, sorry can't advise who told me as they would get into hot water!!

But if we look at this, if the players themselves and it wasn't just one or two, it was the majority gave their views and Rolly took absolutely no notice of them at all, what chance do us the fans have of changing his mind and direction!

David Todman said...

The PR and communication disaster of Katrien Meire and Duchatalet clearly not keeping her in the loop is worry, she was hung out to dry and not savvy enough to have sought the support advice of Murray and experience poeple in her circle.
Roland now has to abandon his FFP low cost strategy and invest for promotion and the massive return that gives

Tony said...

I would also like to add my compliments to the list. Well written piece Dave.
I strongly agree with FFP comment. With this not being implemented, Roland's whole business plan is scuppered.
I would hope he (Roland) will be looking for an exit sooner rather than later. that is if his pride will allow him to do so.
Just who is interested in taking up the reigns though?

ChicagoAddick said...

Great read Dave.

Shifting Roly is not easy as SL fans have discovered.. The only interest he has had so far in SL has seen him want a 25% profit.

Certainly time for supporters to pull together, but there are still a lot of "well he invested in the training ground" Addicks out there....

thewolfboy said...

An excellent synopsis. We wait to see if Luzon can strut his stuff. Luckily there are several basket cases in our division this year so we might not go down.

Blackheath Addicted said...

Dave, I didn't do enough weekend reading and ended up writing/posting something after your piece, echoing (I think) your sentiments (and repeating some of them). A year ago I wouldn't have been able to describe circumstances in which I'd question my commitment (certainly relegation wouldn't have had that effect, even if I wouldn't have been dancing for joy). A sorry state of affairs.

Dave said...

BA - just goes to show how strong and consistent the views are amongst what I believe is a large section of the supporters. I accept the perspective from those who have seen the club secured from financial disaster and investment in the infrastructure. However, I am one of those who couldn't see how the Network model could work from the outset and I remain even more firmly of that viewpoint since FFP has been diluted. The football has been very poor this season and there appears to be no obvious ambition to improve it.

AddicksAnonymous said...

Great article. Not very encouraging though.

Good to see the Supporters' Trust putting their heads above the parapet on this. I guess they're in a difficult position: highly critical articles don't really support the objective of achieving an ongoing dialogue with the club. It's probably as good an approach as we can expect, particularly as Duchatelet's proved that angry rioting supporters don't persuade him.