Saturday, 19 January 2019

Crunch time

An opening goal and an assist from Nicky Ajose this afternoon on his debut for Mansfield Town who continue to press for promotion from League Two. I am not complaining about letting him go out on loan given I don't think he's been good enough for us since we signed him. However, timing is important and his shift this week without cover has now left us exposed.

A late, late Karlan Grant penalty saved the day at the Valley against Accrington Stanley and keeps us in the hunt but it came after Lyle Taylor was red carded and means we now face a couple of testing away trips to Peterborough and Fleetwood without the talismanic hitman. Grant has been holding his end up all season but the folly of again running an unbalanced squad threatens to hurt us. Morgan Fairchild-Hackett is too inexperienced to expect to step-in and provide adequate cover so we really need to hope that Bowyer is given more financial support to get someone in next week. Arguably we need them until May in any event but failure to shore us up in the next two matches could prove very costly.

With Karlan Grant himself the subject of transfer speculation, you have to wonder if there are any more bumps in the road. I don't see any real threat of losing him to Rangers this season given who they already have and the recent addition of Jermaine Defoe, although he's an obvious pre-contract target. That is also the case for an alarming number of our other squad players and one or two have already made it clear they will be off - Patrick Bauer being the most notable. If an all-consuming takeover suddenly happens, this might not be a bad thing as it would give new owners a clean sheet if they had serious spending ambitions. However, you would like to think it would be a case of evolution and that we would really like to see the nucleus of the side kept together and strengthened rather than any wholesale changes.

The situation could quickly change with a number of players being signed up on new terms but you have to wonder what motivation, if any, Duchatelet has to do this, particularly if it's going to increase his running costs (which would seem inevitable) and if he still hasn't got line-of-sight to a sale that gets him off the hook. 

Meanwhile, illness prevented me from getting up to see Andy Holt at the White Swan pre-match as I was very much looking forward to hearing from the man voted the Best Football Club owner in England. He is someone who really understands the responsibility of owning a football club and the fact that the value of the club in its community is far more than the cost of its assets and debts. I am looking forward to the CAST report on what he had to share as I am sure it would have been illuminating and entertaining.

Meanwhile, the Wings also managed a 1-0 home win over Eastbourne Borough this afternoon at PVR and stay in play-off contention in National League South. 


Monday, 14 January 2019

The Boycotter's Dilemma

As Lee Bowyer continues his determined push to win promotion, I find myself in an increasingly difficult and uncomfortable position as an affirmed 'boycotter.' 

The last five years have totally convinced me that the club cannot be successful under an owner who has zero positive emotional attachment or interest to the club and whose track record has been to ultimately prioritise operational finance decisions above football ambitions. There is a growing argument that, so far, this season may look different come April, but there should be no doubt about the previous four and half years.

My decision to stop attending matches after 39 years of loyal home and away support (practically every home game, albeit less away matches in more recent years as I have aged and completed over 100 league grounds) was borne out of total frustration with Duchatelet (and Meire who carries a large chunk of the can) and a realisation that money was his only driver and that the sooner he knew he had lost the majority of the fans, the quicker he would finally get real and sell up. I don't buy the lazy view that he couldn't care less because he's a billionaire. The facts don't support this. He has been clear since day one that he was never going to throw money at ownership (I didn't have a problem with that and was actually quite impressed he was upfront and didn't pretend otherwise). 

However, he has repeatedly sold the better players to reduce his operating losses, regardless of the impact to each season and the success of the football team. Remember, he sold our top scorer in Kermogant within weeks of taking over and at a time when we were in relegation trouble and struggling to get goals. He has continued in this approach and the only real difference was his decision to hang on to Ademola Lookman for another window which won him a much larger fee. I won't list all the others because we all know them. If we add to this the early days 'network players' who, for the most part, were very poor and the long list of subsequent loanees and free transfers, it's also clear that the overall squad has been impoverished. Remember too that this has been in League one for the most part.

In addition to the deliberate lack of first team funding - I am sure we might have done better with the budget had we had competent management (Katrien Meire's complete lack of experience combined with reliance upon that ridiculous Belgian schoolboy who convinced Duchatelet he could pick players from playing Football Manager in his bedroom) - Duchatelet has exposed himself in the last couple of years with his pointless penny pinching and open focus on minimising his operational losses. I could go on about all the other cost-cutting, like his decision not to replace departing members of the senior management team and run the club on a skeleton crew but again, I would hope we all know and understand this.

So in summary, I have been convinced that we cannot progress whilst he owns the club and that only a continued drop in revenues was the only thing left open to us, as supporters, to get the futility of his situation through to him and speed his exit.

During the last two seasons as more supporters have joined the 'boycott' we have also seen a corresponding rise in the numbers of those who 'just want to support the team' and who have been keen to urge the stay-aways to come back to support the side. This has caused a lively internet debate and some friction between supporters although I am pleased to say that hasn't really surfaced at games, where clearly, anyone present is supporting team, home and away.

Back to the Boycotters Dilemma, we now reach half-way in a season where Lee Bowyer has continued to defy the odds of his budget and unfortunate injuries to be sitting handily placed in fourth with hopes of a hitherto unlikely promotion. The team are playing good football and we actually have a scoring front pair which is also encouraging the 'just support the team' crowd to continue to advocate for a Boycotters return.

I should also add, at this stage, that many Boycotters (including me) have also found themselves in the hard-to-believe situation of, for the first time ever, not caring too much if the side loses or slides on the basis that the quicker we fail under Duchatelet the sooner he was likely to pull stumps and the recovery process could begin. News earlier this year that he was now ready to sell the club and his acknowledgement that he had made a big mistake buying us because he had little interest, underlined the Boycotter's beliefs and allowed many to move on from the lack of concern about results thing although it still remains a case of 'only when he's gone.'

We still need to negotiate the January window intact but the decision to bring three bodies in to strengthen the squad, including the surprising addition of Jonny Williams, has all fans looking up and the lure of possibly watching a promotion redemption story increasingly attractive. No doubt many will return simply because they want to witness it if continues to be a possibility or looks even more likely, however, there will remain the risk that they are again contributing to Duchatelet's losses with the possibility that there will still be no sale.

The most recent takeover speculation has also fuelled this debate and, to some extent, both increased the call 'to return' as well as almost inevitable disappointment that there is still no end in sight and that to some extent expectations are once again being managed.

Personally, I will continue my boycott until the club is under new ownership but I am firmly rooting for Bowyer and the boys because, ultimately, I want the club to be successful and if there is a chance we could be taken over as a Championship side or a Championship side-in-waiting, then that would be too good a slice of fortune to turn-down. 

I also find myself reflecting that Duchatelet's ownership has permanently damaged my life-long love affair with Charlton Athletic so things may never be the same again after he has finally shuffled off. Pretty sure I am not alone and that, ultimately, will be Duchatelet's legacy.


Thursday, 10 January 2019

Are we anywhere near closer?

Predictably, the optimistic Jim White calls of "48/72 hours" and "Monday or Tuesday" have come and gone with the club still in the grip of the Dark Lord. Jim White has been getting the pelters he deserves and has been trying to distance himself from the inevitability of a deal now going through. There was talk of a "meeting this evening" on Tuesday that promised to "unlock the money." That sounded like a load of old pony but reliable Henry Irving notes from last night's Fans Forum would appear to have shed more supportive light on the events of the last ten days as well as some of the specific comments which give me hope as I get realistic again on whether it will happen or how long it may take.

Lieven De Turck may be Roland's man on the ground but he has a brief to sell the club and his update from last night is promising in a number of areas. He gave a status update of the five groups still competing in the mad rush to replace Roland. Predictably it's still the "Aussies (with US now) and the Brits" front-runners but he continued the masquerade of other groups which must be wishful thinking. He also acknowledged a couple of key facts that have driven Rick Everitt's own information eg that he did show an Aussie investor around on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year and that there was now an America investor element to that consortium. He denied quoting a £70m+ price to another prospective party but he didn't do so convincingly after initially trying to dodge the issue by suggesting he hadn't signed the NDA (I assume he meant to say he had signed the NDA, but never mind). In the circumstances, I think Everitt was spot on and as reliable as he usually is once prepared to commit to sharing anything - I can never understand why some people love to give him a hard time - the idea that he's motivated primarily by VOTV sales is absolutely laughable. He has been a loyal supporter since the 1970's and his record of success developing the club during its' halcyon days of the Premiership deserves far more respect.

LDT also acknowledged the evening meeting that Jim White had thrown out on Monday when trying to save the integrity of his initial story. That also suggests that Jim has been telling it as presented and may only have been let down by unfolding events. Interestingly, De Turck also made the bold statement that the prospective buyers have been told to make clear on completion the reason for the interminable delay in getting the deal done. This suggests Roland and De Turck are confident the issue isn't with them - but if so, what?

The key question for all of us, concerns the price, because that is the logical issue preventing a deal and Roland's desperation to save face on the final position which has had him thinking they could be upsides here if we avoid relegation/get promoted etc. LDT appears to have been very clear that price is not the issue and said it had been agreed. At Roland's pre-Christmas heart-to-heart with White, when he admitted he had made a big mistake because he wasn't really interested enough in football, he had also said he will lose money on the club, so perhaps the issue on price may just be factoring and the continuing delay is due to something else - but what?

There are several possibles being touted here; the first is that whilst the price has been agreed, 'unlocking the money' is proving time-consuming. This may be  true of Aussie-American bid but would that also be holding up the Brits? LDT appears to have acknowledged that the leaking of the closeness of the current takeover story was done to pressure the competitors and he also said it had done that. If getting the dosh together was the issue, what's now the hold-up given everything else we are told is in place?

The second possible sticking point may be something Roland failed to undercover when he bought the club. He didn't bother with Due Diligence as we know and given that The Spivs were selling and the murky Kevin Cash was also involved, it's highly possible that there is a considerable fly yet in the ointment that needs to be qualified out or otherwise dealt with. Remember the court case against the Spivs by Darius Khakshouri whereby he was claiming monies owed because of an agreement to tie him in to any eventual Peninsula move? Could there be a similar smoking gun here?

Thirdly, as is gaining ground on CL at the moment, what about the possibility that the British buyer is very keen and willing to do the deal but has a third party holding issue? That would fit a scenario whereby someone like Mike Ashley  would be a capable buyer (a whole new nightmare?) but would need to be shot of his existing millstone, before he could complete a deal. 

Finally, if a deal is really closer, you might expect Lee Bowyer to be cut a bit of slack in the window and the acquisition of needed left-back Ben Purrington on loan from Rotherham on the back of taking goalie Chris Maxwell from Preston and having signed Joniesta might just suggest that's happening. We just don't need to see a major player outgoing before the window closes......

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Are we there yet?

Like Addicks everywhere, I have been following every snippet this week on the latest rumoured takeover. Given the false dawns of last year and the unpredictability and stubbornness of Roland Duchatelet, there are many Charlton fans who are unwilling or unable to fathom that a deal may be just around the corner. However, it looks to me like we may now be close and that something may have finally changed in the buying-selling dynamic to make that a reality.

Roland Duchatelet's recent courting of Talksport's Jim White was 'unprovoked' but the message about ongoing interest and possibly closeness of a deal was clear. Given timing close to another transfer window and lack of any other rumblings, this had a distinct whiff of ulteria motive for Duchatelet. Was it to dampen disappointment of another negative January transfer window? More likely it may have been Duchatelet attempting to pressurise interest in prospective buyers or simply an attempt to fill in time given the lack of any other concrete news of a sale in the last six months.

But shortly afterwards there were positive noises from reliable sources within the club that there was indeed fresh interest and then confirmation that Lieven de Turck had shown a prospective buyer around the training ground on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. Lee Bowyer too told the press he had been informed of fresh interest and that he hoped it would soon complete for the sake of everyone at the club and its supporters.

Whilst understandably cautious, Rick Everitt was also hearing similar messages either directly or indirectly and was moved to begin to suggest credence to the story whilst being wary of what obstacles might remain in getting a deal completed - price, fit and proper persons test and timing etc - Jim White's optimistic '48-72 hours' passed yesterday.

What seems to be accepted is that it's still 'the Aussies' albeit with additional big investment. This has credibility based upon the interest, commitment and determination they have already shown and the fact that they have pumped in significant sums in legal and other fees associated with the Due Diligence and the buying exercise to date. Indeed, if it is the Aussies, it also suggests that the change in the previous buying and selling dynamic may be price. This would be a huge step forward because it would signal a final acceptance from Roland Duchatelet that he is not going to be better off continuing to fund losses in the hope of someone paying well over the odds for the club. That was heavily rumoured to be the sticking point for the Aussies last time and Alex McGleish also acknowledged that when he said "they want too much money" following his brief due diligence exercise on behalf of a 'British' consortium last year. 

Who then is the new big investor? This remains less clear. Initial speculation was that it was a 30-something Aussie multi-millionaire which may be where the names of the two founders of software giant Atalassian popped up. More recently, Rick has suggested Joel MacDonald, the wealthy businessman and former Aussies Rules player. There has been talk of a US connection and MacDonald is based in the States....

The current best view is that a takeover may be concluded on Monday or Tuesday but excitement is mounting and that is likely to be reflected in today's actual and announced attendances at the biggest home game of the season to date when Sunderland visit. If it does get done, it will be a pity we couldn't really cash in for today but there will undoubtedly be a bounce. 

In terms of the transfer window, a surprising signing of Jonny Williams, the once Golden Boy of Crystal Palace who has lost his way due to a series of injuries and greater expectations at Premiership Palace. 'Joniesta' was out-of-contract at Palace and has signed as a permanent for six months. This would fit with Roland not having to make an extended commitment but it's a better-than-expected signing and we still have no immediate leavers.  Indeed, if a deal is really as close as is being suggested, there is a fair chance that the price will include no further asset sales. 

Keep hoping and praying....