Saturday 25 March 2023

Pray for Spiegel

Earlier this week, another scurrilous rumour was spread on social media that Marc Spiegel's bid was in trouble as one or more of his backers had pulled out. It looked very much like another whisper from Charlie 'disgruntled' Methven.

Within 24 hours we had statements from both Marc Spiegel and Thomas Sandgaard that the rumour was another lie and that the bid remained on track with all of the backers in place.

We have become finely tuned as Charlton fans to trust no-one and largely that has proven to be the best course of action over the last eight years. Thomas Sandgaard brought some much needed stability. He got rid of the cling-ons and put a hefty sum in an escrow account to quarantee the first year or more finances. He also increased the playing budget and invested some money in new players in his first couple of windows. Unfortunately he was ill-advised (involving his clueless son) and we ended up wasting money on the likes of MacGillivray, Kirk and Jaiyesimi as well as expensive loanees like Souare, John and Arter. Since then the novelty has worn off for Sandgaard and he has been in full retreat for 18 months. He stopped paying for any players and has trimmed the wage budget. He has also made it clear his new priority was cost-cutting not league position. 

We saw the not-so-subtle Methven consortium scratching around to fund their New Year takeover and eventually see their deal cancelled by Sandgaard. He may well have had a better offer from Marc Speigel but the facts are that Methven was nearly a month late and seeding rumours designed to get fans on Sandgaard's back. The notion that Sandgaard was holding out for 2% more stake and that two billionaires were so appalled by his behaviour that they threatened to pull out was laughable as has subsequently been proven.

It would appear that Marc Spiegel alone doesn't have the sort of wealth we need to acquire the football club and to have a serious go at promotion. That seems to be the reason there are fans already declaring him another wrong-un and a time-waster. Spiegel has acknowledged he has others behind him with more money. He is also clearly not a grifter in the shape of Southall, Nimer, Farnell or Elliott. So I am inclined to believe that he has an honest interest in sport (as his background suggests) and that he is genuinely excited about the possibility of having a go in owning a UK-based football club (as his over-excited early Tweets demonstrated).

There is still a way to go before Sandgaard hands over control but he must be increasingly desperate to get out of the driving seat and let someone else foot the bill. I wouldn't be surprised either, if the Spiegel deal sees him out of the club completely. I am convinced his motivation for a retaining a share was partly because he wasn't get what he was asking for the club as well as a face-saving move after all his initial bravado and promises.

We will have to see what the Spiegel deal brings, what their plan is and just how quickly they move to execute it. It could also be under-whelming, of course, but you would have to believe that anyone paying millions (£10m?) to acquire the club, would be pretty confident of not falling into the Sandgaard trap?

On that basis, I want the deal done and am keeping my fingers-crossed that they have the backing needed to have a good go. Ideally we would want the club reunited with the assets but Duhcatelet remains an obstacle and our priority, I would suggest, is promotion.

Charlton Athletic 1 v Wycombe Wanderers 1

After two wins on the road, we returned to the Valley this afternoon but couldn't make it three-in-a-row. An early Leaburn tap-in at the back stick after Albie Morgan forced his way past two defenders but skewed his shot wide gave Charlton the start they wanted but they couldn't capitalise. The story of the season in many ways.

Wanderers had already seen two efforts flash across our goal. After the break they stuck at it and although we had chances ourselves, most notably from Rak-Sakyi and Leaburn, they looked more likely to score. On 82 minutes Maynard-Brewer saved a certain goal with a finger-tip deflection that move the ball six inches away from the inside of the far post where it was headed. From the resulting corner however, Forino-Jospeh outjumped Ryan Inniss at the back post and there was nothing Maynard-Brewer could do this time. Both teams went for it after that but Rak-Sakyi was wasteful, Fraser fluffed a shot from the edge of the box and Leaburn was unlucky to see a finely won header miss the far post. Maynard-Brewer pulled off another fine save but that was it.

It wasn't a particularly dirty match but there were a few mis-timed tackles as well as several professional fouls which saw eight players carded - five from Charlton and three from Wycombe.

Dean Holden will be pleased we got a point and that kept this mini-run going but it was another home performance that fell short of the mark. We couldn't put the visitors under any sustained pressure. Partly because we were only playing one upfront again and because there was too little from Campbell on the left or Fraser in midfield. Albie Morgan had another marmite game. Every decent thing he did was matched by an error and he missed the target early in the first half when the ball was pulled back to him in space on the edge of the box. 

Can't wait until this season is over. 

Thursday 16 March 2023

What Morecambe tells us...

The 4-1 romp at Morecambe has had Charlton fans and Dean Holden in raptures and wondering just how short we might be from a team capable of challenging for Promotion. I really don't want to burst anyone's bubble but some perspective and realism is needed here.

Morecambe are one of the smallest clubs in League One and they have been struggling all season. The chances are that they will return to League Two in May. They were very poor on Tuesday and the early goal encouraged us to push on. The second goal came early enough to really settle us whilst Morecambe presented virtually no attacking threat. The game was over at half-time and even after we managed to concede in the second-half we added another and might have had more.

It was a decent display and you can understand the positivity but we should also reflect on why we have only managed a handful of performances like that all season. It's hard to get away from the fact that this team should have more points that we have and probably be close to or in a play-off position. On our day, we can be very competitive in this league. We showed that against Plymouth and Ipswich at home. 

The trouble is, too many of the players we have simply don't give the effort, concentration and personal motivation needed to win games. Too often they have seemed content at one-nil to sit back and try to defend but haven't managed to do that as a team and eventually conceded. Too often we have gone one down and simply not made the effort required to get back into games. The focus has often been on the manager and rightly so, but it's become clear to me that Johnnie Jackson, Ben Garner and Dean Holden haven't been able to force changes in behaviour to any extent to make a prolonged difference. 

The threat of being dropped or actually being dropped doesn't seem any sort of incentive or disincentive to most of this squad. That is a major problem. At the most successful clubs being dropped is a major risk. You might not get back into the side. Being dropped twice puts your career at risk and after a third time, typically you are on your way out. I don't just mean at Manchester City or Liverpool. They don't settle for it at Millwall or Sheffield United and we shouldn't either. 

It hard to overcome when it's become the culture. Playing a large squad and making rotation part of the game can encourage players to see spells out of the side as less significant than they should. 

Sadly, that means we need a clear-out and it needs to be big enough to change the culture amongst the playing staff. We need far more 'winners' in our team. Players who expect to play every week and who don't take easily to being dropped. We need this almost as much as we do better quality players in most positions. I have said this in previous close seasons but we seem to prioritise playing potential and cost over capability, mental strength and value for money. That's why we need more investment and ambition than we have seen seen since Kevin Cash took a punt on Chris Powell's judgement 12 years ago.

This means we need to be ruthless in our clearout and not fall into the trap of keeping and playing players who don't fit the bill. Even if they are still contracted we have to find a way not to rely on them. 

I don't know if the Speigel takeover will succeed or if they will have the necessary muscle or ambition, but it looks like they will get much closer to a deal than Charlie Boy and we have to hope that it succeeds and our luck finally changes. 

Saturday 11 March 2023

Dean and Ashley extend as Addicks hold mighty Stanley

Starting with the good news. Dean Holden and Ashley Maynard-Brewer have signed contract extensions until 2026. 

Maynard-Brewer has been superb since coming into the side and establishing himself following Joe Wollacott's broken finger. He is young and looks like we might do well to still have him with us when his new deal expires, so a three year deal was low risk and a no-brainer for me.

Holden has had a decent start although we were one point from the last twelve prior to today but he would have been confident of more than a point from Accrington Stanley. I hate to say it, but his overall record following today's draw is not looking quite so great and I am a little concerned that he now seems unable to get much of a tune out of his players. However, we all know the squad is poor and we have some alarming deficiencies, particularly upfront, and have yet to find a defensive formation that can avoid regular howlers, so he has his work cut out. We also know that he gets the club and it's supporters and that will carry him some way without footballing success.

I certainly hope that Dean Holden hasn't accepted a new deal based purely on better money and three years security, although given Sandgaard's desperate Breakeven project and the fact that he may no longer pull the strings this time next month I suspect there has been no commitment to any investment, let alone this Summer's much-needed rebuild.

Now for the bad news. Today's performance was another that simply isn't good enough for this club. Another failure to beat a side below us in the table and from what I saw of it (I was cutting back and forth from the rugby), we looked fortunate towards the end not to lose it. Clare was at fault for Stanley's opener on 28 minutes but his left-sided partner, Steve Sessegnon, scored a spectacular equaliser five minutes later from nearly forty yards out with a curling effort. That was pretty much it. 

We finally went back to four at the back with Ness and Hector in the middle but failed to start with two upfront once again which kind of negated the defensive change. Holden will have to sort this out but it is unacceptable to play a relegation favourite at home and only create three efforts on target. Our manager is very supportive of his players and rightly tries to accentuate the positives but he is running out of credit and some of his players aren't helping him at all. He said before the game that he was looking forward to watching an exciting first team selection take on Accrington Stanley. The poor gate (never 11,000) and limp atmosphere probably didn't help but his team looked anything but exciting for much of the game. 

We need an absolute minimum of three points from Morecambe (Tuesday) and Cambridge next Saturday, although both are away from home and our record on the road isn't inspiring. Neither is it great against the division's strugglers. With a nine point advantage over relegation-placed Morecambe and 12 points on Cambridge, these really are six pointers and two wins would leave us with little more to do in securing our place in League One again next season. Lose them both and it will be panic stations once again. Holden really needs to get his players psyched up for these two games to restore a little bit of the lost confidence.

Sunday 5 March 2023

Plymouth Argyle 2 v Charlton Athletic 0

When I saw the line-up ahead of the game yesterday, I tweeted that we wouldn't be scoring again. Macauley Bonne a lone striker with no Fraser or Blackett-Taylor. Fraser has been poor in the last couple of games so probably deserves to be dropped but the replacements were Kilkenney and Payne, two triers who are average mid-table League One players at best. Not scoring was hardly a gamble as we hadn't managed in the previous four matches. 

What really hurts, wasn't not scoring, but once again not managing an effort on target in 90 minutes. It's become a feature of our play and it alludes to a side so desperately short of attacking ability. As one of the supposedly bigger clubs in this division with one of the better playing budgets, it really is an indictment and should be a clarion call for everyone involved.

Dean Holden has to bear some responsibility for this. It was glaringly obvious that the best we could hope for in the first-half was to get in at 0-0. Bonne does very little and is offside more-often-than-not when the ball does reach him. Kilkenny was busy but once again lightweight and ultimately unproductive. He doesn't have the pace or attacking threat that Blackett-Taylor carries when he wants to know. On the other side, Rak-Sakyi was our best hope but he is usually double-marked now and his threat curtailed.

Behind them we looked ok in the first-half with Ness, Inniss and Hector standing up to the rampaging Hardie but 9 seconds into the second-half we folded. The previously faultless Ness saw an upfield ball charged down by Hardie who was moving at twice the pace of any of our defenders and who simply ran past Ryan Inniss to lift the ball over the advancing Maynard-Brewer. It was an embarrassing team goal to conceded from kick-off.

On 65 minutes Holden made the changes he should have started with and we managed to breakout of our half and force a couple of corners which came to nothing. Leaburn and Kanu showed much more interest in getting forward than we had seen from Bonne, Payne or Kilkenny but it was still well short of a goal.

We have a couple of lower table sides next up, with Accrington Stanley and Morecambe, and we really need to beat them both to avoid turning this season into a full-scale embarrassment which would not reflect well on Dean Holden who has been making a fist of it thus far.

Thomas Sandgaard remains tight-lipped and probably disinterested, although he has dismissed the claims of Charlie Methven and I suspect he is talking from a position of legal strength. We really need to hope a Spiegel-lead takeover goes through and Sandgaard finally leaves the stage. I have concerns, like everyone else, over how Spiegel will fund the club and his ultimate intentions but in the absence of a seriously wealthy and ambitious owner, I think we have to take a deep breath and hope for the best because we are heading into League Two under Thomas Sandgaard if he can't find a buyer. 

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Methven's Pay-Off Bid

Charlie Methven's long-awaited statement on his consortium's failed takeover bid briefly hit Twitter this morning before being taken down. Presumably he did this on advice, possibly because he was forced to do so. His lawyers could have wanted it modified or he may even have had a writ from Sandgaard. Our friends at The Charlton Dossier, however, managed to copy it before it disappeared and here it is. What's missing when it reappears in edited form could be illuminating.

Using his 'SE7 Partners' vehicle that we uncovered back in December (and which he laughed off), Methven lays out the background and much of which we already know re the timeline and Sandgaard's decision to terminate with them. 

The crux of the statement really focuses on his demands going forward. His first empty option is that Sandgaard honours their original deal. That sounds very hollow now and is presumably there to support their previous demand that they would pursue that legally.

The second option and the meat of the statement is that "Mr Sandgaard to come to a reasonable settlement that recognises the costs incurred and time wasted." This would suggest the 90% operating costs of the club during their tenure as well as the salaries and costs of Methven, Rodwell and Warrick. We have already seen inflated estimates of these and you can imagine the cost of 'time wasted' would effectively be a doubling for 'lost opportunity.' 

The final option is really just a final threat to go to court if they don't get their pay-off which I suggest is yet more toothless barking having made the threats once before.

Sandgaard's response, if any, will be interesting but I suspect he is on solid ground and may well decide to be tested in court if they decide to take the risk. If Spiegal and Co are offering £4-5m more than Methven's mob it becomes even less of a risk for Sandgaard. 

Peterborough United 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

A drab point on the road at Posh courtesy of a sending-off. We were abysmal upfront as usual where Macauley Bonne kept up his promise to show us just what he is made of - no pace or real effort.

We started well but it was all huff and puff. No sustained or cohesive attacking formation. Very little in the box - just a couple of half-chances. We defended well enough but Posh settled for the draw after the sending off. Rak-Sakyi should have also gone but escaped with a yellow. 

Elsewhere we can expect to hear the Methven Defence. It will be a short on detail, blame Sandgaard and then major on how good his 'billionaire's deal' might have been, how professional he was and how keen he is to get another gig. More later.