Saturday 27 May 2023

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..

Remind me never to use the expression 'on the brink' again. In my defence, it wasn't the bed-wetting excitement of Methven's stooges that persuaded me to use it but Rich Cawley's post-Sandgaard confirmation that 'a deal has been agreed subject to contract.'

Fully ten days on and we appear no closer to new ownership. Not only that but Methven has been at it again laying messages that Sandgaard is so very difficult to deal with and maybe that he doesn't really want to a deal with Methven's consortium in any event. Not only that but the grapevine is suggesting wilder fantasies like Ray Winstone had been fronting a consortium (via Peter Varney) and even that Marc Spiegel is still bidding and that he has also thrown his ten-bob behind Friedman, Brener and Co if it gets him a chance to save face and play Fantasy Football.

The storylines also suggest that a Sales Purchase Agreement is only one remaining hurdle and that EFL challenges over owners and their financial commitments still have to be jumped. This despite previous assertions via those involved that this was all done first time around. 

Duchatelet is also being held up as another potential obstacle, perhaps being unwilling to re-assign the lease? I really don't get that. I can't see a situation where Sandgaard's lawyers allowed him to sign a lease he wasn't free to re-assign. Not sure how it would benefit Duchatelet either. 

Hundreds and maybe a couple of thousand would-be season-ticket holders are hanging on to their money pending an announcement. Keen not to give their money to Sandgaard, who they believe will simply pocket it and walk away, they seem completely unconcerned that any incoming ownership group with limited financial commitment to the club but determination to turn a quick profit are also likely to do exactly the same thing.

After approaching six months of negotiation we appear no nearer getting shot of disinterested Sandgaard. You really have to ask yourself 'why?' He is as desperate as Duchatelet was to stop funding the losses and despite what some supporters want to believe, I don't think for a minute that he can't do the sums or that he is prepared to continue cutting his nose off to spite his face by trying to leverage his buyers for small incremental gains at the expense of delaying a deal which simply costs him half-a-million quid or more a month. He has very publicly tried to raise funds by selling more of his stake in Zynex in recent weeks and even that went wrong for him, wiping a big slew off the share-price and forcing him to downgrade his sell-off by nearly 90%.

Fans are also desperate to get a deal done, so that we don't miss the Summer transfer window but surely that fear is irrational? Looking at the struggle everyone seems to be having raising the money and passing the tests involved, who really thinks new owners are going to be buying better players? Methven's consortium have already let it be known they won't be splashing the cash. No shit - heavy cost cutting is what is expected despite assurances to the contrary. Methven, who still maintains there is no role for him, post a deal, is hardly likely to acknowledge anything that would be a complete 'no-no' for the club's supporters until a deal has been completed. There are still those out there who acknowledge that he came across as a pompous oaf and a mercenary in 'Sunderland til I Die' but are hoping he might somehow be different at Charlton despite the whole of Wearside warning us against him. 

What we can be sure of, is that Dean Holden will start building a new squad. He has to and he has the wage headroom to do that. But unless we cash in on playing assets, it will be done within that wage headroom and logic tells you (like it has been since we signed Scott Fraser) we will do really well to end up marginally better off than last season. We may sign some better players than under the involvement of the owner's son (it wouldn't be impossible would it?) but we will struggle, I believe, to attract a similar crop of loanees. What's more, given the financial struggles of any would-be buyers thus far, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they plan to flog Leaburn to give themselves an immediate repayment and possibly provide a smaller sum towards the ongoing running costs of the club. 

What is clear to me is that Sandgaard will be gone fairly soon despite fears to the contrary. Those three million shares he sold after the price plunged tell you he really can't afford to continue paying the bills. In fact, the pressure will be on him to get a deal done, not the buyers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they are leveraging him in all this, not the other way around. 

Tuesday 16 May 2023

Methven on the brink

After five months of speculation, it would appear that Thomas Sandgaard is close to exiting Charlton Athletic Football Club. Charlie Methven has been using his contacts to talk up the chances of his consortium's bid via social media and this afternoon, Rich Cawley has confirmed with Sandgaard that an improved bid has indeed been accepted subject to contract.

Sandgaard's update to Cawley suggests he continues to talk to Marc Spiegel, Roman Gevorkyan and "a senior figure at MSD finance group." Given Marc Spiegel folded two weeks ago and I doubt the others have done little more than enquire, this looks like wishful thinking on Sandgaard's part or a bluff to help his contractual negotiations.

You have to assume that Methven's group (Friedman, his Son, Brener and Methven's Global Football Partners) have now agreed to pay c £11.5m (Ben Ransome is suggesting £12m) which splits the difference between their previous respective position and Sandgaard's. The understanding is that Sandgaard will no longer have any stake, so part of the increase over their January bid accounts for his proposed 10% stake-holding although they have added a couple of million to that price by my reckoning which they may want to recover sooner rather than later.

At this stage, most won't care what they have spent, only that Sandgaard has gone and his proven lack of ambition with him. I have said before that we need to move on and have to be prepared to take a risk on new owners because the future under Sandgaard was simply further decline. Taking a risk is exactly what we are doing with Methven and Co. I use Methven's name deliberately because I expect him to be named CEO to Rodwell's Chairman and for Scott and Warrick to return, along with Lenaghan, who never really arrived first time around.

I expect Brener and the Friedman's to remain very much in the background. This looks like small beer for them and little more than a dabble at this point. To all intents and purposes, we are going to have to suffer Methven. I only hope he has learnt from his experiences at Sunderland, although from his behaviour during the bidding process would suggest not.

We then have to hope and pray that Methven's hitherto assertions that he sees promotion as a route to profitable exit proves to be more than a sound-bite but I have serious doubts if they are sticking to their strategy shared alongside the 'Texas Prospectus' which Rodwell appeared to acknowledge for the first time last week when talking to CAST.

At the risk of looking like a doom-mongerer, I won't re-hash any of that (it's all well-documented) because their first steps in charge will be the proof of the pudding in any event. I only hope that those holding off giving their Season Ticket money to Sandgaard are prepared to hold on until the end of July just to ensure this isn't a rape and pillage.

I hope the anticipated announcements are full of realistic ambition and unambiguous commitments of how they plan on delivering that ambition. It starts with the playing staff as we all know and it will need overall investment (not funded from part of incoming transfer fees). As we approach the June opening of the transfer window, we shouldn't have long to wait.

Saturday 13 May 2023

CAST update on those Rodwell talks

 CAST have provided an update on their recent discussions with James Rodwell, who is back with the 'Methven consortium' trying to wrest control of the club from want-away Thomas Sandgaard. If you haven't been keeping up, then I should add that Methven has been sidelined for now and until this week, what updates we have seen, have been coming from Josh Friedman.

It looks like Rodwell and CAST seem sure that there is only one party actively bidding following Marc Spiegel's failure to raise the money needed for his bid. CAST have spoken with Peter Varney in making that assertion and the former Charlton Chief Executive has again reiterated that his prospective backers were only ever interested in a complete deal that included The Valley and Sparrow Lane. Given that there has been zero movement on Duchatelet's ridiculous asking price, Varney acknowledges that his personal involvement in any Charlton takeover is now, most likely, at an end. I fully understand his position but my take here is that Peter is fed-up being asked about his plans. You do have to wonder what was going on pre-Christmas when he implored us all to attend the Brighton match in some sort of show of strength? Duchatelet was no nearer dropping his demands then and it wouldn't have been a bid to increase gate receipts for Sandgaard.

Rodwell was bold enough to suggest that he would become the Chairman if their consortium was successful and he named their group as Josh Friedman, Spencer Friedman (son), Gabriel Brener (the other billionaire) and Global Football Partners (Methven's crew). He went on to say that they have agreed to a share-holding split that doesn't give overall control to any one person or group. If that is true, what it also says in that each have a relatively small investment unless they have a large player budget which seems unlikely. He also tried to suggest Methven's involvement might be limited to the 'holding board' but I am not buying that. The man craves attention and believes he is a great CEO. 

CAST asked them about the offshore set-up in the Cayman Islands and this was dismissed as being 'fiscally responsible,' although if that were simply the case, you would expect most other clubs to be registered there too. That sounds hollow to me.

There was also mention of perhaps one person having a smaller "75k" stake and I was left wondering if mention of this was an attempt to draw a line under the 'Texas prospectus.' If it was, it doesn't allay my doubts as it gives life to the associated email trail which spoke of a "fast burn" and huge cost cutting.

Finally, CAST tell us that he was most uncomfortable being questioned about leaks via social media. This may be because Methven's attempts here in earlier in the year didn't help their case (and he has been sidelined for now) but he did talk about a set-up involving separate 'holding' and 'footballing' boards, one executive and the other operational. He used the term 'shadow' which was the word used in one of the social media leaks who suggested this. However, he denied that they have a 100 Day plan which the leaks were adamant was ready to be shared with supporters. This will be uncomfortable for those given the information (no comment from CAST on this) but maybe Rodwell & Co have just decided to step back from that given the fact that Sandgaard has apparently rejected their latest, improved offer for the club.

I'll say it again, you really do have to question why Sandgaard appears unwilling to take their money? I don't buy that he has had a change of heart given the recent rise in the Zynex share price and, anyway, that fell back dramatically after news to the market that he was ready to sell another big slice of his ownership. He was withdrawn for much of the last season and has been unusually tight-lipped since the heat was turned on him a few months back. All I can think is that he was furious with their negotiating shenanighans in January/February when they tried to apply fan pressure on him to do a deal and their public threat of legal action since which they are still maintaining is in play. 

So where do we go from here? If Sandgaard remains responsible for paying the bills, we are in for a potentially disastrous season. However, the facts remain that he has lost interest in his dream and really wants off the financial hook. Any quibbling over the price now (£2m difference?) will be lost by September and if we are struggling come Christmas, he will be lucky to give the club away. 

Sunday 7 May 2023

Cheltenham Town 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

An end-of-season game this with plenty of chances as well as defensive errors contributing to a point apiece, which sees the Addicks finish in tenth. It looked a decent afternoon in Cheltenham as 800-plus Charlton fans packed the small stand behind one of the goals to say farewell to one of the most disappointing seasons we have had.

We have now played Cheltenham Town six times altogether and are still awaiting our first victory. We had enough chances in the first-half to have secured at least a two nil lead but wasteful finishing (Campbell, Rak-Sayi and Fraser) meant we lead only by Scott Fraser's neatly taken goal just after the half-hour mark. Cheltenham came back at us in the second period and equalised through Aidan Keena after two mistakes by Maynard-Brewer. First he hooked a kick out to Alfie May who was level with the edge of our box and his shot was then parried by Maynard-Brewer into Aidan Keena's path and he couldn't miss. 

The rash of Charlton subs began after 74 minutes when Nathan Asiimwe made his debut and Jack Payne also got on. Payne put us 2-1 up within ten minutes. Southwood rushed a ball up to his central defender. Payne saw it coming and nipped in to take the ball and drive it back beyond the hapless keeper. That was the signal for Rylah, Mitchell and Roddy to join in. Unfortunately, they hadn't found their feet when Alfie May took a cross, stepped inside Roddy and slotted the equaliser with only two minutes of normal time added.

The work should now begin for Dean Holden but with what budget? We have been told repeatedly that we know the changes we need to make and that they have been identifying players for months now. Peter 'I wanna tell you a" Storrie tried to tell us, without laughing, that the budget for next season has been increased and that somehow all prospective buyers of the club have agreed to it! The most we can hope for is that Sandgaard has approved a larger budget knowing he won't be here to fund it. If, by some misfortune, he is still here come June, I suspect talk of an increased budget will quickly disappear. We have been late squad-building every year since Bowyer left and I suspect we will repeat that this year. 

We will need to find 15 more goals from somewhere to replace top scorer Jesurun Rak-Sakyi's haul and if Leaburn leaves you can add another 12. That will likely take transfer fees, so all the talk about improved budgets and ambitious would-be buyers will be tested. The midfield is crying out for leadership and creativity. Those players won't be easy to bring in if we are left fiddling with wages once again. I wish I could say the defence is alright but we have shipped more goals (66) than any other side in the top half of the table. We have some tidy defenders on their day but far too many of them have off days which has cost us at least the 15 points we finished short of sixth.

Steve Brown made a good point after the match today when he said that none of the January signings made their mark. This was after much talking-up at the time of wisdom being shown by the Methven consortium management team whom we were lead to believe were highly experienced and who would somehow lead us quickly towards a winning side and a nucleus for next season. Macauley Bonne? Matt Penney? Todd Kane? Someone Kilkenny? At least they were all signed on short deals. As things stand, the same super-team (Methven, Rodwell, Scott etc) are back knocking on the door trying to get control of the club. 

Whatever happens between now and 30th July, for once fans may be more interested in who leaves the club than who joins. Retaining too many of those currently deemed 'not good enough' and we will only dilute those coming in. This will be Dean Holden's biggest managerial test thus far. 

Thursday 4 May 2023

Storrie's whopper.

After weeks of silence from the owner, today we were treated to six minutes of waffle from the supposed Chief Executive, Peter Storrie, who thought he could tell us a whopping porkie and get away with it.

You have to assume Storrie's piece to camera was on Sandgaard's say-so even if he was theoretically Mark Spiegel's man on the ground for the duration of his takeover with a possible role post that. Interesting then that he told us not to believe everything we read in the papers and that Sandgaard and Spiegel continue to work on a deal. If that was strangely reassuring in the circumstances of the least week, he then blew it by trying to tell us, in all seriousness, that the budget for next season has been increased and that all interested parties have somehow committed to it!

What planet is this bloke on? Sandgaard has been hellbent on Project Breakeven for 18 months. He has spent nothing on players during that period and has been cutting costs where he can. He has even sought to insulate himself  against bidder failures (deposits) and has had them contributing to the running of the club whilst doing due diligence. That's why we got the Methven appointments who cut the budget during the January window and now Storrie under Spiegel. The idea that Sandgaard would fund a budget increase with a Top 6 finish in mind if he is still carry the losses is for the birds.

Assuming Sandgaard manages to ditch us soon (perhaps he is closer than it appears), how on earth would the new owners, whoever they are, be obliged to stick with someone else's committed budget? That sounds like a desperate, hurried and poorly thought through attempt at trying to convince 600,000 Charlton fans that everything is suddenly ok and there is no need to worry about anything when the exact opposite is very evidently the case.

Any credibility Storrie may have had with anyone must now be gone. He was only ever a stop-gap and I had assumed he had gone since Spiegel hit a roadblock last Friday. Whatever happens, how can anyone believe anything he says from here on?

Monday 1 May 2023

Charlton takeover moves into farce territory.

News on Friday that Mark Spiegel's planned takeover of Charlton Athletic had hit "a road block" followed sight of his sales prospective for the club seeking additional funding and a desperate reassertion only the day before that he had all the money to acquire the club and run it for two years. The game was clearly up for Spiegel and he now looks like a busted flush despite Sandgaard claiming the respective negotiating teams were still hard at it trying to close a deal. 

Thomas Sandgaard may have insulated himself against the ongoing club losses during the last four or five months by passing some or all of that onto the prospective consortiums of 'Methven' and now Spiegel. He was also believed to have kept a chunky deposit from Methven's group, recovery of which they claimed they were pursuing through the courts in addition to the lost opportunity etc claiming Sandgaard had defaulted over their exclusivity arrangement. 

The 'Methven' consortium have wasted no time in putting word out through a few stooges that one of their reputed backers, Josh Friedman, is back at the table with an enhanced bid that looks very similar to the last one but now for 100% of the club and not 90% as before. Subtly, Friedman is being named now and Methven's name has disappeared. It could well be that Methven has been dropped for failing to complete the deal, but my money is on his continuing involvement but now behind the scenes given what a horlicks he made of the deal first time around and just how toxic he has become to Charlton fans.

Since Friday, most of the debate as usual has been around how much money Friedman is worth. Does he have more than Sandgaard and Spiegel? Is he a true billionaire etc? What we should be focusing on however, is the simple fact that Methven would have us believe he was one of three billionaires (then two) behind their original bid. A bid that stalled over finances at the end of their exclusivity window. A bid that a sales prospective was touting for $75k investors and one which tried to apply fan pressure on Sandgaard claiming he was leveraging them at the death for another 2% stake. When it all fell apart it was confirmed that Sandgaard's stake was only to be 10% (not 18% or 20% as rumoured) and that the snake-oil salesman, Methven, was himself in for a minor holding, just like he obtained when he wormed his way in at Sunderland.

Methven's claims of legal action were ignored by Sandgaard who asserted he was clear on grounds under their contract to terminate. Now we are lead to believe Friedman is back offering to match Spiegel's bid. A billionaire who still has no intention of acquiring the assets and one whose plan is still to run the club on a shoestring. It really doesn't add up does it? He's not a Charlton fan. He is a wealthy man but one who it would appear has no real appetite to invest to accumulate. Why would he be involved if the plan was a rapid and severe cost-cutting exercise, just to slash the operating losses and then sell the club on before the full consequences of the cost-cutting became evident? 

The fact that his due diligence was completed and that a management team had been appointed (and then dropped bar Holden) is being held up by some as a good sign, but surely not? Why would we want to revisit a team whose intentions were so short-term, didn't have the finances to complete the original deal and whose collective behaviour was so obviously around protecting their investment at the expense of the club when things went belly-up?

We really need better prospective owners but Sandgaard will be desperate to avoid being back on the hook for the losses so expect him to do whatever deal he can now in order to get out. 

In the meantime, once again, the club has become a laughing stock and the ongoing archetypal model of a poorly run football club at the mercy of short-term gain pirates and cut-throats. We need to keep our expectations low about the Summer squad rebuild and our prospects consequently for next season. 

On a brighter note, I was pleased to see Jes Rak-Sakyi get the Player of the Year award yesterday. I had been backing George Dobson all the way but Rak-Sakyi finished the season in barn-storming style and his 15 goals and 8 assists have made him a deserved winner. A more impressive loanee than even Conor Gallagher to my mind. His loss alone will be a massive gap for us to fill as things stand, let alone thoughts and ambitions of a major rebuild. It's all so sad.