Monday, 22 January 2018

Two things Roland

After a rare weekend of relative satisfaction on the Charlton-supporting front - Richard Murray shared what he could in terms of the takeover as well as likely activity during the January transfer window and we won again at home - there are two points that I am left reflecting on and Roland Duchatelet would do well to consider more seriously than he may be appear to be doing.

1. Chances of Promotion

Richard Murray stated the bleedin' obvious in that the club would be worth more in the Championship than as a League One side. This was trotted out as part of the discussion about timing of a sale and, possibly, in response to a question about his commitment to the success of the side during a sale - maybe both. We aren't party to a transcript of the conservation but both topics were covered and Richard made this point. The inference was that Roland may choose to wait three months post-January to see if he can command a Championship price for the club. There was an apparent contradiction in a related point Murray made and that was that Roland doesn't want to be holding the baby come August when he will head into another season of operating losses (c £7m) which effectively increases the price Roland needs to break even and would lower the value of the club to any sane buyer.

The point about Duchatelet's commitment to the success of the side during a sale was clearly around his refusal thus far to sanction any significant strengthening of the side following Holmes sale and the decision to take cash instead of a part-exchange for Carruthers. Richard tried to convince us that he believes Roland will support incoming player deals if Richard pushes the point but I think he failed in convincing his audience at large that there is any realistic chance of this beyond robbing Peter to pay Paul.

That leaves the irony of a man clinging to the prospect of potentially maximising his sale of the club by millions based on a possible play-off promotion but refusing to spend a smaller part of what he might recoup this month to help achieve it. I am reminded of the person who would love to win the lottery but never buys a ticket.

2. Sale Price of the Club

This wasn't covered in the summary and it may be that the Trust knew it was probably pointless asking it, given confidentiality and ongoing negotiations. However, the figure of £55m has been rumoured by more than one party supposedly in the know and the sum fits closely with the idea that Roland's game plan has always been to pile the running costs of the club onto the existing debt and to recover that as a minimum sale price. 

Any notion of the club being worth treble what he paid for it (including debt) given his disastrous period of ownership is laughable. The club has been reduced from a stable Championship side to a League One outfit and the relationship with it's supporters is at a historic low-point with season tickets at giveaway prices and merchandising, hospitality and advertising revenues stunted. Personally, I can't see any reason why it would be worth any more than he paid for it (£18m?) and the hot rumour is no-one will pay much more than half of Duchatelet's asking price in any event.

Richard Murray made the point well that an interested investor will have to have funds to cover two years losses (£14m) but that they will typically have a five year plan to make the purchase a success and that short-term timescales, like missing a transfer window, aren't serious concerns on that timeline. Similarly, if a price cannot be agreed and Roland holds on to determine which division we will be playing in next season, the tide will turn from a Sellers to a Buyers market if we aren't promoted.

There is also a debate about Duchatelet constructing a sale whereby he gets what he wants for the club but over a period of time as and when the debt can be repaid based upon the idea that we become very successful and reach the PL. Why would any buyer agree to share their possible future success with Roland? He wouldn't construct a deal to underwrite future losses so why would anyone give him money in future over and above what the club was worth at the point of sale?

In summary, I see very little chance that the side will be strengthened during January and that we will be overtaken by at least one other club to finish just outside the play-off positions. Duchatelet will have to face the dilemma of either trying to grow the value of the club himself buy actually running it properly and investing heavily or having to take the best price he can get for the club. He clearly isn't interested in the first option so sadly for him, that is likely to result in a significant and humiliating loss for him which, frankly, is the only to be expected given the way this club has been run for four years under Duchatelet (and Meire). 

Using the house-buying analogy we all love, when you have your house valued and all the estimates are close, it's pretty pointless trying to flog it for twice what it's worth. Not even I believe Duchatelet is thick enough not to have to see logic and cut a deal.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Charlton Athletic 3 v Walsall 1

After a horrendous December and hangover start to the year, Charlton Athletic recorded their third successive league victory with a 3-1 win over Walsall which keeps them in 6th place and has closed the gap on the three sides above them. Rotherham and Portsmouth continue to breathe down our neck but 6th today looked unlikely after Gillingham beat us at the Valley on New Years Day.

In front of a laughable official attendance of over 10,000, Charlton took a first-half lead through Joe Aribo, who now appears to have found his eye for goal, which will bring the sharks closer to our tank. Walsall duly equalised through former Academy youngster Erhan Oztumer and after that it was a game of who could score next. Walsall continued to create chances but it was the Addicks who looked more like scoring next. Mavididi had already struck the bar when Magennis headed onto a post. The winner came through a Roberts own-goal and Mavididi got his second for Charlton at the death to wrap things up. Tarique Fosu made a telling substitute appearance which raises hope of more goals in the coming weeks than we have been able to muster in his absence.

The next three games will present more of a challenge than the last three, with away trips to Blackpool and Wimbledon but we have a very winnable home game against Oxford United in between. Six points from those should see us maintain sixth place but I think that might be a tall order.

Away from the football, Richard Murray took time out to respond to some questions from the Charlton Athletic Supporters' Trust leadership. The summary of the conversation here matched what the club have put out (not that they didn't trust the Trust of course) and whilst many are disappointed, I have to say Murray has certainly given us more than I expected. Confirmation of two firm bids and a view on the timeline is helpful and whilst it's only his view at the moment, I do think it gives us a position and some expectations and he will know more any of us even if he isn't a confidante of Duchatelet. His best view of a February sale fits with the decision not to backfill the Chief Exec or Finance Director and Duchatelet's actions thus far in the transfer window, although he was at pains to make it clear that this was only his opinion. You or I might be forgiven for having reached the conclusion that the deal would have been this month for the same rationale. The elephant in the room was any detail or speculation on the price Duchatelet is rumoured to be asking for the club and the huge gap to any firm offers. I didn't expect Murray to comment on that but I had hoped it would be asked (even if he was obviously going to claim no knowledge) and it does give him an out downstream if the club isn't sold although logic screams that Duchatelet's best time to sell is now however much less he is being offered than he has lost on his ownership.

Less convincing for me is his response to minimising the loss of players in the January window. In typical Uncle Richard style, he tries to reassure us that he would call Roland out "forcibly" on the need for key replacements and that his chances of convincing him to spend were "good." That ignores the very obvious fact that this wasn't the result over Carruthers when Holmes was flogged cheaply to the Blades. He also reinforces that point by justifying Holmes' sale by saying that we have lots of midfielders and need a striker to "help Magennis."

So, we stagger on hoping for the best. Good takeover news aside, we probably ought to concentrate on the next three league and see if we can maintain a very unlikely looking play-off place. If Duchatelet doesn't sell before the season ends, I think we will see the season ticket numbers step down significantly once again and real gates next season drop below 5,000 which would see our new-low historic status under Duchatelet cemented and turn us into a proper middle-of-the-road League One club as an epitaph to his disastrous reign. 'Competitive in League One with a constant fear of relegation.'

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Murray to speak to CAST and Everton interested in Alex Willis

News from CARD today that they have called off Saturday's pre-match protest given Richard Murray's decision to answer questions from the leadership of the Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust (CAST). The news will also alleviate concerns of those over-sensitive Charlton fans who thought that a protest might somehow put off prospective buyers or that it might infuriate Roland Duchatelet to the extent that he continues to torture us even more than he has managed to do so far.

Richard Murray will be pleased but he will also know that he is going to have to put-up on Saturday because if we are none the wiser come Saturday night, the less sensitive Charlton fans among us are going to be rightly hacked-off and CARD are likely to up the ante.

On Tuesday night at the F A Youth Cup match, we spotted a bloke in an Everton coat watching the game from behind the visitors goal. He changed ends with us at half-time. News today that Everton may now be interested in taking youth scoring sensation Alex Willis when they conclude their deal for Esri Konsa. Damian Matthew is clearly earning his corn scouting for Everton in the south of England although you would think he might be getting out and about rather than just giving them an increasingly long list of Charlton targets. 

Roland Duchatelet resisted the temptation to sell Ademola Lookman to Everton too early and was rewarded six months later after he broke into the first team and began scoring when Everton were forced to pay £11m for him. Ordinarily you would expect him to reject any deal for Willis at this early stage in his career but if he's confident of selling the club anytime soon, he may just decide he's another asset to be sold at any price, like Ricky Holmes.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Charlton U18 3 v Reading U18 4 (aet)

I saw my first competitive Charlton match of the season last night as our under-18's took on Reading's Grade 1 Academy side in the F A Youth Cup at Welling United's Park View Road.

It was a bitterly cold night but that didn't stop a fast, feisty and, at times, physical encounter between two well-matched sides. I have been to a number of these bigger youth games over the years and normally the latter stages of cup competitions. From memory we have always run our more illustrious opponents very close but been pipped at the post and last night we were certainly pipped at the post and have done more than run them close.

Reading were a big, upright side who tried to control the match from the outset but Charlton wouldn't let them settle and they were rewarded with the opening goal. Attacking the Park View Road end, Sarong-Wiredu (my stand-out player) picked up a loose ball on the half-way line and raced forward towing Reading players in his wake, he played a superb pass into the path of Jordan Zemura who was brought down in the box for a very predictable penalty - Albie Morgan smashing the spot-kick in. Charlton could have gone two-up but the Reading keeper did brilliantly well to keep the busy Jeremy Sarmiento out following good wide play from Alfie Doughty.

Reading looked dangerous when they got forward but Charlton kept them largely at bay until added time at the end of the first-half when another quick break sent their man through and he beat Ed Harvey with a powerful, low shot.

After the break I was expecting Reading to take more control and that we would see the bigger lad's strength begin to tell. However, Charlton kept up their running and pressing and they forced a couple of corners in quick succession. The first was well placed for the in rushing Willis whose thumping header was superbly clawed out by the Reading stopper for another corner. The Addicks capitalised when another excellent delivery was met by Nwosu and this time the Reading keeper couldn't stop the Addicks from going 2-1 up. 

Charlton were rampant now and the Reading keeper saved again minutes later from another effort but he couldn't stop Willis from notching his 500th (five hundred) Charlton goal (over 11 years) after another delivery was knocked down in the box into his path. 3-1 and the Charlton celebrations looked fate-tempting and a tad premature. Sure enough we conceded within a matter of minutes as Reading headed home a deep cross and at 3-2 we were suddenly looking over our shoulders. Some last-ditch defending got us to the four minutes of added time and with that running out a Royals player was forced out wide by three covering red shirts. However, when he turned back inside, he caught all three out and was able to evade another challenge before slamming in the equaliser. This time it was Reading over-celebrating and it turned the result.

There had been a number of heavy tackles and bookings during the match but tempers were lost in the last seconds as a Reading player was chopped down by Birch and things boiled over. The on-field melee was mirrored in the main stand by what looked like squad players squaring up to one another. Birch was red-carded and my travelling companions reminded me at this stage that they had an early tee-off time the following morning so we decided to pack it in. I, of course, was very disappointed to be leaving the frost-bite behind as we raced for the warmth of my panzer.

Once back in SE7 we got confirmation that Reading did indeed get an extra-time winner and that both sides finished with nine men as the tackles continued to stick, although even then we had chances to have squared things. 

All-in-all another sparkling youth performance which reflects so well on our set-up and bodes well for a post-Duchatelet era.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

CARD calls on Murray to speak to the fans

As expected, CARD have issued a statement today calling on the club's day-to-day leader, Richard Murray, to end all the speculation about the future of the club and address supporters before Saturday's home match against mighty Walsall. The statement, below, speaks for itself but it's high time we heard from the horse's mouth about the ongoing failure to strengthen the side, the exodus of our best players and the laughable number of rumours of what's happening in terms of sale of the club.

A CARD spokesperson said: “We need to hear from Richard Murray about the club’s immediate future. He said four years ago when Duchatelet took over that he would be responsible for the relationship with the fans and that he would speak on behalf of the board when appropriate. We feel it is only fair that we should give him the opportunity to do so. At the weekend manager Karl Robinson promised a takeover update this week, but there was nothing new about that in Murray’s latest comments."
“Holmes has gone and Konsa is likely to follow. We don’t expect Duchatelet to put in extra funds this month, but it can’t be right that the squad is weakened with no guarantee of a takeover. It makes no sense even in terms of getting the best price for the club, because he is making Robinson’s job of securing promotion more and more difficult."
”We want a guarantee that if Konsa goes without a takeover then a significant part of the fee will be made available to Robinson to strengthen the team. We also want a timeline for takeover negotiations with clarity about whether a deal is possible or likely before the end of January. We urge all concerned fans to come and hear what Murray has to say."
The spokesperson went on: “We have not staged any protests this season because we have been aware of takeover moves and did not want to do anything that might have affected a possible promotion push. The club has now damaged that prospect itself, so we are giving notice that the period of truce is over. We will not be organising anything inside the stadium on Saturday, but the gloves are coming off. Unless the situation is resolved, this is likely to be the start of an escalating series of lawful protests, both at The Valley and in Belgium. It’s now up to Murray to explain why that shouldn’t be the case.”

It's simply not good enough to use secrecy of takeover talks for not explaining anything to supporters about what's going on at the club when we can see the damage being done in front of eyes. We don't need to know names or terms, but an indication about timescales and a proper statement re intent for this season is the least we should expect. Duchatelet himself mentioned our promotion push in his last utterance in December when talking about Meire's escape and it was only then that he finally acknowledged ongoing takeover talks.

The club has become an absolute shambles during the last three years and we are now a national laughing stock. The flogging of our best players at a time when we are within realistic grasp of a play-off spot is criminal and an indictment on Duchatelet. All that guff for years about if we are competing in January. Yes he's selling but there is a link to what he takes out of the club and what someone is prepared to pay for it. To use his old family analogy, it's akin to Dad smashing up the family home before he deserts the children.

As usual there are far more questions than answers and we only have Richard Murray as the link (currently the missing link). Let's hope he gets up on his hind quarters on Saturday and tells the club's remaining supporters what on earth is going on.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Holmes flogged, Konsa next

Confirmation as anticipated today that Ricky Holmes has been sold to Sheffield United. Ricky has acknowledged some of the criticism aimed at him in leaving as expected by talking about the clubs having agreed a fee and him having a decision to make but it's a promotion and whilst he would love to have done that with Charlton he has finally realised there's no chance etc.

As far as the Holmes deal goes, I made a big error of judgement the other day but saying I didn't understand all the commentators saying Holmes is overrated, can't cross, is greedy and so forth. There was I defending his technical abilities, superb goals, eager running and assists, only to find out today that he's really just a £400k League One midfielder at the end of his career. You learn something everyday.

Next asset under the hammer is Esra Konsa. The much speculated move to Everton, in the footsteps of his buddy Ademola, will happen in the next week or so but no rush because he won't be called on by the Toffees for some time yet. However, he is likely to go for ten times what Roland raked in for Ricky, and that will all drop into the Belgian's bin. "Lovely-jubbly" we say here Roly.

The good news for Karl is that he will be be allowed to use the wages (or part of them I am guessing) to fund another stop-gap has-been as we bid to win promotion.

Meanwhile, all eyes and ears are on Richard Murray as we await a takeover update from the de facto-Chief Executive. Never has the link between the supporters and the Owner been in more of a position of power and expectancy. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Bury 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Mark Marshall was there to tap in a winner after good work from Aribo to draw the defence for the cut-back. It was probably what Charlton deserved given several better first-half chances which saw Magennis miss twice and the post struck from a near own-goal. 

Bury looked every inch the worst side in the division but the points move Charlton back into play-off contention in sixth place. With Walsall to visit the Valley next Saturday, Karl Robinson will be hoping to be able to field a full bench which he couldn't manage today. That will likely mean we need another couple to return from injury.

The mood around today's match is very much one of anger and resentment, largely aimed at Roland Duchatelet as it becomes increasingly clear that he is asset-stripping either ahead of an imminent sale, or because now is the time in the January window. Ricky Holmes should be confirmed a Sheffield United player and the only possible glimmer of light from that deal would be if United give us long-term Robinson target Samir Carruthers in return. That doesn't help line Duchatelet's pockets but given the relatively small size of any transfer fee, he might decide to swallow that one and hold out to cream off the £4m expected for Esra Konsa.

Fans are calling for action and some sort of statement is expected from CARD in the coming days. The club is looking even more of a laughing stock than it has so far managed under the disinterested Belgian and there is a massive silence from anyone other than the manager (unlike Richard Murray not to take his opportunity), who is clearly venting his spleen at every opportunity - this evening's press conference at Bury will give him another chance to let rip. He's not exactly a unanimous favourite in SE7 but most appear to be enjoying his tirades aimed at the "bastard/idiot."

Next week promises to be a long one for all involved in the Duchatelet Saga.