Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The signs don't look good

It's been bleedin' obvious to any Valley regular this season that our squad is too thin and lacks quality in key areas - midfield and attack - to prosper in the Championship. The supporters have all been saying the same and Bob Peeters is on record for having made the asks although he was turned down by the Master of Chateau Duchatelet. 

Yes, we did get Tony Watt  and we have brought in a loan youngster from Spurs in the shape of Veljkovic but that is short of what's required. Another inexperienced young loanee has also turned up in the shape of central-defender Muohamaduo-Naby Sarr. The trouble is, we need an experienced target man and potent width. Oh, and we needed them three weeks ago.

Guy Luzon's command of English isn't great but he was clear on "two or three" coming in, and we have four working days around the weekend in which to do it. It does look like Roly is going to roll the dice this time and take a chance.

With attention turning to Saturday, opponents Rotherham United warmed up for the six pointer last night by doing what we have failed to do all season and scored four goals in a game by beating Bolton Wanderers 4-2. Four different scorers got on the sheet, three of whom were subbed before the end, presumably to milk the applause of a thumping performance which saw the Millers go four-up.

It promises to be a dramatic debut for the animated composer Luzon on Saturday.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Mouhamadou-Naby Sarr

News that we have signed Sporting Lisbon youngster, Mouhamadou-Naby Sarr on loan. The 6 foot 5 inch 19 year old is a highly rated French youth international, although I am struggling to see the obvious logic here.

Sarr has played a grand total of six league matches over the last couple of years, two for Lyon and four for Sporting. He cost Sporting a million euros but has a 45m euro release clause, according to Dr Kish, which puts him comfortably out of our budget. Is he really going to come straight into our side as a central defender? Perhaps Tal Ben Haim is getting his wish to leave sooner rather than later?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Remembering Rotherham United

I am looking forward to Saturday's match a little bit more than form would suggest I should be. Apart from this being a relegation six pointer and the Valley faithful's first chance to see Guy Luzon's touchline histrionics, I have some fond memories of the Millers.

When I say fond memories, of course, I am not talking about famous victories but rather of a couple I met on holiday thirty-five years ago and a couple of visits to Millmoor (and the Sheffield clubs) at that time in particular when they hosted us royally at the miner's working man's social club which they ran. In fact, our record against Rotherham in my viewing lifetime is, erm, poor. Considering they have traditionally performed in leagues below us, they have punched their weight whenever we have met them. Since the early seventies, it currently reads won 1, drawn 1 and lost 5.

I recall one showing in particular when they came to the Valley back in 1982 when we were under the stewardship of the hapless Ken Craggs. We had been promoted with Rotherham two seasons before and they were still holding on in the old second division (Championship). We had a tidy side at the time - Nicky Johns in goal, Elliott and Aizlewood in the back four, Harris, Mehmet, Bullivant and Robinson in the middle and Killer and Steve White up front. The trouble was, Rotherham had Ronnie Moore and Tony Towner.

We took the lead early on but the Millers equalised quickly through Moore and had gone two-one up before Steve White was sent off for two hot-headed yellows in quick succession. After that Rotherham sensed blood and poured forward for the whole of the second-half. Ronnie Moore caught all Addick eyes netting a hat-trick and created an impression that would result in the fans raising part of his transfer fee the following season. 

Tony Towner, an irresistible tumbling winger with a cracking shot, also scored that day as we went down 5-1. He was a former Millwall thorn-in-our-side who wasn't quite past it. Ken Craggs will also remember that game more than most - it was his last ever match in charge of a professional football team.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

Well, that was a pleasant and very unexpected surprise. Either the players were truly embarrassed by the "worst performance in recent history" last week at Watford and were determined to atone, or perhaps Guy Luzon has managed to instil a touch of New Boss syndrome. I sincerely hope it's the latter because there is an outside chance we might manage our first win in 13 next Saturday when lowly Rotherham visit the Valley.

Surprised to see network rookie Dmitrovic start in goal although he kept a clean sheet so I will keep my cynicism to myself (RD's network player policy). Etheridge might have conceded five at Watford but according to those who went, he kept five out as well. Morgan Fox was brought in at left-back, which plays to RD's "youth" theme and Johnnie Jackson made way for new loanee Veljkovic, who had a decent match alongside Buyens by all accounts. Upfront Harriott was preferred to Tony Watt, although Watt did replace him on seventy minutes. 

Scoring remains our real big issue. Six goals in the last twelve games tells it's own story. The fact that we have only managed to go two-up in a game for eight minutes all season might be as reflective of our hitherto defensive mindset but it goes hand-in-hand with low scoring. We have only managed to score more than two in a game once - the 3-2 defeat of Derby, the same match we managed to get a two goal cushion for eight minutes.

Apparently we defended well for the first-half with two banks of four and were a little more adventurous after the break with Hariott and Watt both testing Carl Ikeme in the home goal. The Valley crowd has been stoked a little by this Mr Luzon, so please do whatever you can try and that elusive win. I will wager that scoring three against the side fourth from bottom would guarantee it.

I can finish without commenting that I am very surprised to see Millwall end the contract of Scott McDonald. According to those I know who follow the Lions, he's the only forward they have capable of playing Championship football. Perhaps HMP Holloway is already preparing for next season. 


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Underwhelmed

Tomorrow is the 22nd January and we have signed Tony Watt from the Mothership and taken a 19 year old rookie from Spurs in the shape of Milos Veljkovic. Still no news on Guy Luzon's work permit and you really have to wonder what on earth is going on? I assume Guy Luzon has been instructed to stay away from the training ground to avoid compromising his visa application.

Internet rumours about comings and goings have become fairly reliable as testified by Watt and Veljkovic and pretty much everyone else for quite some time now. If rumours are to be believed, you have to wonder if we will end the January window with a smaller and weaker squad than when we went into it - hardly believable and reckless if that proves to be the case. Marc Antoine Fortune certainly won't move the needle much if he joins.

Bulot, Tucudean, Ben Haim and Buyens are all said to want away and Mr Luzon appears to be the motivation for at least two of them if nor more. If that comes to pass Luzon's appointment will look very much like one of least cost and convenience, especially given the haste with which he was given the job.



Monday, 19 January 2015

The plot thickens

Bob Peeters spoke about his sacking to a Belgian football website today. He was clearly surprised and disappointed having been given reassurances about his position just last week.

He acknowledged that recent results had been poor but tried to put some context around it by saying we were pretty much where we were expected to be by year-end and were in-step with his agreed pre-season targets with the Master of Chateau Duchatelet. The plan, apparently, was for a quiet season and a mid-table finish, having brought some younger players on. Probably realistic and not out-of-line with Roland's own initial statements about breaking even and developing youth players, although it's hardly a ticket-selling policy or the ambition you might expect from someone worth half-a-billion sovs.

Big Bob also appears to have said (it was in Flemish) that Duchatelet thought he was exaggerating about the need to strengthen the squad and that his relationship with Katrien Meire had deteriorated. That was pretty much my view as posted yesterday and I assume Katrien's changing relationship simply reflected what she was told by her boss. My guess is Guy Luzon won't get the funds required to ensure Championship safety in the window and we are going to have to soldier on.

The final nugget was that Bob blames an English back-room assistant for putting the knife in. That is probably the most revealing claim. Peeters is indignant that he was sacked because of something said by someone less senior, although he isn't out all guns blazing denying whatever he was supposedly accused of. I take this to be just the smoking gun from whatever dressing room shenanigans have gone on.

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?