Such is the extent of the gap between Charlton Athletic and safety following Tuesday’s goalless draw with MK Dons, only those in denial are yet to accept that the Addicks face a return to League One.
With effectively eight points to make up on the Dons over the course of ten games, five of the top six still to play, and a group of players lacking quality, cohesion and commitment, there is more chance of this blog’s name being changed to Karel Fraeye’s Glasses than there is Charlton avoiding relegation.
Useful, then, that Roland Duchatelet admitted a month ago that there is no plan in place for what was already an inevitable relegation. A club in crisis, and disconnecting itself from supporters more and more with each passing minute, blindly falling through the trap door. Grim.
So I’ve given Duchatelet, probably too busy counting the interest payments Charlton have made on his loans to the club, a helping hand. Providing some assistance on how the return to the third tier should be dealt with.
Not that the Belgian, stubborn and ignorant, would listen to anything a supporter has to say. Regardless of not having a plan, he’ll have his own disastrous ideas about how League One should be attacked.
What’s needed – Sell the club
Quite a simple one, really. Admit you’ve turned a community asset and football club with a grand history built on the strength of its supporters into a flawed experiment for your own bizarre pleasure and personal gain, apologise for all the detachment, insult and pain caused, and sell the club before it becomes unsaveable.
Duchatelet has, rather ironically, argued that selling the club would simply create more instability, but there is no reasonable argument to suggest this regime should remain in control of the club. They’ve had far too many chances to address a horrendous recruitment policy, move away from the appointment of head coaches on the basis of their willingness to abide by the flawed strategy, and improve results.
So too does the damage done off-the-pitch make Duchatelet’s era unsalvageable. The detachment, mistreatment of supporters and committed staff, and horrendous overall running of the club only made by worse this week by the yearly accounts revealing that the Belgian’s apparent investment, most of it misguided, is actually burdening the club with debt.
Then there’s the lack of communication, the broken promises and the lies. All part of a disease that is destroying this club.
And it’s not as if protesting supporters, as can often be the case in similar situations at other clubs, are simply demanding change without knowing where it will come from. A chat with Peter Varney and his consortium could move the club into safer hands.
What Duchatelet will do – Continue to treat the club as his toy
Results are almost irrelevant to Duchatelet, and so too do you fear dropping down a division won’t have the impact on his stubborn, ignorant and selfish beliefs that it should.
He’ll blindly ignore the damage he’s caused, the feelings of supporters, and the approach from Varney in order to continue implementing his poisonous philosophy upon his expensive play thing.
The failings will continue, as he continues to exploit the club, supporters will feel an even greater sense of detachment, and another relegation battle in a near-empty Valley will follow.
At the very least, there’s a danger he’ll asset strip before even considering a sale. Evidence for that existing at both Standard Liege and STVV.
Selling players is one thing, but altering The Valley, a ground Charlton supporters fought so hard to make theirs again, in a way for his own personal gain would be the final nail in the club’s coffin.
What’s needed – Appoint a CEO who, at the very least, understands the importance of football supporters
With Duchatelet absent, it is Katrien Meire that has inflicted most of the direct damage on both Charlton and its supporters. Her position completely untenable, and has been for months.
Seemingly the overseer of the horrendous recruitment policy, supportive of head coaches before dismissing them the very next day (always the right decision dontchaknow), and constantly insulting the intelligence and commitment of supporters. Her “weird customers” comments merely the tip of a rather large iceberg.
Oh, and then there’s that bloody sofa, the sex on the pitch stunt, and her belief that only 2% of supporters are unhappy. Throw in some lies, couple of unfulfilled promises, and a total disregard of the club’s history, and we’ve got ourselves an incompetent CEO.
In fact, she should not have been appointed in the first place. A young lawyer without any footballing knowledge or experience, she is yet another figure under the Duchatelet recruited for her willingness to abide by the party line and not because of her suitability for the job.
She has to go.
What Duchatelet will do – Continue to support Katrien Meire
Unfortunately, the only person happy with the job Meire is doing is the one that matters most. Duchatelet is a huge fan.
“She is a fantastic woman, extremely dedicated. She has done extremely good work so far in all sorts of things. I’m very happy with it.”
So she’ll still be here, inflicting more insults on supporters and woe on the club.
What’s needed – Make reconnecting with disillusioned supporters the priority, not just finding new ones
Attracting new supporters is something every club must do. Handing out free tickets to schools, lowering prices for certain games and tempting people to make use of hospitality facilities is common sense.
In fact, even this idea of attempting to improve the “matchday experience” isn’t so bad in a certain context. Under normal circumstances, the more coming through The Valley’s door, the better.
But under Duchatelet’s reign, the focus on attracting a match going customer, without the same connection and emotions as supporters, feels like an insult.
At the very least, attracting new supporters seems more important to the current regime than healing wounds with current and long-serving fans.
There needs to be a very obvious attempt to reconnect with disillusioned and disconnected supporters over the summer. Not only in order to address some of the damage done by this regime, but in order to make sure there is a stream of new Charlton supporters. Stories of young Addicks telling their parents they don’t want to go to The Valley anymore are posted online after each game.
Admitting you’ve got it all horribly wrong and selling the club would probably do the trick. Especially as any attempt by Duchatelet to build a bond with supporters would be treated cynically, and rightfully so.
What Duchatelet will do – Continue to view supporters as something of a problem
It’s pretty obvious that Duchatelet’s regime, especially its CEO, hates supporters. We’re weird, we’re making the problems worse, and we should be grateful for what we have.
Instead of building bridges, they’ll probably build more barriers outside the West Stand. That the physical depiction of the current gap between the club and its supporters.
And given their stubbornness and ignorance, it’s unlikely either the physical or mental barriers will come down. They’ll continue to believe they’re right, and we’re completely wrong.
After all, our protests are funny, aren’t they?
What’s needed – Appoint a manager, whether experienced or not, with knowledge of League One
In fairness to Jose Riga, his relationship with Charlton supporters isn’t as poor as the other head coaches that have been appointed under Duchatelet’s reign. His efforts to help the club avoid relegation in 2013/14 earning him a certain amount of respect, and his name has frequently been sung since his return to SE7.
But there is no denying that Riga is as much a part of the problem as any of his predecessors. Being the best of a bad bunch is no compliment, and provides no solace, in this current situation.
For Riga’s role, regardless of what he might say, is primarily to fulfil the needs of Duchatelet’s ideology. Accept the players he’s been handed, and not fight against the regime’s poisonous ways.
And the argument that Riga is a quality coach is becoming weaker and weaker. His decision making during the draw with MK Dons on Tuesday was dreadful, his inability to address Charlton’s structural and defensive problems isn’t good enough, and his excuses are becoming more desperate. The impact of the squad and support staff he had last time becoming more obvious.
As such, a different direction is needed. A manager, not a head coach, needs to be appointed who has experience of the Football League, and can build a committed and quality squad of his own.
There’s one I can candidate I can think of who is currently unemployed, knows the club inside out, and has got a side promoted from League One before. Wears a flat cap. Name escapes me.
What Duchatelet will do – Replace Riga in October with someone from within the network
As Riga walks down The Valley’s tunnel to a chorus of boos from the Covered End following Charlton’s 5-0 defeat to Northampton Town in October, Roland Duchatelet finally gives in.
Riga had been doing his job, not fighting over any sales and picking a side primarily based around what’s been left in the academy, but even the Belgian owner, like he did eventually with Fraeye, has realised he needs to make a change.
But it’s really just a change for the sake of change. Out goes one chap with heavy connections to the network, and in comes another one. Nebojsa Vignjevic, who Duchatelet wanted to bring in in January, arrives from Ujpest.
He gets a couple of wins in November, against Doncaster and Peterborough, and fools supporters into believing he’s actually the right man for the job, before a 14-game winless run follows.
What’s needed – Cash in on those that will lack motivation to play in the third tier
Whether it’s Duchatelet, Varney’s group, or that bloke in the second row of the North Upper who does a lot of shouting that’s in control of the club, there will have to be major sales in the summer. Regardless of anything else, the loss of revenue that relegation brings makes it unavoidable.
But it can be done in a manner that could potentially be constructive. Cash in on those who won’t be motivated to perform at League One level in order to protect the club, the future of those who will remain committed, and allow for some sort of investment in the squad.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be playing at EURO 2016 this summer. Igor Vetokele, despite his injury record, should not be playing in the third tier of English football. Patrick Bauer an excellent centre-back, and a player that took to the Championship quicker than most of Duchatelet’s signings. I’d love all three to stay, but they will command reasonable sums, and are unlikely to have the motivation for Bury away on a Tuesday night.
Then there’s the likes of Zakarya Bergdich, Reza Ghoochannejhad and El-Hadji Ba, whose commitment and quality is questionable at the moment. If you can find someone silly enough to want Naby Sarr, then there’s another to get rid of.
Finally, there isn’t really anyone at the club currently on a short-term deal I’d be excited about keeping. Marco Motta has looked decent enough, but he won’t stay, Rod Fanni and Yun Suk-Young haven’t impressed, and the option to buy Simon Makienok won’t be taken up. Hopefully there’s a release clause in Roger Johnson’s contract, too.
That leaves you with a small group of players as a foundation, most of who should perform at League One level and commitment to the club is unquestionable. Building around Stephen Henderson, Chris Solly, Jordan Cousins, Callum Harriott, Johnnie Jackson and Ademola Lookman in League will give us half a chance.
I’d much rather keep those of characters, and lose players, such as Gudmundsson, who are arguably of greater quality but are unlikely to be up for the battle in the third tier.
What Duchatelet will do – Cash in, cash in, cash in, and not reinvest properly
What with Duchatelet being more interested in claiming back his £36m loan and making a bit of profit on top of that than the success of the Addicks, it’s unlikely the summer sales will be as wise and calculated if he remains in control of the club.
Anyone who can fetch a few quid, whether it be a committed player or not, will be moved on. Those that won’t cost a great deal to retain, regardless of how effective they’ll be in the third tier, will be kept on.
And once Cousins, Henderson and Lookman have joined everyone else in leaving the club, the owner isn’t going to reinvest that money properly. They’ll be replaced with cheap recruits, players not quite ready for first team football from the academy, and Sarr.
A battle to remain in League One awaits.
What’s needed – Use the 2011/12 recruitment and squad building strategy for inspiration
It’s quite obvious that there’s going to be yet another summer of heavy turnover of staff and players at The Valley, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing if it’s done in the right way.
Chris Powell’s League One title winning squad was put together almost from scratch after dismantling a weak group that simply wasn’t good enough, and immediately clicked.
It did so not only because of Powell’s man management ability, but also because he recruited similar characters that he knew he would be able to gel together into a structured unit. Young players from other League One clubs looking to develop, players that had maybe had something of a set back in their career and wanted to prove themselves, and a handful of experienced heads to help blend it all together.
It’s what Wolves did a few seasons ago, and Wigan have done during this campaign. Strip the squad of those not willing to give their all, and build a cohesive unit with committed and hungry players.
What Duchatelet will do – Ignore the talent in the lower leagues and rely on unmotivated players scouted from Europe
Not only would such a recruitment strategy mean Duchatelet would have to give more power to a head coach, but it wouldn’t be cost effective for him.
Especially with the club at a lower level, he’d much rather make use of cheaper options from within his scouting network, and the network itself.
Players without knowledge or experience of League One, with no real desire to play for Charlton, forced upon whoever leads from the dugout. Like getting a random set of Lego bricks without any instructions, and being told to build an exact replica of The Valley.
As long as it saves Duchatelet a bit of cash, and contributes to his overall philosophy, however, who cares if it almost guarantees more on-the-pitch failure?
What’s needed – Continue to invest in the academy, but do so in a wiser manner
One of the most depressing moments this season was when Morgan Fox was serenaded off the pitch during the defeat to Bristol City with a chorus of boos.
Not only because it broadcast the anger and frustration that exists among Charlton supporters, but also because it showed the extent to which Duchatelet’s regime is damaging an academy structure that the club are so keen to promote as perfect.
For Fox is one of many players forced into the first team this season despite not being quite ready to make the step up. Given the over reliance on him at left-back, with no one really available to replace him, he has been overwhelmed by the situation, and therefore suffered, more than the likes of Karlan Ahearne-Grant, Harry Lennon and Mikhail Kennedy.
Though the academy is obviously still a huge success, with the list of players coming through it endless, continuing an over reliance on it will damage the club, the players within the youth structure, and the academy itself.
There should obviously be a continued investment and focus on the academy, but players need to be promoted in a much more sensible manner. Even in League One, refusing to invest elsewhere in favour of utilising academy graduates is a dangerous game.
What Duchatelet will do – Once again overwhelm young players who aren’t ready for first team football
Another bleak moment this season was when Fox wore the armband during the defeat to Colchester. Though I am a defender of the left-back, that he was forced to take on the duties of captain shows just how weak our squad is and remains, and how much unnecessary pressure is being placed on the younger players because of it.
And should Duchatelet asset strip as you might expect over the summer, Fox wearing the armband again isn’t unlikely.
For the academy will again be used in a way that is damaging for all involved. The gaps in the squad filled by players that aren’t ready even for League One football, and those that impress will be sold as quickly as possible in order to fund Duchatelet’s little experiment.
A unique experience according to Meire. Unique in the sense that it lacks any sort of ambition, and is going to destroy not only the club, but an academy structure that excellent staff have worked so hard to make one of the best in the country.