If you haven’t already, the release of the Football League fixtures on Wednesday for the 2016/17 season will force you to come to terms with the fact Charlton Athletic will be playing in the third tier of English football.
While Charlton’s opponents from previous seasons will be planning trips to Newcastle United and Aston Villa, Bristol Rovers and Northampton Town will be on the agenda for the Addicks. It’s not exactly easy to get excited about a new season while Roland Duchatelet remains in control, and the perceived status of opposition isn’t going to help the cause.
But, if you clutch enough straws, there are at least a handful of fixtures which are appealing to some degree. Interesting opposition, new grounds and the occasional clash that offers a reasonable chance of victory.
So too, however, are there a number of games that appear particularly unpleasant. Far too many opportunities to play a Lancashire side in midweek, grim locations, and opposition we simply never beat.
Either way, it’s time to stop putting off accepting that Charlton are a League One club, and acclimatise to the unpleasant reality of the division that Duchatelet’s failings have placed the Addicks in. A reality that involves even the more noteworthy fixtures not actually being that exciting.
Games to look forward to (once straws have been clutched at)
AFC Wimbledon (h)
Given that we so regularly host promoted sides on the opening day of the season, it would not surprise if our first opponents are the Dons. A fixture which would prove ideal.
For it is unquestionable that there will be a considerable effort to make it clear to Duchatelet, Katrien Meire and Richard Murray that the damage caused and insults inflicted have not been forgotten over the summer months. Though some will want to view the start of the new campaign as a fresh start, a sizeable protest on the opening day of the campaign remains likely.
Having an understanding opposition, therefore, is useful. AFC Wimbledon supporters, possibly more than those of any other Football League club, appreciative of the importance of the bond between fans and club.
The Dons likely to sympathise with our situation, as we might with theirs as they continue to attempt to force a return to Plough Lane. Those in the away end when their club travel to SE7 only need look around them for inspiration and motivation.
And even without considering any potential protests, these are two sets of supporters, in a tribal sport, who should share a relatively strong bond. In one way or another, there will be a strong and enjoyable atmosphere.
The umpteen unvisited grounds
Many of them may be unpleasant, in hard to reach locations, and will host Charlton defeats, but the opportunity to visit new grounds a small upside to the return to League One.
Totting off league grounds a grown-up alternative to collecting Panini stickers, and while AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow and Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium are the only two venues the Addicks have not played a competitive game at before, there will be many that supporters have not previously visited.
I started last season with just three, Hull City’s KC Stadium, Bristol City’s Ashton Gate and Leeds United’s Elland Road, unvisited Championship arenas, but will go into this campaign in League One with ten new grounds to tick off.
The fixture list presenting us with trips to Boundary Park, Gigg Lane and Valley Parade on Saturdays in the first few months of the season, before the weather turns nasty and heading up north becomes a survival adventure, would be welcome.
Fleetwood Town on a Tuesday night (a)
Right, hear me out on this one.
Though there are slightly less midweek league fixtures in League One, something that’s often defeated by games postponed due to unplayable pitches and international call-ups, we’ll undoubtedly be sent to an uncomfortable ground in a difficult to reach location on a winter Tuesday.
Quite often, these are grim. The game at Huddersfield last season immediately springs to mind, with Johnnie Jackson arranging for supporters who were in the away end at the John Smith’s Stadium to be refunded after Karel Fraeye’s side suffered an embarrassing 5-0 defeat.
But so too can these games, with a few hundred committed Addicks in a horrible away end, make for unforgettable nights. Evening trips to Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan Athletic in recent seasons particularly enjoyable, while I remain gutted that I missed the trip to Elland Road in the 2013/14 season that saw Ben Hamer make a stoppage-time penalty save.
Spending a Tuesday evening in Fleetwood’s horrible-looking away terrace, therefore, could go one of two ways. A horrendous night, where one of the division’s smallest clubs inflict misery upon us, or marvellous, with a hundred Charlton supporters wildly celebrating a hard-fought victory.
Either way, there’s something about making a horrible journey to the second smallest ground in the division that excites a regular away traveller.
Peterborough United (a)
Though a much less exciting proposition since the fantastic terrace behind the goal was replaced by a bog-standard seated stand, with away supporters shoved into an uncomfortable corner of one of the side stands, recent trips to London Road have been great.
The 5-1 win, with Paul Benson and Lee Martin particularly impressive, a rare memorable day from the 2010/11 season, the Johnnie Jackson-admiring atmosphere in the aforementioned terrace during the 2-2 draw in 2013 was unforgettable, and even last season’s League Cup visit to Posh featured that special Ahmed Kashi goal.
I’ll settle for anything half as good as any of those.
Swindon Town without Charlie Austin (h)
Our last spell in League One, prior to Chris Powell’s side making it rather enjoyable, was marred by a Charlie Austin-inspired Swindon Town.
A scorer in the first-leg of the play-off semi-final defeat, involved in the game-changing moment which saw Miguel Llera dismissed and latterly converting a penalty in the second, and notching three times in the defeat which saw Phil Parkinson sacked during the following season. Austin, as he was for many teams, a nemesis of the Addicks.
Playing an Austin-less Swindon, therefore, will be a much more pleasant experience. A fixture that was one we simply couldn’t win for a couple of seasons suddenly becomes rather attractive.
Even the threat of Jon Obika, who possesses a decent record at this level and will undoubtedly find a way to join the long list of former players who have scored on their return to The Valley, will be nullified by Nicky Ajose potentially lining up in Charlton colours against his old club.
My own local derbies
Northern teams aplenty in this division, but so too are there a decent number of teams who are closer to my home in Milton Keynes than The Valley is.
MK Dons and Coventry City among them, but it’s the games against Northampton Town I’m looking forward to the most among these close encounters. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware that my support of Northamptonshire CCC is almost as committed as my following of Charlton, and that will make for an interesting personal derby.
For the sake of the state of my Twitter mentions, two wins are desperately needed against the Cobblers.
The FA Cup first round
A fixture that won’t be announced on Wednesday, but another benefit to being in the third tier is that the Addicks will enter The FA Cup at the first round. A stage where the ‘romance’ of the competition is arguably at its peak.
Unquestionably, we’ll be drawn at home to Oldham Athletic and the beauty of the first round will immediately be lost, but there is always the possibility of a trip to club who play below National League level. Who operate with as a ‘proper’ non-league club with a real community spirit, and will view a club like Charlton visiting as one of the most important days in their history.
Embarrassment will unquestionably follow, or the Northwich Victoria defeat will be replayed before hand at the very least, but there’s something special about those sort of fixtures.
Games to dread (or at least dread more than normal)
Sheffield United (a)
Two and a half years on, and I’m still waking up in cold sweats after Callum Harriott’s miss has appeared in mind.
I’m still not over Charlton’s FA Cup fifth round defeat to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in 2014, which denied me the opportunity to see the Addicks at Wembley, and proved to be Chris Powell’s final game in charge.
Consequently, I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared to return to the scene. Particularly not with the Blades led by Chris Wilder, who will undoubtedly be motivated to prove his decision to pick Sheffield over South East London was the correct one.
Bolton Wanderers (both)
Comparing ourselves to other teams is a dangerous game, but I imagine outsiders will see a story in which of last season’s crisis club is able to recover from their relegation more effectively. The financially bankrupt Bolton, or the morally bankrupt Charlton.
It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that the Addicks finish above the Trotters, and reasonable to demand victory in the games played against them. At the very least, finishing below a club that they finished ten points ahead of last season wouldn’t exactly be a mark of success for Duchatelet and co.
But fixtures against Bolton last season weren’t pleasant. Throwing away a two-goal lead at The Valley in December under the stewardship of Karel Fraeye grim, and the goalless draw at The Macron Stadium in April condemning Charlton to relegation.
If expectations and last season’s horrendous efforts don’t make this a fixture to dread, then Bolton’s new boss confirms games against the Trotters next season aren’t going to be much fun. Phil Parkinson, reasonably well respected by Addicks for his efforts at the club in difficult times, has built a decent reputation for himself while at Bradford, and will be looking to turn Bolton into promotion contenders despite the club still being a poor overall state.
Few were willing to admit it, but a healthy number of Charlton supporters were secretly hoping that Millwall won their play-off final against Barnsley in May.
For though their success would have been unbearable, as would having both of our South East London rivals in divisions above us, it would least save the embarrassment of winless fixtures against the Lions during this campaign.
Not since Matthew Spring gave the Addicks a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in 2009 has a rival been beaten, and the Lions are unbeaten against Charlton since 1995.
It’s probably best to simply accept we’re not beating Millwall again this season, and save additional disappointment.
The Northern away trip the week before Christmas
- 22/12/12 – Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Charlton Athletic
- 21/12/13 – Bolton Wanderers 1-1 Charlton Athletic
- 20/12/14 – Blackburn Rovers 2-0 Charlton Athletic
- 19/12/15 – Burnley 4-0 Charlton Athletic
For the previous four seasons, the Addicks have been sent up north on the weekend prior to Christmas. An unwelcome proposition, made an unbearable event by the embarrassing performances on three of those occasions.
And with so many opponents based above the Watford Gap in League One – Bury, Rochdale, and Oldham among them – it’s predictable that Charlton will once again be embarrassing themselves in a grim northern location prior to Christmas 2016.
The proposition alone is making me feel deeply, deeply upset.
A winter visit to Walsall (a)
Now, it must be known that I have absolutely nothing against Walsall. Their achievements last season, to reach the play-offs with minimal expenditure and constant changes in the dugout, were particularly commendable, and they’ve managed to earn a reputation for being clever recruiters and successfully developing players.
But the last time Charlton travelled to the Bescot Stadium in December 2011 was the coldest I have ever been inside a football ground. An absolutely horrible afternoon, that means I get a shiver each time I pass the ground on the way to northern away games.
The grim experience probably made worse by the Addicks being held to a 1-1 draw, with a late penalty shout for handball outrageously waved away by the referee.
I’ll be going to the Bescot Stadium this season with a hat, scarf, coat and gloves, even if we play there in August.
Southampton U21s (a)
While our fixtures in the competition that replaces the much loathed JPT won’t be announced on Wednesday, it doesn’t stop me dreading the day that Charlton’s first team play a competitive match against another club’s U21 side.
For, quite impressively, the Football League have managed to replace a loathed competition with something much, much worse. Introducing 16 U21 teams, at best an undermining of Football League sides and at worst the first steps towards ‘B’ teams in the league pyramid, and a group stage, providing further distraction from league campaigns, to the Football League Trophy is rather grim.
And though I’d like to promise I’ll boycott any game that Charlton play against an U21 side, my life is so uneventful that boredom will undoubtedly see me appear as Roger Johnson is embarrassed by a 19-year-old Southampton striker at St Mary’s.
There are direct and indirect positive impacts that Charlton Athletic’s relatively exciting triumvirate of soon to be confirmed, if not already, signings will have on the club.
The main direct impact, the one the trio Russell Slade looks set to add to the skeleton of a squad he has inherited will have on the pitch, obvious.
Ricky Holmes an exciting winger, who has earned his opportunity to play for a bigger club after impressing as Northampton Town achieved promotion from League Two last season. Lee Novak neither flashy nor the Alex Revell-shaped target man that Slade primarily appeared to desire, but a consistent and effective performer at this level who notched 14 times for Chesterfield in the previous campaign. Only the particularly popular Will Grigg (25) scored more than Nicky Ajose’s 24 goals in League One last season, and that without the unfair advantage of being on fire.
These are the sort of additions, obviously of slightly higher quality with challenging in the Championship in mind, which Roland Duchatelet’s wealth should have brought to the club from day one. Who have previously proved their worth at other Football League clubs and do not arrive alien to the demands of League One, having been signed not as part of the regime’s experiment but to aid Slade in his hope of bringing a degree of success to the club.
It’s taken 28 permanent transfers, Stephen Henderson the only successful addition from another English club, six changes of manager/head coach, and a totally unnecessary relegation for a Charlton boss under this regime to seemingly finally have the desired say in transfer activity. The creation of a lack of trust in the club, the club viewing supporters as the enemy, and large-scale protests also not to be ignored in the path towards achieving the absolute minimum.
For not only has Slade been able to acquire names that if not produced from his own thoughts than those of new chief scout Steve Head, but arguably more importantly been able to withdraw interest in players the club were seeking to recruit before he arrived. There no longer an interest in Colchester United midfield George Moncur and released Huddersfield Town playmaker Duane Holmes, seemingly at the insistence of Slade. Being able to prevent the regime adding unknown qualities to the squad something previous incumbents of The Valley home dugout have not been able to do.
I will, understandably, stop short of applauding the regime for deploying a potentially workable transfer strategy after two-and-a-half-years of damage, failure, and split bonds. Like after a low-budget builder finally completes a job to the bear minimum standard on the sixth attempt, a begrudgingly offered nod of approval shall be offered, while the fear of implosion still remains despite being assured, via verbal agreement, that all is running smoothly.
Nonetheless, the trio of signings unquestionably offer cause to believe the remainder of the additions made throughout this summer will be orchestrated by Slade, ignoring the recruitment experiment and instead focusing on the impact the manager being allowed to cobble together his own side will have on Charlton’s chances of success. Man-management is, after all, arguably Slade’s greatest attribute.
The direct impact of these additions, therefore, the success they could potentially provide on the pitch and this little whisper of belief that suggests an important alteration has been made to a previously horrendously flawed and stubbornly unaltered player recruitment policy. Combine the two and you get something that resembles a slice of optimism, not served around these parts for many months.
But maybe, once the full Charlton Athletic cake is considered if we are to continue a rather desperate metaphor, it’s the indirect impact these additions will have that may prove more important over the course of the summer.
For it’s easy to get carried away by these three recruits and allow yourself to believe a squad is being built for a successful promotion challenge. The first steps towards that made, undoubtedly, but a great deal of work still to be done. A complete squad revamp is going to be needed, and probably going to need to be done pretty quickly with pre-season a couple of weeks away.
Charlton’s already small squad, diminished further by loan deals expiring and Reza Ghoochannejhad’s leading the cohort of released bodies to chorus of cheers, contains only a limited number of players who will definitely be at The Valley come the end of August. Doubts even exist over whether Callum Harriott, promoting himself on Twitter in a manner that a player angling for a move might, and Alou Diarra, the subject of interest from Dijon according to a French newspaper, will remain Addicks despite triggering contract extensions at the end of the season.
Stephen Henderson, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Igor Vetokele almost certain to depart. Hopes of keeping a hold of Nick Pope, Jordan Cousins and Ademola Lookman extremely faint. Naby Sarr, El-Hadji Ba and Zakarya Bergdich likely to be let go, hopefully along with Roger Johnson and George Tucudean, to the disappointment of few.
Then there’s Patrick Bauer and Ahmed Kashi, who are above the third tier of English football in ability and status but may wish to repay Charlton for the assistance received in the recovery from their injuries, but Jorge Teixeira, attracted to the club by Jose Riga, doesn’t really have much motivation to remain. Tony Watt has spoken positively above Slade, but will surely have Championship interest, while the power that Slade seemingly has should mean a departure for Chris Solly, at the very least, won’t be forced.
Taking into account the outs that I fear will be unavoidable, or a desperately hope occur, the squad could be left looking a little like this:
Cristian Ceballos (if he’s still wanted)
Alou Diarra (willing to take him hostage for the summer if need be)
Callum Harriott (possibly)
Tony Watt (possibly)
Louis-Michel Yamfam, who deserves first team recognition on the basis of his name alone
Such a high number of departures would leave a squad of 21, with at least seven of them desperately lacking first team experience, and Diarra, Harriott and Watt retained rather optimistically.
It creates a rather uncomfortable position. The three new additions, and the suggestion of a revamped recruitment policy, immediately replaced by the disappointment of losing key players and the worry that there is nothing to build from.
Small talk, strategy and ambitions to sell to potential recruits, but those potential recruits will a weak squad and a club led by a regime that isn’t suddenly going to stop flirting with controversy overnight and simply cannot win back the trust of the majority of supporters.
What having those three signings in the bank at this relatively early stage does provide, therefore, is concrete evidence. That, hiding beneath all the damage caused by this regime and a rather sizeable amount of uncertainty, is a club that top-end League One players will want to play their football. Somewhere between a statement of intent and a rallying cry to those that Slade, hopefully, will continue to attempt to attract to SE7.
That the very important indirect effect this trio of handy recruits could potentially have. Promising additions in their own right, but they won’t become promising additions in their own right until a proper squad is in place. They, potentially, provide the catalyst for the successful recruitment of further bodies that will replace the departures which are simply unavoidable.
At the very least, the club’s bargaining position in the transfer marker was much weaker in January than it potentially is now, irrespective of the drop in division. It would appear you’re primarily signing for a respected boss who’s handy with his man-management skills and not becoming part of a flawed and damaged experiment.
Regardless, at this early stage of Charlton’s summer transfer activity, there’s no denying that a foundation has been laid from which to build on. Maybe not a firm one, with the departures providing uncertainty, but a foundation from which to base further recruitment on. It would be incorrect to suggest it’s primarily up to Slade to build on that, but it’s certainly up to the club to turn this promising start into something that’s going to result in league points.
For this is only a start. A lot more remains to be done.
Katrien Meire is fearless. A description often applied to a defiant centre-back or combative midfielder, with connotations of courage, determination and pride. The sort of character that can overcome any sort of obstacle, and tackle genuine testing and fear-inducing situations.
The form of fearlessness that Meire possesses, however, is anything but a positive. She doesn’t hold a character that lacks fear, but holds a position that the conditions she works under means she need not fear over losing.
It’s obvious that Meire’s role as CEO of Charlton Athletic is protected while Roland Duchatelet remains owner of the club.
She is the chief instigator of the breaking of the bond between the Addicks and supporters, a key reason why fans can no longer trust their club, and should feel a huge sense of guilt of Charlton’s relegation to League One given that her actions constantly proved costly. But Duchatelet supports, Richard Murray stands by, and Meire herself felt in no danger of losing her job despite the emotional destruction and more measurable failure caused.
Her position has been untenable for years, rather than months, and it becomes more so with each decision that ultimately proves misguided, insult directed towards the club and its supporters, and lie spoken. A competent football club, or even a competent business, run by an owner whose main interest is the success of the club rather than his own personal gain and experiment, would have dismissed her some time ago.
As such, there is a sense that Meire does not fear the consequence of her actions. That she can say and do as she pleases, knowing she has already done more than enough to be dismissed, without any sort of genuine punishment. Instead of that fearlessness creating courage, it has created stupidity, arrogance and furthered Charlton supporters’ disconnection from the club.
To the extent that even on a day where this regime have created something that positivity can be applied to, Meire has managed to remind supporters that it is impossible to trust this club while she remains a part of it. That she is an ignorant and pathetic liar, with no respect for this club, its supporters and those with a genuine interest in it succeeding that aren’t part of her clique. That this regime remains poisonous.
For Russell Slade’s first press conference as Charlton boss, although not likely to alter the feeling for those who feel so disconnected and insulted that they cannot feel any sense of positivity while Duchatelet’s regime maintains control, did offer an opportunity to get some supporters and the press on side.
An English manager, actually given the role of manager, appointed on a long-term deal. Apart from stating that there is no written agreement over his control of players, Slade’s words were positive and belonged to a man who is confident he will be able to achieve. Meire herself, insultingly to those who have had to suffer under her flawed leadership but a positive soundbite to a wider audience, able to suggest this is the start of a new era for the club.
At the very least, even if not appeasing disillusioned supporters who are rightfully sceptical of anything the club says or promises, this press conference was the easiest event for the regime to spin positively since Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Jordan Cousins signed new contracts. Not just some meaningless words plucked from thin air, but a shiny-bald-head-shaped bundle of evidence to full back on to create an argument that change is occurring.
The true untenability of Meire’s position, therefore, is shown by her success in even managing to remind supporters that she’s an insulting liar and completely out of her depth with such a positive platform to stand on. Any positivity created from that press conference immediately replaced by anger over her actions, and fear over the consequences of those actions.
Another outrageous lie made to protect herself and the regime. Suggesting that Peter Varney’s takeover bid involved a move from The Valley. An obvious attempt to persuade fans that this regime is better for the club, and any interested party want to provide further destruction.
Varney’s quick and emphatic denial confirming that Meire’s comments were indeed untrue, particularly given that he has made a 48 hour ultimatum for the comments to be withdrawn before his communication with Duchatelet and purchase proposals are published. Simply outrageous behaviour to create such a fabrication.
And beyond the direct anger over her lying comes a reminder that it is impossible to believe anything she says. Impossible to sign up to this idea that Slade’s appointment is a new era, impossible to believe this verbal agreement will be maintained, and difficult not to offer support to Varney especially if his proposals and communications are released. She’s somehow managed to find an unwounded spot on her foot to shoot.
She, as Ben Hayes so wonderfully put it on Twitter, is CARD’s “best recruiter”. Even on a day where this regime have positivity to play with, they manage to fuel momentum in the campaign to remove them from the club.
A reminder, too, that Meire has the most secure untenable position in sport. That she believes she can say what she wants, without fear of the consequences.
But there are serious consequences. Consequences that she’ll choose to ignore, but consequences that prove her ignorance stupidity.
For while Meire, and therefore this regime, remain, this club continues to have no respect for its supporters. Regardless of any footballing success, there will be no healing of the lack of trust in the club, and no building of a broken bond.
For her continued employment, and her continued insistence on issuing insults and fabrications, show there is no real desire to heal what many Charlton supporters would argue is the greatest damage this regime have caused to the club. The unwanted but unavoidable disconnection.
Assessing the appointment of Russell Slade as Charlton Athletic boss, the sixth to be made by Roland Duchatelet since orchestrating the dismissal of Chris Powell, is not simply a case of determining the managerial ability of the 55-year-old. And that’s without considering the emphatic failure that this recruitment process has been.
As was going to be the case with any head coach handed the reigns in SE7 this summer, their suitability for a role made testing by the circumstances that Duchatelet has created is arguably more important than their credentials. Credentials that could potentially be left meaningless by how this regime operates.
Their suitability, alongside their availability and willingness to take on a poisoned chalice. Had Slade’s appointment been made by a new ownership, it would be assessed differently than how it will with Duchatelet overseeing it.
An unfortunate acceptance existing that a limited number of coaches were going to be interested in this job under this regime. That talks with other potential candidates haven’t been successful and the sheer length of time it has taken to appoint Jose Riga’s replacement reaffirming that, and meaning we have little choice but to settle for Slade, who doesn’t appear even to be the first choice of those in charge.
That isn’t to say that Slade is a hugely underwhelming appointment, only made acceptable by the fact he isn’t Karel Fraeye, or that the somewhat mixed reputation he has within the game should be ignored completely in favour of a focus on his suitability for the challenging role.
A mixed reputation that was reaffirmed during his time in charge at Cardiff City. Some willing to thank him for steading a rocky ship; more delighted that he had departed the club altogether when it was announced he had left his role as Head of Football.
For though supporters of the Bluebirds, with the sort of demands you would expect from fans that have recently experienced Premier League football, were often frustrated by his decision making and the style of football offered, an eighth place finish in the second tier with a questionable ownership on your back is no failure.
A feeling existing that a manager whose skills had previously been proven at Championship level may have achieved more, with the play-offs never truly threatened, but Slade did manage to finish above Gary Rowett’s Birmingham City and Simon Grayson’s Preston North End. Two managers and clubs deemed to have had commendable campaigns.
The difference, of course, being a contrast in expectations. The cap-wearing boss never really suited to the demands he was under at the Cardiff City Stadium, with his greater successes in the past coming at League One clubs who demanded less.
Unexpected play-off final appearances with Yeovil Town in 2007 and Leyton Orient in 2014, earning him Manager of the Year awards despite both occasions ending in defeat, the highlights. Only at Brighton, where a courageous rescue act at the end of the 2008/09 season was followed by a dreadful start to the next campaign that meant his loss percentage was 50% by time of his sacking, have a set of League One supporters not completely warmed to Slade.
His party trick, therefore, is allowing relatively small but perfectly stable clubs to exceed their expectations in the third tier. Neither the Yeovil or Orient side that he led into the play-offs were packed with individual quality, with expenditure minimal, but he was able to build cohesive and hard-working units that were perfectly in-tune with his strategy.
That, in Slade’s natural realm, makes the experienced boss a talented and knowledgeable one. Overachieving on a shoestring budget through sensible recruitment, creating cohesion and excellent man-management.
His credentials, at the very least, better than a former Standard Liege coach previously dismissed by Duchatelet, or a bloke that was managing in a park somewhere in the depths of Belgium at the time he was asked to come have some puppet strings attached to him. Possibly to the extent that a number of clubs in this division would be delighted to have the 55-year-old in charge.
The problem, however, is that Charlton are not like many of the other clubs in this division. We’re not like the clubs where Slade has previously had success. We don’t appear to be the sort of club that can provide a platform that will allow Slade’s best attributes to have a real influence.
The first part of that would make it challenging for any manager, regardless of their reputation or previous success, to thrive, but particularly for a boss who relies so heavily on building his own cohesive unit.
For how is Slade to create cohesion at a club that is run in such a divisive manner, whose ownership dictate and control in areas that they should have no responsibility in? Promises about a change in strategy have been made previously, but not followed through. Promises that there is no influence from above in team selection have been made before, but are simply lies.
It makes it difficult for his success at Orient to provide hope as working under Duchatelet and Meire could not be more different to working under Barry Hearn. Hearn an Orient supporter, wanting his club to achieve, and willing to provide a base from which Slade was capable of doing that. Duchatelet and Meire lacking any sort of respect for Charlton and its supporters, and heavily favouring their own personal interests.
You could argue that his experiences at Cardiff City, working under Vincent Tan, and towards the end of his time at Leyton Orient, where he clashed with hugely unpopular owner Francesco Becchetti, stand him in good stead.
But the confrontation at Orient suggests that there will ultimately come a point where Slade simply cannot work under Meire and Duchatelet. His authority never truly stamped on his Cardiff side, creating the frustration that their supporters had towards him. It’s hard to believe he’s going to enjoy having this regime above him, or that he’ll be able to showcase the best of his managerial talents.
The second part of our difference to other clubs in this division, and the clubs that Slade would be more suited to, is our stature. A stature that has unquestionably been crushed by this regime, but one that still makes us a club who cannot simply accept attempting to be competitive in League One.
Because Slade will probably make us competitive in League One. The side will probably have a reasonable amount of structure, and we won’t be emphatically ripped to shreds as we were so often in the Championship last season under the frequent formationless efforts of Guy Luzon, Fraeye and Riga.
His Yeovil and Orient sides were competitive to the point that they overachieved. Sneaking into the play-offs when unfancied, through a structured approach that allowed them to finish among those clubs just visiting the third tier, with more financial clout, and with a greater status.
But being competitive, and operating in the sort of fashion a less-fancied side might in order to grind out unlikely results, isn’t going to work when leading the Addicks in League One. Not only because there is a justified expectation that we must make an immediate attempt to return to the Championship, but because opposition will play against us in a different manner.
We’re a former Premier League club. We’ve got a 27,111 seater stadium. As the club are always so insistent on reminding us, we’ve got a nice pitch. Without wishing to look down upon them and be patronising, we’re going to be a scalp for the likes of Fleetwood, Oldham and AFC Wimbledon.
We’re going to be expected to dominant games, and we’re going to have to break down defiant and motivated opposition. You only need look at the last period spent in League One. The sort of football that Slade traditionally plays, and has traditionally brought his sides success, is unlikely to work with us.
Again, it’s a very different job to the ones where Slade has managed to achieve relative success, and means it’s difficult to use his efforts at Yeovil and Orient to suggest he’ll inject life in our club. He’ll need to show a degree of versatility to work under this ownership, and match the requirements that will be in place by virtue of the fact Charlton simply shouldn’t be, and cannot be, in League One.
Of course, at least Slade is an experienced English manager who is aware of how this division works, and is more suited to leading a club in the third tier of English football than one of Duchatelet’s little minions. But that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate what we’ve been given.
Unquestionably, this regime have created a position for themselves from which they have no power to attract the sort of managers that this club might have been able to, even in League One, if it were led in a manner that commanded respect and offered promise. There’s little choice but to accept a resident third tier boss who wasn’t already employed as a manager is about as good as we can do.
Accepting that those circumstances exist, however, is very different to accepting that they’re right. Even some of the names we’ve been linked with, without being perfect, would provide a greater deal of excitement to myself than Slade has. Steve Cotterill isn’t very likeable, but he knows how to get bigger clubs out of this division, Nigel Adkins hasn’t had the best of times in recent season, but has achieved incredible things in his career, and the Chris Wilder-prototype, a young and ambitious manager with the potential to rebuild a club, would have been interesting had he not been restrained by the regime.
It all leaves us with one question to answer. Is Russell Slade a good appointment for Charlton Athletic? It’s one question that has two answers.
The first answer is that it’s probably somewhere in the middle. It’s really hard to feel that a resignation or dismissal won’t ultimately come after a disagreement between himself and those above him, with the club’s current environment and structure being one that hinders Slade’s best attributes, but there’s a decent chance he’ll provide some calm and structure.
A side that so often caved in last season, and contributed towards a feeling that those employed by the club had little respect for it or its supporters, will hopefully show some resilience and work to maintain a sense of pride on a persistent basis. At the very least, it’s hard to see complete implosion with Slade looking on from the dugout.
But the second answer to that question is probably the more truthful one, and one that makes the previous 1,700 words completely irrelevant. It really doesn’t matter.
Regardless of who was given the job, this was always going to be the most meaningless and unimportant managerial appointment in the history of Charlton Athletic. No appointment would have restored faith in Duchatelet and Meire, no appointment would have changed the mind of those who will not be renewing their season tickets. No appointment, through no fault of the manager himself – I’ll be supporting Slade like any other and my doubts certainly don’t equate to a desire for him to fail – would have been celebrated, and injected positivity into supporters.
The appointment was always going to be meaningless while it was overseen by Duchatelet’s poisonous regime.
The issues this club has, and the reason supporters rightfully continue to feel without love and connection towards it, is not to do with who has been brought in to stand in the technical area.
It’s to do with who continues to sit in the Directors’ Box, and who continues to oversee the club from afar without taking any interest in it and offering little acceptance of the damage his leadership has caused.
The rebuilding of Charlton Athletic, on the pitch but more so in terms of recreating the understanding and unity between club and supporters, simply cannot begin until there is complete change.
My frustration and anger towards the regime that currently controls Charlton Athletic grows stronger, which is apparently possible, with each Football League club that announces the appointment of a new manager or head coach following the conclusion of a swift recruitment process.
Let’s, for example, take Rotherham United. A club that would have also been planning for a return to League One were they not intelligent enough to appoint a Championship specialist when their situation appeared most bleak last season.
They would have hoped that Neil Warnock, the man that pulled them clear of the relegation zone in quite stunning fashion, would remain in charge. Contingency plans, what with them being a sensible club and all, would have unquestionably been in place, but their target was to tie down the experienced boss beyond his initial temporary contract.
Exactly two weeks after the Millers were forced into altering their plans, with Warnock deciding he didn’t wish to remain at the Yorkshire club, they have today unveiled Alan Stubbs as their new boss. A manager whose reputation has risen at some pace during his time in charge at Hibernian, concluding with a victory in the Scottish Cup final.
An excellent appointment, that was made extremely quickly given the alteration in plans that was required, and goes a long way to addressing the disappointment that Warnock’s departure created at the New York Stadium.
And if Rotherham aren’t the best example to use given that they are still a Championship club, then let’s take a look at Northampton Town. The Cobblers promoted to League One, but somewhat unexpectedly losing Chris Wilder to Sheffield United.
Wilder, who turned down the job in SE7 as he wasn’t given the assurances he requested, was made manager of the Blades on May 12th. Seven days later, Northampton’s recruitment process was complete, and Port Vale’s Rob Page was their new boss. Swift.
By contrast, almost a month after Jose Riga’s resignation was confirmed, Charlton are still yet to find his replacement. Almost a month since his resignation was confirmed, but it seemed he wouldn’t be remaining at The Valley from as early as the start of April. Players saying as much at sponsors’ events, and his words in post-match press conferences offering further suggestions.
Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, therefore, have realistically had the best part of two months to /conduct and complete a recruitment process. Two months that have seen a handful of targets identified, but no appointment made. Two months that have reaffirmed the complete incompetence of this regime.
Of course, had the initial focus on Wilder ultimately been successful, then this rant wouldn’t be necessary. They would have made a promising appointment in reasonably quick time. A begrudging pat on the back offered.
Identifying and conducting interviews with a target, however, is meaningless when it is their own faults that have prevented a boss from being appointed. Had Wilder been offered the reasonable reassurances he demanded, a contract in SE7 might well have been signed before the Blades showed interest.
Nor does the fact that numerous names have been mentioned as targets in the weeks that have followed the failure to appoint Wilder mean this recruitment process is good enough.
Partly because three weeks have followed, making the process of finding a second target longer than other Football League clubs have needed to conduct a whole recruitment process from scratch. Partly because the other rumoured targets, including the likes of Billy Davies, Nigel Adkins and Russell Slade, are not currently employed as managers and therefore need only convincing that this role is one worth taking.
There’s no compensation packages to be agreed, nor a need to prove that the Addicks can offer more than the club they currently work for. It’s not quite as simple as “fancy a job”, but it might as well be.
And yet, the rumours have quickly cooled with each name that has been suggested. Whether they’ve had talks or not is unknown, but if they have, then Charlton are failing to convince out of work managers that managing at The Valley is an attractive proposition.
Extremely worrying, irrespective of the fact that targeting experienced British bosses is a touch more reassuring than appointing someone from within the network after conducting 20 interviews in a day.
Worrying, too, that we’re now in June and still the Addicks have no boss. That the process of rebuilding a side, which needs to happen regardless of whether Duchatelet maintains control or not, is being delayed. We’re already well behind other more stable and sensible clubs in League One, making the advantage we could possibly have in terms of size and status when it comes to attracting players completely irrelevant.
It means that regardless of who is ultimately appointed, that appointment will be tainted by the length of time it has taken for the club to complete this recruitment process. Tainted by the knowledge that many out of work coaches have not pursued an interest in the job because of the conditions that Duchatelet, Meire and Richard Murray have created. Tainted by the fact the appointment will be relatively low down the list of candidates, and we’ll effectively have to settle for someone that’s willing to work in the unhelpful conditions.
There’s simply no excuse and no justification for the amount of time it has taken, and continues to take, to find a replacement for Riga. Another failure to add to growing list of failures attached to this horrendous regime.
And yet, during this managerless period, Meire has had the cheek to stand up at a business of sport event and suggest that her running of the club isn’t a complete disaster.
She can make desperate attempts to defend herself all she wants, but her continued failings prove that her leadership of the club is a complete disgrace. While Rotherham can offer a stable base, and Northampton can provide ambition, we’ve got a nice pitch. There is no football strategy to tempt the highest breed of candidate in.
Instead, we’re simply going to have to settle for someone desperate enough to take the job on what will almost certainly be, if not in writing then in reality, a temporary basis. Until they find the conditions they’re working under too tough, or until a change in ownership occurs and the club becomes as attractive a proposition as it should be to high quality League One bosses.
As testing as ever to feel any sense of optimism and enthusiasm. The chance to inject even the smallest amount with a quick and reasonable appointment lost.
Edit: Just as I was about to post this, Blackpool announced the appointment of Gary Bowyer. Even Blackpool, a club whose crisis eclipses ours, have been able to appoint a relatively okay-ish manager in quicker time. For Christ sake.