In a nutshell, what the hell is going on at Charlton Athletic?
PE: I’m not sure I can get this down in less than three pages. We have a totally absent owner Roland Duchatelet from Belgium who owns a network of clubs across several different countries. He has attended two games in two and a half years. He appointed a completely incompetent CEO Katriene Meire who runs the club on his behalf, who continues to make shockingly bad decisions and PR gaffes at will. She marginalises the clubs fans & it’s history and comes up with ridiculous ideas like pitchside sofas & House DJ’s in Main Club Bar pre-match.
Since sacking club legend Chris Powell as manager we have had a succession of network appointments as manager, none of which had any experience of the English league. They have all failed. Our best players are sold and replaced by players from Roland’s network from abroad, none of which have been fit for purpose. Our Academy is used to prop up the first team and graduates seem to be fast tracked into the team. In some cases they do well and are then quickly sold, see the like of Joe Gomez (Sold to Liverpool) and Nick Pope (Sold to Burnley).
The protests by fans last season were described as the most organised and well funded in the whole of Football League history by the Football League themselves. The relegation last season was completely unnecessary and blame for this lies firmly at the feet of Duchatelet and Meire. Season Ticket sales are down 45% on last season which is massive and lifetime supporters are refusing to return until this regime are gone. It’s all incredibly sad. I fully expect things to get worse before they get any better. Ultimately though we will NEVER succeed under these Belgians. Eventually the fans will win though, they always do in the end.
RE: Nut is the word. Since January 2014 we’ve had a very wealthy Belgian narcissist as owner, and changed manager / head coach six times as his lengthy parade of inadequate continental signings, chosen by a 20-something computer geek, failed to make the physical grade in the Championship.
Money man Roland Duchatelet first discarded his “network” model in which his multiple clubs across Europe were supposed to share players in favour of a range of continental recruits, and has now been forced, either by experience or more likely weight of protest, to sign British players under a British manager. But the budget still has to cover four expensive signings currently out on subsidised loan, two more he would like to unload but can’t and Roger Johnson, who is in the doghouse for rowing with travelling fans after the opening day defeat at Bury.
The owner and his puppet chief executive, who is the only other director, have stripped the club of its identity, introduced a number of silly gimmicks like the “fans’ sofa”, sold a number of our best players to try to stem the losses and now lost 4,000 season-ticket holders in a single summer, many of whom have broken decades of loyalty by not renewing. Every day at Charlton is like waking up in a bad dream.
Are there any signs that things may improve, or that the owners may sell up?
PE: Signs of improvement? Well it is far too early to tell. They have definitely changed part of their Strategy by appointing an English Manager and signing players with experience of the league. No more Network foreign managers or players from his other clubs you have never heard of that are not of the required level for the league we are in. Unfortunately after continued protests throughout the whole of last season practically, they show no sign of selling as yet, this despite continued approaches from a Consortium fronted by our Ex CEO Peter Varney & another fronted by Ex Player Paul Elliott.
RE: Huge revolts in the second half of last season brought the fans together, largely under the umbrella of CARD (Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet) and by the final games The Valley was in a state of uproar, with 5,000 people marching in protest and demonstrations from every section of the support, including wealthy fans in the directors’ box, sponsors, executive box holders, former players and staff, as well as groups like the supporters’ trust and even the hierarchy of the club’s charitable community trust, which regularly wins national awards.
That seems to have forced Duchatelet to go down the British route, which has quietened the mood for a time, but the club continues to lose millions of pounds in part because it is so incredibly badly run. While his puppet has insisted that the club is not for sale, it’s hard to see the benefit to Duchatelet of pouring money endlessly into the club when he hasn’t bothered to attend a match in England for almost two years. He can afford it, but why would you do it?
Charlton were tipped by some as a side that could bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking. It’s been a sluggish start to the season. Do you think the squad Russell Slade has put together is good enough?
PE: The Team rebuilding in the summer was truly laughable as players were sold and not replaced. At one point we only had a youth team goalkeeper left at club after both first team keepers were sold in the same week. Eventually players did start to come in but mostly just a week before season started. We are woefully short in central midfield still and I fully expected a slow start to the season. Most of the signings to be fair are of a fair to good standard for this league. Rudd from Norwich, Pearce from Wigan, Holmes from Northampton & Ajose from Swindon all on paper seem very good signings. In truth though if we make the play-off’s we will of done well I think that may even be just out of reach.
RE: No. It’s clear that Slade has struggled to get his way against the interference of the “network scout” and although he has evidently won several battles the squad is unbalanced. We have six centre halves and a seventh out on loan, but are very short in central midfield and lack creativity through the middle.
Some 22 senior payers have left since the end of last season and 11 new faces have arrived, ten of which are featuring in the 18. A number arrived after the start of the season, so it’s unsurprising that the team would take time to settle down, but that excuse is wearing thin now.
There have been well documented protests at the Valley and attendances are dwindling, do you think this is having an effect on the players?
PE: On this point absolutely not. Players have spoken last season about the protests and said it never affected them, if anything it affected the opposition more than us. This Season the Coalition against Roland Duchatelet C.A.R.D. has kept the protesting away from the inside of the Stadium so as to give the Manager the best chance possible to get a good start.
RE: There’s really no evidence of that. We won two of the games that suffered the worse disruption last season, including against promoted Middlesbrough. Two we lost at the end of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley after being relegated we’d have been unlikely to have won anyway. When the players were asked about the protests they never complained about them and we know that a number of the older hands understood them very well because they were also fed up with the chief executive and the revolving cast of head coaches and assistants.
The current crop of players have hardly been exposed to any protests, because there was a collective decision to give Slade and his squad every chance at the start of the season. Given where most of these players have been, the crowds at The Valley – while poor by our standards – won’t be any smaller than they have played in front of before. The atmosphere can be a bit flat because the fanbase is very demoralised.
You spent a lot of money on Nicky Ajose in the summer. He was one of the worst strikers we’ve seen in claret and blue, but had a decent season last year at Swindon. How is he doing?
PE: You can see there is a player in there, but we are not playing to his strengths, you can see him getting frustrated already and snatching at the few chances he is getting. Until we find a way to play that better suits him he will be lucky to get half the goals he got last season.
RE: Not too well so far, with two goals at Walsall and little else. We think he is suffering from the lack of creativity in central midfield because he isn’t missing loads of chances, and the regular resort to the long ball won’t suit him, but Slade seems to blame him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is left out at Scunthorpe.
Who else should we look out for in the Charlton team?
PE: The two wingers Ricky Holmes and Ademola Lookman are exciting but totally different players. Holmes joined in summer form Northampton and is an all action charge around the pitch take on the full back type of winger. Lookman came from our Academy. He got in the team last season and has so much skill & ability. We will do well to keep him in January.
RE: Ademola Lookman is an outstanding prospect capable of winning the match on his own. He’s been playing on the wing, but arguably he should be up front. The club appears to have turned down a £6m bid from Crystal Palace on deadline day. He’s still only 18 and struggles to concentrate for 90 minutes, so he might come off the bench, but if he performs he will be the best player on the pitch. He’ll be in the Premier League in 2017, unless he is very unlucky with injury. Ricky Holmes on the opposite flank works very hard and can also do you damage.
Are there any weaknesses we could look to exploit?
PE: We are not particularly strong in central midfield at the moment. I expected our back four to be much stronger at this level as well, but we don’t appear to have a clean sheet in us at the moment.
RE: Central midfield, on all the evidence so far. Andrew Crofts is OK as a defensive midfielder but we’ve yet to see the best of Fredrik Ulvestad, a loan signing from Burnley. At least I hope so. He’s only played two matches. Previously we had Kevin Foley alongside Crofts, which was hopelessly negative. Although Slade is generally well regarded as a voice of sanity inside the asylum, some people are yet to be convinced that he has the tactical nous to change things effectively during a match. We should have overrun Wimbledon before half-time, but a lack of intensity in Charlton’s play allowed them to take the initiative, helped by substitutions, and come from behind to get all three points. We’ll have to be better than that.
Finally, can you give us a score prediction?
PE: Yes of course. You cannot help but be impressed by Scunthorpe’s excellent start to the season, so I cannot see anything other than a home Win. 2-1 Scunthorpe.
RE: It won’t surprise me if it’s a 1-1 draw.