29 October 2015

We demand an awkward press conference

Almost immediately after Guy Luzon's departure was confirmed, the rumours about Karel Fraeye started, eventually causing betting to be suspended. Early on Sunday evening VW Hamme had posted an interview where Fraeye was asked "[something something something] Charlton. Ess ett officiell?" and answered "[something something something] ja!". I don't speak Flemish, but I understood that.

About 9pm on Sunday night, it was confirmed

 In a remarkable bit of pravda-style reporting we were reminded that

but there was no word on what he's been doing with himself more recently. Anyone would think he'd been playing for Millwall and the fans must not be told.

In fact, he's been masterminding things at VW Hamme, a team currently in 13th (out of 18) in Belgium's third division. Even though the last two years have taught me more about Belgian football than I ever wanted to know, I'd never heard of Hamme (the team or the town). The club's ground has a capacity of 6,000. Clearly, the job as T1, as the Belgians call it, isn't that big a deal: he's thrown it up to take a temporary appointment.

How temporary will it be? Cynically I'd guess that if he scrapes one win out of the next three or four games, he'll be hailed as a rescuer and given the job permanently (ie for a bit less than a year, probably).

His record at Hamme suggests he's not very good at the job, though, and once again we have the sense that Roland Duchatelet is choosing a manager because he feels comfortable with him, rather than on the basis of experience and ability. Maybe he's got no room on his phone for any new contacts.

Even today we have no idea what's going on inside the Duchatelet bonce. Is there any other football club in the country where a managerial sacking and replacement is accompanied by nothing other than a factual statement? I'd actually prefer the insincere nonsense we got last time, where we were told an extensive search had taken place at lightning pace, turning up the next Alex Ferguson. At least we got a hilariously awkward press conference out of that. Imagine looking back on this with nostalgia:

24 October 2015

Charlton 0 Brentford 3

So, this is what I started to write:

The second 3-0 home defeat in a week, and it already feels like this is what Charlton do now. The thudding sense of inevitability as the second half played out was stronger than any anger or sadness, and although there were chants for a certain Belgian to get out of our club, the "sacked in the morning" chant was started by the visiting fans. The Covered End joined in, but without conviction: it's easy to believe that Duchatelet won't make any change; or that, even if he does, the club and team will remain stuck in the spiral of decline.

It had started well. The first milestone - two minutes without conceding a goal - was easily passed, and the team made more chances in the first 20 minutes than they had in the previous 180. But even then they were looking slack whenever Brentford had possession, and no-one was surprised when the first goal was inevitably thudded in by an unmarked Swift.

You could see the confidence fall from the Charlton team like appropriately autumnal leaves. From then on, it was just like Tuesday's game: an incoherent structure, no-one talking to each other or finding space. Brentford - like Preston - needed no further invitation and ran the rest of the game. Second half substitutions meant that any tiny chance of a comeback was dependent on the experience, creativity and ruthlessness of Reza Ghoochannejhad and Karlan Ahearne-Grant. If, as is likely, this was Luzon's last game in charge, we could generously interpret that as a final, satirical two-fingers to the owner.

At this point in my writing, the news broke that Guy Luzon and his backroom team had been sacked. So, yes, my final memory of Luzon will be him saying "Look, Roland, this is the squad you expected me to succeed with." Goodbye, Guy. Probably not your fault you weren't able to do an impossible job. 


20 October 2015

Charlton 0 Barcelona 3

Preston probably aren't a very good team. But tonight, Matthew, they were F C Barcelona, dominating and easily winning a game when you'd imagine they'd have gratefully accepted a point. Instead, throughout the second half, with the points in the bag, they continued to press forward, not even bothering to waste time. A fantastic night out for the unsurprisingly sparse band of Lancastrians; a terrible nightmare for the almost equally exiguous home support.

What on earth has gone wrong? Two months ago, after the win against Hull, I wrote that
These guys really are playing for each other ... This looks like a team that can make us proud.
Tonight they made us angry and in some way ashamed of that early optimism. How could we have been so stupid? Tonight they looked like they had never met. Or if they had, it had been in some encounter so shameful - like a meeting of the Bullingdon Club - that they could no longer look each other in the eye.

No communication within the team, no movement off the ball, no ideas. It's as bad as in the last days of Pardew or Peeters: a team in total collapse. You could blame individuals, but when they're all as useless as they were tonight, it's a sign that something deeper is wrong, something that we, as outsiders, will never know.

Guy Luzon is the obvious suspect. He may not have the squad he'd want, but even the coach of a primary school team would expect to get more passion out of a team than this team showed. On the other hand, he knows Roland Duchatelet's record better than most. He's clearly - understandably - in fear of losing his job and his mental state must infect the players. I still don't know if Luzon is a good manager or not. Maybe no-one - not even a new Alex Ferguson - could meld this bunch of players into a good team.

Tonight was one of those games where the only reason the stadium wasn't empty at full-time is that people stayed on to express their dissatisfaction. On Twitter the overwhelming consensus was that Duchatelet is destroying the club. His model isn't working.
I've never been a huge fan but I appreciate that his investment has been crucial. But his footballing judgement is atrocious. And believe me, I know about atrocious judgement. I could have spent the evening in the warm comfort of a pub with some congenial friends. Instead, here I am at nearly midnight trying to be fair to a man who's wrecking the football club I love.

04 October 2015

Charlton 2 Fulham 2

With 15 minutes remaining Johnnie Jackson got ready to come on. He's been missing, believed injured, for a while and it has shown. While Chris Solly is obviously an admirable player and human being, he doesn't have the presence and charisma that Jackson has, and my feeling is that his own game has suffered from taking the captain's role.

At this point, Charlton were 2-0 down and looking ragged. Not really playing badly, but not creating anything. It's a familiar story I won't go over again. Added to that, Nick Pope's one weakness - his propensity to spill the ball from direct shots - had shaken the team when it led to Fulham's first goal. He does everything else well but this is an expensive weakness. No-one needs to tell him he should have done better - he'll feel it more than anyone - but large parts of the crowd did. It probably doesn't help, but it's totally understandable. A couple of similar, but unpunished, fumbles in the second half suggested that it's a mental problem: he knows his reputation and it freezes him, stops him from doing the simple thing.

Fifteen minutes to go. Surely even Johnnie Jackson couldn't rescue anything in that amount of time. The ball, moreover, obstinately refused to go out of play, and another five minutes passed. Even before he was on the pitch, though, Jackson was changing the mood of the game. Impatient chanting of his name built the sense of expectation. Surely it was over-expectation.

Finally a corner for Charlton. The substitution was hastily made and the next thing anyone knew, Jackson had met Gudmundsson's corner with a firm header into the net. Well, how could we have doubted him? His incredible knack of scoring at exactly the right time had worked again. In some ways there's no secret about it: he just refuses to lack belief in himself, will get himself into the right position and let no-one stand in his way. It's an approach that the rest of the team needed to copy today and in the sixth minute of added time (thanks, Fulham, for all the time-wasting) Jordan Cousins did just that, topping a most unlikely comeback with a goal largely based on sheer determination.

A couple more minutes, and Charlton would have won, but given the balance of the 96 minutes overall a draw that felt like a win was fair.

After the game while the rest of the players left the pitch Jackson was interviewed for the Sky cameras for a few minutes. Maybe half the crowd stayed back while that happened, to give him a huge ovation as he left the pitch. The most stunning 15-minute contribution to a football match that we're ever likely to see deserved nothing less.

As I write this, Arsenal are beating Man Utd 3-0 at half time. He'll be watching it and loving it. It's been that sort of day.

01 October 2015

Katrien Meire: Je ne regrette rien

The Belgian business newspaper L'Echo today features a fairly long interview with Katrien Meire. The provocative opening is "Le passé glorieux du club? Je m'en fous", which roughly translates as "I don't bloody care about the club's glorious past."  Although she later is quoted at more length, saying that the history should be cherished, but not at any price.

Most of the piece is about her restructuring of the club's admin and staffing. She says she reduced the number of staff from 150 to 100, by dismissals and sub-contracting. Apparently the food and drinks outlets were previously controlled by one person, who had no written agreement with the club, but who handed over a percentage of the takings, no questions asked. And there's a story of a near-disastrous exchange with a potential shirt sponsor. Meire claims that she herself negotiates all the transfers.

It's all very much what you'd expect a business executive to tell a business journal: I came, I saw, I swept away mismanagement. Some claims believable, some perhaps overstated. There's as usual no hint of what her boss's long-term plans are for the club.

But one peculiar claim is that she ceased the practice of giving free tea or coffee to fans on matchdays. When did that ever happen?
é glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous
"Le passé glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous"
"Le passé glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous"
"Le passé glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous"