Friday, December 31, 2010

Extreme Takeover

Charlton started 2010 in 2nd place in League One with 48 points from 24 games.

We will end the year in 3rd place with 33 points from 20 games, so 2010 could hardly be considered a vintage year, but we will begin 2011 with new owners and thus cautious optimism.

The name of Michael Slater was a new one, but rumours about Tony Jimenez's involvement turned out to be true. No sign of Dennis Wise though, thank goodness.

There is little in the direct business background of either Slater and Jimenez to suggest sufficient financial resources to really drive the club forward, but they may be the front men for those with deeper pockets.

However it's not clear to me why persons (or entities) would wish to bankroll the club without having any direct emotional involvement in it.

Certainly Jimenez has connections with a cabal of wealthy types, but many of them are either already involved with other clubs (eg. Ashley) or have understandably shown no inclination to become involved in the game.

There will initially be a degree of continuity which ought to be cautiously welcomed, with Richard Murray and Steve Kavanagh remaining on the new Board.

Whether or not this remains the case for the medium to long-term remains to be seen (I would doubt it, especially in Murray's case). It may just be a neat short-term way to placate any unhappy supporters.

The direction of the club has been so firmly downwards during the past five years, that perhaps a total break with the past would be a better way to go from the off.

Instead we additionally have a blast from the past in the shape of Peter Varney's official return in an executive capacity.

No-one doubts he's a genuine fan, but the importance of his role during the Curbishley years is overstated, whilst his role in the subsequent Dowie/Reed/Pardew debacle is surely understated.

The potential of the club's geographical location was rightly mentioned, although I'm not sure I understand the relevance of the Olympics.

It's far too early to judge the true incentives and resources of the new owners, but early impressions suggest it could certainly have been worse, and so we must wish them luck and welcome them.

If we can make steady progress forward without losing the club's soul, then most of us would be very satisfied.

That progress may well be stifled in my view by the lack of imagination shown by Phil Parkinson and his coaching team, and it will be interesting to see how much confidence the new owners will have in them.

Parky's view post-Brighton that, "...I can't fault the lads because it's difficult against 10 men as everybody knows," sums up my frustration with him.

There may be an element of truth in what he says if the team with 11 men are drawing or losing at the time of a dismissal (because the team with 10 men simply substitute a striker, leaving them unchanged in midfield/defence), but we were 1-0 up at the time!

Two vital points lost for sure against a key competitor.

The Weston Homes Community Stadium sums up everything wrong with a depressingly large number of new venues in this country, built solely for functionality and cost.

It was also the place last season where Charlton fans realised their team might not be as good as we had been hoping, the Addicks comprehensively beaten 3-0 in the first defeat of the season.

By comparison, the U's did not lose until 9th October this season, and could leapfrog their visitors with another win on New Year's Day.

The club were understandably annoyed to lose Paul Lambert to Norwich (especially in light of what he has achieved since), but experienced boss John Ward has steered them back in the right direction on limited resources.

Parky had of course taken them up to the Championship for the first time, although he will be assured a warm welcome having rather misguidedly abandoned them for the charms of Hull.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brighton Rock

Weather and fussy referees permitting, Charlton will take the field on Wednesday night for their first League One away fixture since 13 November.

Brighton is one of the country's most pleasant large seaside towns, but the Withdean Stadium on a damp foggy Wednesday night does not show it in its best light.

Much has been written about Sunday's postponement debacle, and it is pointless speculating on the true state of the pitch without having stepped onto it.

I wasn't affected personally as I wasn't planning to attend, and indeed from a purely selfish standpoint it is much easier for me to watch a rearranged midweek fixture.

Initially I had found it curious that the club bothered with a Christmas Eve inspection since the local referee (Phil Crossley) could only have definitively called it off (an outcome the club was desperate to avoid obviously), yet he clearly could not have definitively called it on.

A cynic might argue it was undertaken to put pressure on the matchday referee.

However having gone ahead with the inspection, the website reported that the club were, "...confident that the pitch would be declared playable and Crossley found nothing to concern him."

On what basis could they have been so confident given that overnight temperatures were forecast to drop so low, regardless of what state the pitch was presently in?

By the morning of the game several local matches had already fallen foul of the weather, yet the website did not even acknowledge that the fixture might run even a tiny risk of not going ahead.

Presumably this was based upon their continued view that the pitch was playable, but this was merely their opinion, when the final verdict was always going to be Andy D'Urso's.

Anyone who had the misfortune of being outdoors on the mornings of either Christmas Day or Boxing Day must have found this confidence to be surprising, if not downright misplaced.

D'Urso is a particularly charmless referee with plenty of 'previous form', but some acknowledgment that the club's matchday communication to fans might have been better would be welcome amidst the furore, even if the ultimate outcome and ramifications would have been unchanged.

Brighton have managed to maintain a healthy lead at the top of League One, despite a hiccup in form that has seen them go four games without a win.

The division is absurdly compressed, so much so that Charlton are as close to Brentford in 13th as we are to Brighton.

Readers of my blog will know that I believe our rightful position is somewhere in the midtable pack rather than the front runners, but a win against the Seagulls would have me beginning to chew on my words, if perhaps not eat them just yet.

However the form suggests a draw might be the best the Addicks can hope for, notwithstanding a confident win there last season.

Despite having to play in a converted athletics stadium with fans nowhere near the action, Brighton have won six and drawn three of their nine home games, conceding just seven goals (the League's joint best).

Charlton showed some signs of promise using a 4-3-3 formation at Brentford, which could easily become 4-5-1 if required.

The 4-4-2 formation preferred by Parkinson can look very stale, with a Racon/Semedo partnership rarely able to exert central midfield control, and full-backs disinclined to overlap and provide extra width.

This game will see my final charity bet, with my Chicago Marathon fundraising site set to expire on Friday with over £4,000 raised, excluding Gift Aid.

Of this total, £235 has been generated from the 24 £10 charity bets I have placed, hitting me in the pocket for net £210.

Thanks to the return of the above £30 worth of stakes, this implies a total return of £25 implying the charity was better off than it would have been had I simply written out a cheque for the lost stakes (phew).

For tomorrow night's game, I will focus on some longer odds prospects in a final hunt for some meaningful charitable upside.

NY Addick bets £5 on 2-2 correct score (at 16.5/1)
NY Addick bets £5 on Glenn Murray to score first, and Brighton win 2-0 (at 40/1)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Saint Denis?

Whilst it's perhaps appropriate that we face the Saints during the festive season, most Addicks fans have their minds on far more important matters.

When the offer for Baton 2010 Ltd was confirmed on 2nd December, it was anticipated that the acquisition would be completed by Christmas Eve ie. tomorrow.

Although one particular individual with Millwall connections has been the focus of numerous rumours, it would be wise not to draw any firm conclusions.

Indeed both parties to the potential transaction ought to be congratulated for avoiding any untimely leaks to the media, a rare thing indeed in the Twitter age.

As I've written before, beggars cannot be choosers and we must accept that Richard Murray has most likely run out of the money or enthusiasm to keep the club going, or perhaps both concurrently.

It is highly unlikely given the circumstances that the people or entities behind the bid, will be met with universal acclaim by fans.

However as appears to be misunderstood by many, administration is not (and never was) a very likely outcome for the club, because the majority of the debt was owed to directors (and now there's not much debt at all). This is likely to change however.

The big problem however as Murray has rightly indicated, is the ongoing operational deficit that requires funding.

Thus in the absence of an acceptable bid (the definition of 'acceptable' somewhat softer than it might once have been), the most likely scenario would not be administration but further severe cost-cutting.

Neither outcome is particularly palatable, but there is an important difference.

If the bid succeeds, it does not alter the deficit problem. The key for the long-term future of the club is whether the owners fund the deficit via the injection of equity or debt. The identity of the owners is a secondary concern.

Of course, if the club is to have a meaningful prospect of returning to the Premiership, or failing that establishing itself in the Championship, then the deficits must increase.

The problem is that there is no guarantee that investment in the playing side will deliver a return, which becomes a potentially catastrophic outcome for the club if it was funded by debt.

At that point either the debt must be repaid (impossible), restructured (difficult) or paid off by a charitable new owner with more money than sense (unlikely).

The problem is of course that any equity value at this point is likely gone, so the owners (assuming they are not also fans like Murray) can walk away, leaving neither financial value nor emotional baggage.

Speaking of clubs who know about the catastrophic impacts of debt, Southampton arrive at The Valley (weather permitting) still installed as second favourites for the title, testament to the steady job Nigel Adkins has done since replacing the ego.

Financial constraints are history for now, as evidenced by Charlton's inability to turn down a bid for right-back Fraser Richardson in the summer.

With only a single League One fixture completed in the past 30 days, it's difficult to assess how much of a negative impact the Walsall debacle will have on Phil Parkinson's side.

Southampton's last fixture was equally bad (a 2-0 home defeat by Brentford), and they too will be looking to bounce back infront of large away support.

Defeat for Charlton could see them drop outside of the play-off zone, emphasising just how compressed League One is.

My fundraising website will expire at year-end, so I will have just two more charity bets.

I suspect Southampton are decent value at 7/4, a view I will express via a half-time/full-time forecast.

NY Addick bets £10 on Draw/Southampton (HT/FT) at 11/2

Friday, December 17, 2010

Monkey Hangers

After more than three hours without a goal, Charlton will battle the elements and holiday traffic to arrive in Teeside for a game that has every chance of being postponed.

I guess my feelings towards any Addicks making the trip fall somewhere in between admiration and pity, but those who made the trip in the much warmer month of August 2009 were rewarded with a comfortable 2-0 win.

Although I run the risk of sounding like a broken record, having seen us comprehensively outplayed by Walsall and deservedly beaten by Brentford, I again find myself thoroughly disappointed with the degree to which the coaching staff is not producing a team that reflects the massive gulf in resources.

Hartlepool United are of course in a similar financial position to both of the aforementioned pair of clubs, their turnover being just £3m (the same as Charlton’s in 1994/95) and wage bill £2m.

I think is really the first time in my Charlton supporting life that the style of football on show is beginning to impact on my decision whether to attend or not, all of the other factors eg. family, journey time etc. notwithstanding.

Watching Charlton has never been more frustrating, and the funny thing is that despite all my moaning, we are winning far more than we are losing right now.

However this is akin to those that say you may as well drive a crappy car and fly Ryanair because they both get you from A to B. True of course, but how you get to your destination can’t simply be written off as irrelevant else BA and BMW would be out of business.

I don’t expect us to pass the ball like Arsenal or Barcelona, but I do expect some degree of technical ability and at least some occasional ‘quality’, even if only at set-pieces (where the lack of innovation astounds me).

If this ‘quality’ is going to be lacking in an absolute sense, then it would be nice given our wage bill if it could at least be apparent in a ‘relative’ sense.

Maybe it’s an age thing. As a teenager for example, I don’t recall caring much how we played so long as we got results.

Jeff Stelling’s favourite side are on a nice little run of one defeat in six League One games, most impressively and recently including two 1-0 away wins at Tranmere and Bournemouth.

Somewhat amazingly, they have picked up 15 of their 26 points on the road, despite scoring only eight goals away from Victoria Park.

At Brentford, there were occasional promising signs that a 4-3-3 formation might provide some rays of creative hope. It allowed McCormack and Racon to receive possession in between the opposition midfield and defence, whilst facing the goal.

Meanwhile Semedo was under less pressure to do more than the extreme holding role, to which he is well-suited (but no more).

Lee Martin was a little disappointing on the right-hand side of the forward three, and one wonders if this is a role better suited to Scott Wagstaff who usually gets crowded out in a 4-4-2.

However it was probably a formation designed for a one-off Cup game, and we can expect a reversion to the 4-4-2 that picked up impressive League wins at Swindon and Peterborough.

The bookies have priced the game up evenly, perhaps a little harsh on Charlton given they arrive on the back of three consecutive away wins, albeit over the course of nearly two months.

For my charity bet, I fancy a 1-1 draw which will probably suit both managers.

NY Addick bets £10 on Hartlepool 1-1 Charlton (at 6/1)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Outcome Bias

A cognitive bias known as 'outcome bias' focuses on the tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome, instead of judging it based on the information available at the time it was made.

In a footballing intepretation, there is a tendency to judge managerial prowess solely in terms of results (especially in the short-term), rather than the process that preceded those results.

Seen in this context, the decision to sack Chris Hughton might be justified if the Board concluded his relative success was unlikely to be sustainable.

'Process' would encompass all of the normal tasks that football management encompasses, eg. coaching, motivation, scouting, tactical nous etc..

Managers with a robust process will be more successful in the long-term, even if short-term results are largely at the whim of random factors out of their immediate control.

I bring this concept up because at least until today's inept defeat to Walsall, every time I've seen Charlton this season (admittedly only about 8 times) we have looked technically deficient compared to the opposition.

Yet somehow we have eked out enough points to sit 4th in the League One table with nine wins, as well as successfully negotiating five Cup ties.

Football is about winning after all, so surely the above is irrelevant as long as the outcome is positive?

Yet delve a little deeper, and it is not hard to see how narrow the margins are between success and failure; 10 of those 14 wins this season have been by just a single goal.

Our League position allied with the lack of quality I observe every time we play had been a paradox, but now I think it's solved. We have simply been lucky.

It is not for nothing that I argued in my Walsall preview that we are in a false position, because we cannot be outpassed and outplayed technically week-in and week-out without the injustices eventually catching up with us.

This is of course without even drawing attention to the gulf in resources between Charlton and the likes of Walsall.

Charlton were absolutely woeful today, but frankly not materially worse than almost every other time I've seen them this season (perhaps only Bristol Rovers notwithstanding). The only difference was the outcome.

There is absolutely no discernible game plan other than an attempt to hit the ball long, and somehow retain possession deep in the opposition half.

It's not dissimilar to the type of tactics suitable for rugby, but it is football for neanderthals. If it wasn't for Gary Doherty's defensive interventions, it could have been Brighton all over again.

I'm not a passing purist. Indeed, I would not mind if we adopted an all-out physical direct approach, but instead we fall into the grey twilight between the two and it's pitiful to watch. No wonder the crowds are falling.

The gap between the midfield and attack is so great, that you can count on one hand the number of times we retain quality possession facing the goal inside the final third.

Jose Semedo does his blocking role to good effect, but he is so woefully limited otherwise that there is no prospect of playing the ball forward through midfield.

Therry Racon is overburdened alongside him as a result, and enthusiastic as he is, I continue to conclude that he is a quite dreadful techinical footballer.

The pint-sized Walsall pair of Matt Richards and Steve Jones were made to look like Xavi and Iniesta at times, so controlled and efficient were they on the ball throughout.

It really does beg the question what the managerial trio are doing on the training ground each week? Where is the innovation, the evidence of individual improvement and the consistency (in performance, not results)?

Surely they're not setting the team up to play like this. Youngsters learn how to 'pass and move' when they're 7 years old, yet Charlton stand around like statues forcing those endless pointless balls forward played solely in hope.

In October I argued that there was no point climing aboard the 'Parky Out' bandwagon because, "..I'm far from convinced that there is any realistic alternative that is both financially viable, and where the likelihood of success (ie. promotion within two seasons say) is virtually guaranteed to be higher."

However the news of the pending takeover potentially alters both of these caveats quite substantially.

Indeed for new owners to merely observe the League One table, and conclude that all was well on the pitch would be the ultimate form of 'outcome bias' in my view.

I can merely hope for Parky's sake that they weren't at The Valley today.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blazing Saddlers

Charlton are likely to start Sunday’s game outside of the promotion places given the queue of teams behind us, but there would be few excuses if we don’t reclaim 2nd place by 4pm.

Walsall arrive at The Valley in a sorry 24th place, a promising start to the season ruined by an awful run of just 2 wins in 15 League One games.

However a brief glance at the types of attendances the Saddlers attract to the Bescot Stadium, emphasises the massive gulf that exists between their resources and ours.

Attendances threaten to dip below the 3,000 mark if the team’s performances continue to falter on the field, yet they somehow managed to produce a tiny trading profit in their most recently published accounts.

Whilst Charlton’s financial problems are well-documented and real, even if we balanced the books too (something Murray declares impossible in League One, but I beg to disagree), we’d still have the ability to operate with a playing budget multiples larger than some of our competitors.

Admittedly this simple metric probably easily explains the 22 places and 18 points that separate the two sides, but the likes of Bournemouth, Oldham and Carlisle are operating with similar constraints, but keeping pace with the comparatively richer likes of the Addicks.

Charlton’s win at Luton was a typical performance under Parkinson. An almost total lack of any discernible ‘quality’ (conditions were not helpful admittedly), but plenty of endeavour and ultimately an important win.

I wanted to joke that at times we made Luton look like a non-League side, but in truth we didn’t even manage that.

Unfortunately it lends more evidence to my belief that we are currently in a false position, and that the League table at the end of the season will prove it, substantial new investment notwithstanding.

This Charlton side would get outpassed by the Dog & Duck (but probably eke out a 1-0 win).

Parky wasn’t a managerial dunce after the Brighton defeat, and he isn’t a managerial genius now so other factors must be at work too, not least fortune (and I’m not referring to Jonathan).

The crazy appointment of Alan Pardew at Newcastle has led some to speculate whether he might invite Phil Parkinson to become his assistant again, so devastatingly successful were the pair last time around.

He may not be a managerial genius, but neither is Parky stupid enough to even contemplate working in such circumstances so the rapidly diminishing ‘Parky Out’ brigade will have to wait a little while longer.

The price of a 3rd Round trip to Spurs appears to be niggling injuries to two key players, Rob Elliott and Paul Benson.

Pawel Abbott looked brighter than usual when he came on at Kenilworth Road, and may have done enough to replace Benson if he is indeed unavailable.

However Lee Martin is back in the frame, and his most recent performance against Bristol Rovers was an impressive one. Likewise Akpo Sodje’s late cameo in the same game.

This is the second of a vital trio of games within the space of just five days, which will go along way to defining the season. We should have enough in the squad to beat Walsall without risking Elliott and Benson’s fragile fitness.

By Tuesday night we could well be 2nd in League One, a two-legged game away from Wembley and with a cup tie at Spurs to look forward to. Even I might cheer up a bit after that.

It’s about time Charlton won comfortably at home, so my charity bet will reflect this hope and to a lesser extent, expectation.

NY Addick bets £10 on Charlton to win 3-0 (at 11/1)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Earning Our Spurs?

Given that I live 15 miles from Luton and there's been a hard frost every night this week, I'd considered a postponement of tonight's game to be likely.

However I've seen no mention of a pitch inspection, and with somewhat milder temperatures forecast for later today, I guess it's going ahead then.

Unfortunately I'll only be watching via an ESPN subscription (to be set up minutes before kick-off, then terminated shortly thereafter), due to a long agreed babysitting commitment I made to the wife.

It would have been nice to have drawn a big club in the 3rd Round to add extra resonance, but at least Spurs is local thus ensuring a big away following for whichever club triumphs tonight.

By all accounts, the Hatters outplayed us eleven days ago. Add the likelihood of a hard bumby pitch, expectant home crowd and tight stadium, and you have all the ingredients for a Cup upset.

There's a tendency to view Luton as stronger opposition solely by virtue of recent memories of them as League contemporaries.

If we were facing Fleetwood Town or Gateshead tonight, I'd suspect most Addicks fans would already be planning their pub crawl up the Tottenham High Road. They'd probably be wrong about that too.

The carrot of a meaningful six-figure purse from the 3rd Round however ensures Parky will play his strongest side, although I probably won't be alone in not losing sleep if we lose tonight, especially if we go on to win on Sunday.

Andy Drury's stunning late equaliser ensured a tidy £80 charity bet win, and I'm tempted to think the momentum that goal garnered will be carried forward tonight.

NY Addick bets Andy Drury to score first (at 13/1)
NY Addick bets Luton to win 3-1 (at 27/1)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

World Cup Willy

I was disappointed but not surprised by today's World Cup decision.

My sons will be 9 and 11 respectively in 2018, perfect ages to experience the amazing experience of the World Milton Keynes.

Now I'm conscious that by the time we might conceivably win the right to host the tournament again, I'll be 57 years old.

Realistically despite the usual English arrogance about the 'unique' attributes of the bid, Europe is the global hotbed of football and once-a-century is about all we can expect given local competition and global rotation.

It's hard to argue why the 9th most populous nation in the world shouldn't have the right to host a World Cup.

You just have to hope fans don't get the 2018 and 2022 World Cups mixed up, and go to Qatar looking for call girls. There's plenty of natural gas in both though.

Clearly the Qatari bid winning 2022 is ludicrous, although once I'd had time to think about it, it might actually be a fabulous first tournament to attend in person.

Given how close the stadia will be to each other, fans can remain at a single hotel and for example, aim to attend one game per day for a week then head home.

After all, there will be nothing else to do inbetween matches. Once you've seen one sand dune, you've seen them all.

Seriously though, I'm tending to view every major global event these days through the lens of 'old world versus new world', the UK firmly being in the former category.

Old world countries are indebted, ageing and rapidly losing the standards of living they once took for granted.

New world countries are in surplus, vibrant and hungry for the above standards of living. Qatar is probably the richest nation on the planet.

A recent headline made me chuckle: "Russian debt set to rise to 16% of GDP by 2012." The UK's is already at 71.3% and rising.

So when pundits say England 'earned' the right to host the World Cup in 2018, what do they really mean?

Friendly Takeover?

As if merely in passing, Charlton's ugly new website confirmed a bid for the club has been accepted by the current owners, Baton 2010 Ltd.

Pending due diligence, the deal could be completed by Christmas.

Ironically despite the fact that this is the news we've been waiting for, there's actually not very much to say.

Most fans are comforted by the fact that Peter Varney is fronting the bid, but it's easy to read too much into this.

The big unknown has always been Richard Murray's own personal financial situation, and the speed with which he needs to offload the club, knowing that ongoing deficits need financing.

The consensus view has tended to be that Murray would only sell to the 'right' investors with Charlton's best interests in mind, but this may not be the case.

I've no particular inside track on who's behind this offer, but it's always worth remembering that no serious investors would touch a football club with a bargepole.

Indeed the concept of a football club even constituting an 'investment' in an absolute sense is dubious.

Why invest in a business where the majority of revenues leak out in the form of salaries, when you can invest in real businesses with real earnings and more importantly, genuine growth prospects?

$500,000 would have bought you 5% of Facebook six years ago.

Surely no amount of Boardroom schmoozing can justify such a massive personal outlay for all but the super-rich. Just ask the recently departed directors.

However as mentioned in a recent post, on a relative basis Charlton do constitute a very attractive potential investment so long as one is willing to invest the capital required to ensure promotion to the Premiership (£25m?).

It would be nice to hope that the consortium involved has this plan in mind, but until we know more, even cautious optimism may be uncalled for.

Arcade Fire

I attended an awesome Arcade Fire gig at the O2 Arena last night, and it got me thinking about Johnnie Jackson.

The Canadian group are a mesmerising experience live, and despite the soulless surroundings of the O2, you felt like they were playing in your front room by the end. They were even rocking in the upper tier.

Only one band in the world would get me to traipse through the snow and organise an overnight hotel stay in the beautiful surroundings of Bugsbys Way.

As they reeled off another stunning anthem, I turned to my Spurs-supporting mate and said "They're just in a different league to other bands."

"I mean it's like saying Lionel Messi and Johnnie Jackson are both goalscoring left-footed midfielders."

Yet the curious thing about both music and football is how hard it is to explain the difference to the uninitiated.

Just try it yourself. What does Messi have that Jackson doesn't, which can be explained in simple terms to a layperson?

You just know it when you see it, or in Arcade Fire's case hear it too. Pure class.