Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chris P. Chilly Beef

Reading some of the emotional outpourings of grief from a meaningful majority of Charlton fans yesterday, one might initially have concluded Chris Powell must have died rather than merely lost a relatively well-paid job.

He departed as one of the ten longest-serving managers out of the 92 clubs, a fact both remarkable and ridiculous for a manager still rightly described as a ‘rookie’.

At the time of his appointment, I vociferously considered his success as a Charlton player and his all-round good character as being obviously true but irrelevant when assessing his suitability for the job. 

However it was precisely those qualities which persuaded Tony Jimenez to take a risk, and although I thought him crazy at the time, with the full benefit of hindsight it was an inspired move.

His familiarity helped rally the fans at a difficult time whilst his likeability was key to motivating a newly-built team in 2011/12 to win 30 out of 46 matches.

The following season was something of a conundrum – investment in the team was limited but then again the recently accumulated squad had masqueraded as a Championship team in League One.

Our campaign threatened to drift into a relegation scrap much as the current one has, but two pivotal wins (Cardiff and Bolton at home) reversed the momentum completely at vital moments.

Whether you put those turnarounds from two goals behind down to luck, opposition incompetence, managerial genius (or likely some combination thereof), their impact was undeniable.

Those two games plus the seven games that followed each generated a total of 33 points, more than half of our entire season’s total from sixteen games.

It is nonsense to suggest we ‘almost’ made the play-offs – we accumulated 18 points from our final eight games and still finished effectively four points short.  It was a virtual mathematical impossibility several weeks before the season ended.

Importantly however the general consensus that we had almost done so worked against Powell’s best interests, implying to the now cash-strapped (former) owners that the squad was stronger than it really was in reality last summer.

Whilst the squad clearly wasn’t strengthened last summer, it is hard to argue it was materially weakened either – the ageing Fuller (who started only 20 games) and the usually crocked Haynes replaced by Sordell and Church, with the remaining ins and outs largely being insignificant ‘noise’ around the edges.

If one was being harsh therefore, one might suggest Charlton’s poor form this season (at least until the takeover) was entirely consistent with last season’s ‘conundrum’ ie. we rode our luck then, and we have now been ‘found out’.

Unfortunately for Powell overachieving this way (whether by luck or otherwise) again somewhat paradoxically did not serve him well in the eyes of Duchatelet given how things have subsequently transpired this season.

With a wage bill firmly in the League’s bottom half, an accumulation of 55 points would have represented a reasonable enough return last season.

However looked at with a fresh pair of eyes like Duchatelet’s (unaware that our points total last season almost certainly flattered us), it would not be hard to see why he would immediately have grave concerns about Powell’s abilities, even before any conversation about his plans for player recruitment etc.

The new owner may have been told (politely knowing Powell’s way) that the ‘players aren’t good enough’ but he might have looked at last season’s table and the virtually unchanged squad, and simply have disagreed. 

Even worse when handed a half-dozen new players in January, Powell continued to largely prefer the incumbents.  It’s not hard to see why the relationship became untenable.

The agricultural football dished out on a regular basis would not have helped his cause either, even if The Valley pitch is suitable currently only for agriculture.

Indeed it seems unarguable that Powell produced teams which were functional rather than stylish, even during the record-breaking 2011/12 season. 

It is unclear whether this was an approach designed to fit the squad at his disposal (implying he could adopt a passing style with different players), or whether it is the only approach he is comfortable with.

Notably during the disastrous second half to 2010/11, he clearly tried to get his newly inherited team to get the ball down and play but it was quickly apparent they weren’t able to effectively.

He certainly seemed trapped at times in his naturally risk-averse straitjacket, an observation which if true would represent an obvious weakness.  The very best managers are flexibly-minded.

However as an inexperienced manager he should be judged less severely than more seasoned peers, and it’s possible (as many believe) that he will flourish into one of the very best over time.

Some fans care little about style and only about points but speaking personally, as I get older I find the former is just as important as the latter if not more so. 

With my free leisure time away from work and family responsibilities extremely limited, I value seeing good football significantly more than I used to. 

I think a Board will naturally be more patient with a struggling manager adopting a more attractive progressive playing style, because the ‘optics’ are better (in short they can see what the manager is trying to achieve more readily).

The fans were patient because they understood the limited resources and because it was well, Chris Powell.

Unfortunately when a more direct or conservatively set-up team plays poorly, you risk performances like Sunday’s which are almost impossible to defend in the circumstances.  Even some of the most ardent Powell supporters must have had their heads turned.

I’m conscious of course that I haven’t yet mentioned Duchatelet’s plans for player recruitment yet, particularly those borrowed or acquired (perhaps temporarily) from his own network of clubs.

It seems strange to fear becoming a feeder club when so far we have only been fed by Standard Liege.  If it’s a problem, I think it’s only one for the distant future.

It's worth remembering we’ve always been a ‘feeder’ club, just for different clubs not one (Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea......)

Intereference in team selection is clearly unworkable, but I have no problem with a manager having only very limited input into recruitment given how short their average tenure is. 

This is the much-feared but actually quite sensible ‘European model’.

At the other extreme, an absolute managerial veto on sales (for example in the case of Stephens or Kermorgant), or an effective open cheque book for purchases is likewise unworkable.

In short there is a huge misalignment of interests – when was the last time you heard any manager state that he was happy with his current squad?

It’s certainly possible that Powell was denied any say (let alone veto) whatsoever which he may be have considered intolerable, but conversely being told to get on with coaching, preparing and selecting from the squad he is given is surely not entirely unreasonable either, even if it’s uncommon?

Fans who demand differently seem detached from the financial reality of the club losing perhaps £5-6m in the Championship. 

Berating the person who is stepping up and funding the deficit whilst daring to try an alternative model surely deserves some respect (even perhaps from Powell, though we aren’t privy to the exact nature of their conversations).

The club tried the ‘wealthy fan model’ and it ultimately failed, and then we tried the ‘wealthy non-fan fronted up by a couple of iffy geezers model’ and that clearly failed too.

There’s no guarantee the ‘club network’ model will work either but I at least am prepared to give it a try.

It’s a shame Powell isn’t coming along for the ride but there’s two sides to every story and I suspect it didn’t have to be like this. 

The relationship was clearly chilly and each party had its beef. 

Some mutual compromise might have gone a long way.


At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you and these same fans who are continually moaning Powells sacking, would be calling for blood if it had been any other manager with the same set of results!

Also the same fans who keep bemoaning we are in this position because we sold Kermogant and Stevens, they ought to actually see that the only league game we have won in 2014, was QPR, which neither played in!

I really liked and fully supported Sir Chris, but when he kept playing the same team, with the same same tactics and playing good players totally out of position, you have to question his judgement, as we could all see it wasn't working!

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A nice assessment NYA - possibly because it accords with my own view of "Charlton world". Much as I regret the departure of Chrissy for all the reasons every one knows, I was regretting him staying even more. I'm quite excited about where we are going now.

But it seems about two thirds of Charlton fans(from a broad sweep of blogs and forums) are more concerned that we have the right people and do things the right way than success. I don't at all criticise - I have learnt an awful lot about Charlton fans this week - they are a very special breed and whilst I'm not in alignment with the majority, I'm very proud of them.

Pembury Addick

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

Excellent post and comments. What alternative do people suggest? Some say we should have just gone into administration, but that is a high risk strategy. There was no wealthy benefactor sailing up the Thames in his yacht and the QPR/Leicester model may be unsustainable anyway.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

Wyn, I don't think administration was ever on the cards given the vast majority of the unsecured debt is/was owed to the owners. How would administration have served their interests?

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

I certainly don't think it was an option, but some people are arguing that it would have been preferable to letting RD take charge. It's not my view.

At 7:58 PM, Anonymous richard busby said...

I think that duchalet may have a very interesting angle providing the financial play rules are fairly applied . If the Emirates can ride a coach and horses thru the rules then football is doomed as there will be no reasonable degree of equality . However if the rules are effectively enforced then the 15 or more teams in the championship who pay out more salaries than us will go rapidly down the table or face QPR type fines .

London clubs are far better investments than elsewhere in the country . They make more money so they can under financial fair play rules pay greater salaries . Also you have to wonder how he will totally legitimately inter charge clubs so that his chosen team generates greater income and the other clubs bear more of the costs . For example could a feeder club buy a player then loan him out at significantly lower cost than the market rate ?

The key question on Duchalet is he a Belgian who wants a Belgian team to do well in Europe but only receive £8 million in TV rights from Begian TV or does he want a club that can play in the worlds top premier league and be a Southampton (but with players from all over Europe) and also receive at least £ 120 million a year from TV in the UK .

Investing in enhancing the Academy is very good news. As is keeping good players until they are at least 23 . The former because it seems to suggest that Charlton will play a key role whatever that maybe . . ( That should hopefully mean no more cheap buys for Arsenal and Liverpool .) With significant interest in Poyet just starting the test of his resolve will come when West Ham or Villa make a significant offer . But luckily they don't have the monies (hopefully ) that might tempt Duchalet to make a quick return on his investment .

The only two other clubs that could become his lead team (rather than Standard Liege or Charlton ) would appear to be his Spanish team which he bought because it was near Madrid . Using similar criteria Bari however doesn't seem to fit .

I think from what Richard Murray said last Thursday night that ,if Duchalet is serious about Charlton, he will inevitably move us to a new stadium .

With a man intent on innovation it could be a very interesting trip . Let's just hope that at 67 he doesn't die or be incapacitated before his vision has a chance to become a reality .

Duchalet is the death of football as we have known it at the valley .Chris will be the last English Manager at Charlton probably for some time .European Managers are used to not choosing the players unlike UK managers: and Duchalet with his feeder club approach has to have a central buying players function . It is fundamental to his approach .

My first reaction to Chris Powell's dismissal was great sadness I also think he did brilliantly despite the owners he worked under ! I also think he was a true believer and servant of Charlton. Since our return to The Valley there are only two names : Curbishley and Powell .But it was also sadness because it signalled the death of football as we have known it at the valley . Traditional values have fallen . To be replaced by a rich mans desire to circumvent in part the Financial Fair play regulations but in a totally legal way and thus achieve success on the field for at least one of his flock of clubs !
We are on an interesting ride !

At 8:34 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

Richard, thanks.

If RD's main goal is to see Liege do well at Champions League level, this approach seems quite an expensive way to do it, although spreading the FFP losses across multiple clubs has some merit in this context.

London clubs do generate higher than average revenues but they also incur higher costs, especially wages. London is the only place in the country where a Championship footballer can't live 'like a footballer'.

At 12:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have often read your blogs NYA and generally speaking agreed and admired your perspective.

I am however rather shocked at your admiration of Duchâtelet and his methods. The way I see it is that we can only judge him on (i) the things he does and (ii) the things he says.

(i) So far he has drafted in several sub standard players (‘scuse the pun) and indirectly pressurised the manager to play them. Sold on a couple of stalwarts during the heat of the battle and sacked a popular manager - who I would argue - received very little financial support from either board. In fact, even when Powell formulated the promotion side it was done on a comparative shoestring.

(ii) Duchâtelet has said very coldly that Charlton need to show a profit and he aims to do this by selling the assets and containing the club - in general - to his network. A network incidentally that for the most part is far inferior to the level of Championship football. E.g. I am told that even the prolific scorer Polish Pete looks lightweight … in the our under 21 side.

How on earth can Charlton improve/survive under this regime? There is no point having a multi millionaire owner who refuses to put his hand in his pocket.

I also disagree that Duchâtelet has the right to do whatever he likes just because he owns the club. Surely owning a football club bears responsibility? A responsibility to the staff, the supporters and even the history and heritage of that club.

I feel that Duchâtelet’s expertise in electronics gave him no right to meddle in Powell’s squad / team. Powell is a consummate football pro who at his peak played for England - Duchâtelet works in electronics. If he continues to treat Charlton Athletic as a plaything to amuse himself I fear the worse.

Finally has Duchâtelet saved Charlton Athletic? I don’t think so. To me he seems to be threatening to rip the heart out of our club. OK Charlton have had lean times, but if we are to merely ‘exist’ as a glorified feeder club the dream has gone.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Vol said...

The same fans who jumped on Parkinson for unattractive football on a low budget are the same ones who adulated over Powell for ..guess what...unattractive football on a low budget.

Some of the "football" we have seen at the Valley this season has been as bad as anything we have witnessed since the 70s. Powell got a free pass because the ownership was in the balance and a vocal, hand wringing minority of our fans venerated him. People voted with their feet at Powell's style of football, and crowds consistently declined in his era. Like him or not, as soon as we got an owner who looked critically at the product, as opposed to what Powell was used to, a bunch of dandruffed old duffers in blazers there for the match day hob nobbing, he was gone.

I hope RD goes a step further and starts to identify and ban the "Wally Element" of our remaining fan base next season. They hold CAFC back.

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Rich Pemberton said...

Good post. I think it worth saying that, whilst I have sympathy with the view it might have gone differently, Powell appears to have had the club's greater interests at heart when insisting on his authority over the starting XI.

There is therefore a huge question mark over what's been saved by Duchatelet. If, as I hope, his intentions are to forward Charlton Athletic by leveraging his network then I'm fully behind his strategy. However, there are numerous reports and rumours that suggest this isn't the primary objective.

In the 80s and 90s we fought for The Valley because, we said, it was key to our club's identity. Also key is its autonomy. We may have another campaign on our hands.

Or of course RD could share his strategy honestly to see if it's something we can buy into...

At 5:16 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

@Anonymous - I don't admire Duchatelet but I'm willing to be open-minded on his motives and modus operandi. Outside of the biggest six or so Premiership clubs, the English football model is clearly 'broken' and some fresh thinking is required - we may indeed be the subject of an experiment which might go wrong, but as mentioned in my blog we've tried two other more traditional methods and the money essentially ran out.

I'm not sure Duchatelet (or any other owner) has a responsibility to anyone - the good news is that the interest of all the various stakeholders (fans, staff, players etc.) is generally aligned with his ie. a financial return for Duchatelet probably means success on the pitch (ignoring draconian scenarios like a sale of the land and a liquidation).

@Vol - totally agree that the football has been diabolical. The pitch has been a reasonable excuse in recent weeks but I'm regularly shocked at how poor we are 'technically' when going forward.

I doubt if Tony Jimenez has ever been described as a dandruffed old duffer in a blazer but I take your point!

By the way the comparison to Parkinson (not at all popular with fans) is an interesting one - whisper it quietly but his points per game record is virtually identical to Powell's (1.51 vs 1.46 points per game). One also needs to consider the fact that Parkinson took over a team in freefall whilst Powell took over a team in a play-off spot. On the flipside Powell managed 52% of his matches in the Championship compared to 29% for Parkinson so the benchmark needs to be adjusted accordingly.

@Rich Pemberton - I'd be disappointed if the leveraging of Duchatelet's network was the sole means of player recruitment (along with the Academy of course). If however it was merely one leg of the stool then I am also fully behind the strategy. To use the example of Watford, whilst they have a number of players signed (either permanently are on loan) from their partner clubs, they also have players on loan from QPR, Arsenal and Genoa, and signed players pre-season from 'non-partner' clubs too eg. Lewis McGugan.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Richard busby said...

I don't think Duchalet has necessarily decided which horse to back .i think he is spreading his risk .it could be Liege . It could be Charlton . It could be the Spanish Club. Another point to bear in mind is that Liege even though they are Belgian Champions only get on average around 20,000 supporters .So their supporter base is far less than a successful Charlton .With financial fair play rules this will severely limit Lieges capacity to pay big enough salaries to keep or attract top players.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous noel said...

for someone with a keen eye on the economics, I can't see why the Belgian would have thoughts of moving us from the Valley. The stadium is plenty good and big enough for us for now and the forseeable future (the pitch is fixable). TV money is so dominant that only the top 6 in the Prem need to generate significant matchday income. The land is not valuable enough to pay for a new stadium near the Dome or elsewhere else, and we still have the ability to 'wrap' the Jimmy Seed end of the gound etc. I can't see why this keeps coming up as a possiblity...

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Confidential Rick said...

Have to say I find the phrase "dandruffed old duffers in blazers" totally unacceptable..Only last week I had the blazer cleaned and the dandruff situation has much improved since changing shampoo..

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