Forget fairy tales, Roland, and get real
ANYONE who grew up in the 80s will remember those Ladybird books with the lavishly illustrated covers. Hansel and Gretel, The Sly Fox & the Red Hen; I even had one about Custer’s last stand. But my favourite was always The Magic Porridge Pot –a simple tale of an enchanted cauldron that produces porridge on command. Even at five, I knew this was a fairy story, that chanting ‘Cook, Little Pot Cook’ wouldn’t really save my mother a trip to Gateway. So why has Charlton owner Roland Duchatelet adopted it as a business model?
Put nothing in, say the magic word and POOF! A money-spinning Premier League club is yours for the pillaging.
Like Massimo Cellino, the Belgian thought he could rock up, sign a few cheap foreigners and stroll straight into the top flight. But, like the unhinged Italian, he has discovered that the Championship deals savagely with those who underestimate it.
And as Guy Luzon becomes the latest managerial corpse flung into the Championship charnel house, the question must be asked: Does Duchatelet even know what he is trying to do?
Fundamentally, his aims are laudable. Build an infrastructure, bring the kids through, minimise financial losses. A guy worth £500m knows how to run a company and the fact he rescued Charlton from the brink of ruin should not be forgotten.
But none of that means much when the core of your business – the team – is an unstable ragbag unfit for purpose. Duchatelet claims to have spent £8m on players since his arrival 20 months ago. Factor in the fees received
for the likes of Joe Gomez, Diego Poyet and Rhoys Wiggins and the reality is somewhat more skinflint. Players have been bought for their youth and sell-on value rather than their suitability to English football. Youngsters promoted too soon in the hope of making a quick buck.
Just this summer, Duchatelet sold his controlling stake in Standard Liege, stating that “things got complicated”. In reality, fans got sick of seeing star players ushered out of the door to the first serious bidder and turned nasty. Sound familiar?
Footballers aren’t exactly renowned for their foresight but Yann Kermorgant neatly cut to the heart of Charlton’s problems in an interview with The FLP shortly after his acrimonious departure from the Valley in 2014.
“I think the only thing Duchatelet wants is to make money,” said the Frenchman, now in the Premier League with Bournemouth. “He doesn’t want to pull anything from his pocket.
“That is why he wants to promote from the academy. When a young English player plays a few games in the Championship, he is worth £1m, £2m. He thinks you can make money easily.
“But at the same time, you will struggle to stay in the Championship if you don’t get players experienced at that level. And if you want players of that standard, you have to pay.
“When you buy a club, you have to go in thinking ‘I’m going to lose money’. If you go in with the purpose of making money, I think you will fail.
“At a club like Charlton, you can’t make money first and then have success. You need success, then you can start making money. Maybe I am wrong. We will see. But I think I will not be wrong.” So far, he is bang on. Truth is, you can win promotion on the cheap. Burnley and Bournemouth both showed that good coaching and a settled system can beat hard cash.
Yet in canning managers all over the place (that’s five in 20 months), Duchatelet hasn’t got a hope in hell of emulating those two.
And as for selling superstar kids, how does he expect a 17-year-old to become a world-class player with substandard team-mates and a new boss every week?
The manager has never been the problem.The problem is an owner who badly misjudged the strength of English football.
Like Cellino and his prosperous – if short-lived – alliance with Adam Pearson, Duchatelet needs an experienced director who knows the Championship. Who knows the market and how to cut a deal.Who will urge him to loosen the purse strings and keep his head when form dips.
Who will stop him chanting over that empty pot and tell him that fairy tales belong in children’s books. Otherwise, it’s hard to see the Belgian taking Charlton anywhere but League One.