Charlton Athletic, it’s happened again. A popular manager departs and is replaced by an unknown. At the time of writing, it looks increasingly likely that Bob Peeters will take the place of Jose Riga as the new head coach of the club.
Riga faced a tough task to win over most fans when he replaced a club legend in March. By the end of his time in charge, The Covered End sang out his name in admiration. And rightly so. Riga achieved as much as could have been realistically expected of him during his short stint.
It’s no surprise then to learn that he wanted to stay at the club beyond his initial contract until the end of last season, as he confirmed on Sky Sports News this afternoon. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the perfect match; the results were good, the football was decent, the players were happy and the fans were onside. Yet, for whatever reason, owner Roland Duchatelet has not seen it that way.
Instead, the chosen one looks like it will be Belgian coach Bob Peeters, currently contracted to Waasland – Beveren. Peeters’ record is second to many. But that’s not to say he can’t do well at Charlton. Naturally, we all hope that he does. But the question on everyone’s lips is this; why not Riga?
Actually, that’s not quite true. Today’s question is just the latest in a steady stream of confusion and frustration that has existed since the Duchatelet takeover.
There was the head-scratching inspired by the sales of key players in January, the anger provoked by the sacking of Chris Powell and more recently the wondering about why key players such as Dorian Dervite and Ben Hamer are being allowed to walk out the door.
Michael Morrison, a fine servant to the club for three seasons, has also been left in limbo. He had to go to the press to explain his situation and express a desire to see positive actions from the club that point towards progress on the field.
The fact that by the end of the season just one of Charlton’s January imports under Duchatelet – Astrit Ajdarevic -was featuring in the first team, was highlighted by Morrison as an area that drastically requires improvement this summer.
Questions about the direction of the club continue to linger in the air. Who is responsible for making decisions on players’ contracts? We do not – at the time of writing – currently have any senior football staff in place. Who is responsible for recruitment?
Roland’s choice of a ‘head coach’ rather than a manager indicates those decisions will be made by someone not working with the team – but who will that be? And what position will they hold?
And then there’s the one that everyone thinks but no one dares ask: what comes first; the needs of Charlton or the needs of the ‘network’? So much is muddied and unclear at the moment, you can forgive some fans for resorting to speculation and conjecture.
There have been positives. Of course there have. Plans for a new, state of the art training ground complex have been given the go ahead. The overdue reconstructing of the pitch is underway. The new “Matchday Live” feature on CAFC player has been a great success. A new season ticket policy has even seen a season of Championship football become available to fans for as little as £150.
Furthermore, while many fans were rightly angered by the shabby treatment of Chris Powell, Duchatelet’s pick of Jose Riga as his replacement was at least a good judgement call. His choice of Peeters over Riga may well prove to be similarly inspired. So there are reasons to be positive about life under Duchatelet moving forward.
But if we’re going to have a proper debate about Duchatelet, then let’s make it a fair one. The previous men in charge at The Valley – Michael Slater and Tony Jiminez – should not be his only points of comparison. There have been plenty of other, more successful, custodians of our club. Similarly just because things were bad beforehand, does not mean we can’t expect improvement now.
I have seen it suggested that Duchatelet “saved” us from administration, and for that we should be grateful. But Duchatelet is not a white knight who rushed to our aid. There was no altruistic motive. He is a businessman who purchased a football club when it was available at a cut-price. Nor did he “save” us from relegation. When the takeover was completed, we were 19th in the table.
Of course, we’re grateful to anyone who gives up their time and money for the advancement of our football club. But we also don’t need to herald them as a kindly philanthropist when that’s not the case.
By the same token, let’s not colour him a sinister, dictatorial overlord, hellbent on the absoloute destruction of Charlton Athletic Football Club. I remember being at Duchatelet’s first (and only) press conference at The Valley to date, I was impressed with the way he spoke of his vision of a football club as a gathering point for a community, a secular equivalent to Church.
That’s a vision I can get behind. But it’s not one that’s always been clear in the Belgian’s actions so far.
Football clubs are more than just businesses. The clue is in the name. “Club”. Defined as “an organization for people who have a common interest in a particular activity or subject.” Their successes and failures can never be solely measured in cold, hard, cash.
New pitches and training grounds are great, but no fan ever sang songs about a training ground or reminisces fondly about the day their team got a new pitch.
It’s the players, the memories, the characters, the glories and the agonies that seduce us to this game. The concern that I have felt drifting throughout the Charlton fanbase since the takeover is that Roland Duchatelet does not understand this.
The heavy turnover of players and managers in pursuit of profit can have a corrosive effect on the most important commodity a football club can offer its fans – belonging. Does Duchatelet realise that a core of identifiable players, such as the group that won us silverware in 2012 and is now being broken up, or respectable, admired managers such as Chris Powell and Jose Riga is what helps keep that passion alive?
The hope is that he does, and that we’ll see signs of it throughout a glorious future together.
The fear is that he does, he just doesn’t care.