By Rick Everitt
Friday, January 3rd, 2014
A new dawn has broken, has it not?
As the fog of uncertainty around the Charlton takeover began to clear on Friday the general mood was one of relief and celebration, and rightly so.
There has also been a quantity of scepticism over the credentials of Roland Duchatelet, prompted by mixed feedback about his reputation back home in Belgium where he already owns Standard Liege.
No doubt there is more of this to come. But the overriding concern has to be that under the previous ownership Charlton were in danger of sinking not just below the surface of the waterlogged Valley, but also back into League One.
That prospect will recede with the strengthening of the squad, already begun with the loan signing of 23-year-old attacking midfielder Astrit Ajdarević from the new owner’s Belgian league leaders.
How long Charlton fans have to wait to see him may depend on the success of another early commitment, to spend money on the Valley pitch, and whether this proves enough to save next weekend’s crucial home game against Barnsley.
Meanwhile a certain rewriting of history is already underway by the departing Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, with the latter revealing a hitherto well concealed sense of humour in a Huffington Blog post.
Or at least I assume it is meant to be a joke.
Slater, meanwhile, commented in the club’s official statement: “In every important respect we leave the club in a far better state than when we took over three years ago.”
Given that he is always a man to choose his words carefully, that is no doubt a calculated insult aimed at one or more of the senior management team who have left the club in the last 18 months.
Peter Varney, Steve Kavanagh, Dave Archer, Paul Ellison, Matt Wright, Wendy Perfect, Helen Reed, John McDonald, Andy Judd, Gary Haines and Prettee Jayasundera might take a different view, as do I and many of those still working at The Valley and Sparrows Lane.
And unlike his predecessor John Fryer, who Slater has edged out of a prestigious slot in the all-time Charlton chairmen’s Hall of Fame, the Manchester City fan clearly doesn’t regard the club’s playing surface as of any importance at all.
The debate over the last three years, who it was that got the club promoted back to the Championship and what happened next, will no doubt go on, with some on either side preferring to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to any evidence that doesn’t suit their cause.
A takeover was necessary in 2010 as in 2012-14 and there was always likely to be a price to be paid in terms of the way the club was run. It just took 18 months before it revealed itself.
What matters now is the future, and especially that Chris Powell is given the opportunity to build on the record-breaking season that saw the team emerge from League One.
The momentum of 2012 has obviously dissipated, but Powell’s resilience and dignity in the face of the turmoil around him is one of the largely unremarked successes of the last 18 months.
Despite being starved of investment and left with his own and his players’ short-term future in doubt, the Addicks boss has scraped together sufficient points to establish a base for survival in the second half of this season.
With the financial shackles eased somewhat he should finally have the chance to demonstrate his managerial talents on a more expansive canvass.
And while he will have to impress Duchatelet to remain in charge long-term, his outstanding personal qualities will always give a headstart in winning new friends.
Out goes scarcely visible part-time executive vice chairman Martin Prothero, with the impression he left on the club unlikely to outlast that of a sandcastle on Ramsgate beach in the day’s stormy weather.
As the man in charge of recruitment, Prothero barely signed a single player for cash and sold almost no one either in a tenure of less than 18 months.
Meanwhile, his dysfunctional three-man senior management team at The Valley seems unlikely to stand up to even the slightest critical examination from the new regime.
The only real question is who will get the reinstated role of chief executive. The answer to that may reveal the extent to which Duchatelet plans to bring in his own team or alternatively what influence non-executive chairman Richard Murray, a survivor of the upheaval but now without a shareholding, is able to wield.
With the exit of Prothero, there is also an apparent vacancy for someone to manage player recruitment.
Slater, on the other hand, is not quite gone. His “short handover period”, however, is very likely to be connected to the imminent settlement of Kavanagh’s unfair dismissal claim, after 18 months of procrastination.
The club moves on, as it must, and that should be marked with relief and some long overdue optimism, which we are happy to embrace.
Some questions about the takeover will need to be answered sooner rather than later, however. The foremost of these is what exactly Duchatelet’s Staprix NV has bought.
Charlton’s statement says only that it has acquired 100 per cent of the shares of the club. If this means Charlton Athletic Football Company Limited then there may be some cause for concern.
Under the complex existing structure, The Valley and the Sparrows Lane training ground are owned by Charlton Athletic Holdings Limited and leased to the football company, with both entities subsidiaries of Baton 2010 Limited.
This in turn was by 90 per cent owned by the British Virgin Islands based CAFC Holdings Limited and 10 per cent owned by Murray.
While Slater says in the statement it is time “to pass the baton”, it is nowhere explicit that it is Baton 2010 Limited that has been sold. Again, the wording will not be accidental. It is likely to be an intentional tease.
Equally there is no evidence that it is not Baton that has been sold, and it would be likely that major creditors Lombard, a subsidiary of RBS, would be keeping a watchful eye on that situation, as their debt is secured by a charge on the assets - unless they are being repaid as part of the deal.
Neither situation would engage the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust’s hard-won Asset of Community Value status, because that legal restraint is only triggered if Charlton Athletic Holdings Limited sells the ground - not if it is separated from the ownership of the football club.
In any event, the club has a lease and some rights as a consequence. But a separation would potentially enable the previous owners to leverage some future value out of the club. This needs to be clarified quickly.
Of less urgent importance is the question of what has happened to the debt.
Duchatelet is reported to have paid in the region of £20m, although the true figure may never be disclosed and earlier reports suggested £14m, which would have been an embarrassment given the loans put in.
The most likely scenario is that the £8m outstanding to the former directors and approximately £4m to Lombard remains in place and that Duchatelet has taken over £20m friendly loans while acquring the equity for a token sum.
However, we may not know much more about that until the 2013/14 accounts are published, which is likely to be in 2015.
These are all important questions, but they should not be allowed to obscure what is potentially a big step forward for the Addicks and will hopefully leave them looking up the Championship table again instead of down it.
As supporters we should fully expect to have our differences with the new owner in time. But he would have to work very hard do a worse job communicating with supporters or providing leadership and support within the business than those he replaces.
So for now Voice of The Valley extends a warm welcome to Roland Duchatelet, and as far as we are concerned he starts with a clean sheet.
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