By Rick Everitt
Roland Duchâtelet’s minions at Charlton like to refer to the club’s Belgian owner as “the president”.
It’s a title that sounds odd in English ears, which I’d speculate is because we remain a monarchy and not a republic - if that wasn’t true of Belgium too. Anyway, we’ve had presidents and vice-presidents before and it’s only ever been a slightly ludicrous courtesy title.
So Duchâtelet is not a president. In practice, he’s an emperor, as Kevin Nolan irritatingly nipped in front of me to describe him in his excellent match report from MK Dons.
In view of the noises coming out of Belgium about the Tony Watt transfer from Standard Liège, I’ll refrain from commenting on Kevin’s related reference to fiddles. It’s unlikely we’ll hear a more elaborate tune than we did under the previous ownership anyway.
For me Duchâtelet is an emperor because he seeks to exercise absolute power within his realm, and he does it by commanding the complete obedience of his minions.
More pertinently, however, it is because he doesn’t have any clothes.
Some of us with reliable sources inside the club pointed this out in March 2014 when Chris Powell was sacked. Lots of people didn’t want to hear it then, but as latest stooge Karel Fraeye embarks on his probably short-lived spell as Duchâtelet’s fifth head coach / manager in 20 months, there are dropped pennies scattered right across Floyd Road.
The point isn’t to dig out those reluctant to accept the situation back then, or even last February when appointment number four Guy Luzon took the reins. If anything it’s a tribute to the fair-mindedness of Charlton fans that they wanted to extend the benefit of every doubt to the new owner, particularly given the circumstances he inherited.
I tried, as did others, to see the positives in the fact we scrambled clear of disaster in both recent campaigns. I hoped, with everyone else, that this time it would be different. The hard truth, however, is that it is the same, but worse. And continuing this way madness lies.
The background to Powell’s SE7 sacking and the earlier sale of Yann Kermorgant were flashing red warning lights about the emperor. They have faded at times, but they never went away. Duchâtelet’s cloak, back then, was his network - more properly his empire - and his supposed ability to utilise synergies and cut costs.
In practice, the only serious territories in the empire were Standard Liège and Charlton - his other clubs, whatever their histories, more realistically equate to Gibraltar, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The relationship with Liège was a decidedly mixed blessing for us, but in any event it is gone. The others are irrelevant.
What’s left is a threadbare approach in which his Charlton army is sent into battle without guns or tanks or infantry in some or other combination and the generals are always to blame for each and every defeat.
They must be, because Duchâtelet, as he modestly asserts, is a visionary. Indeed, defined as someone who sees things which are not there, this may be true. For one of the problems with emperors, being so high and mighty, is that they tend to lose touch with the reality of life in their respective territories.
It’s difficult, given the series of crises into which Charlton have drifted under Duchâtelet’s fiat, to believe that this particular emperor has ever had much grasp of the particular challenges of running a Championship football club.
He may see the numbers on the spreadsheets clearly, but since he almost never visits his English dominion it’s highly unlikely he understands it. By appointing inexperienced and callow viceroys to deliver his edicts on the ground he also deprives himself of the insight more experienced lieutenants might deliver. It is a toxic combination, as events have proven.
It is not necessary to believe that Duchâtelet is evil - or for that matter that his viceroys would not wish to have sufficient tools and wisdom to pacify the natives - to reach the conclusion that he must eventually be defeated, by events if not unrest.
In the meantime, it falls upon his original viceroy to emerge from the priest hole in which she has been hiding for the last fortnight to treat with the unhappy locals and try to explain a plan that isn’t working, she probably doesn’t understand and which may well not exist.
Her compensation is that when this trial is over she can go home. But we live here and we will have to rebuild from the ruins he leaves behind.
Such discussion is what often happened in falling empires as a prelude to handing over to more local control, even though that was rarely the intention. Some will put their trust in this, but they risk being tarnished by association.
An English lesson by contrast might look at the veracity of what has been said before and instead conclude that now is the time to “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”. If nothing else that may help concentrate a few minds.
Personally, I’m sticking with Shakespeare. I think British insight is what we require most urgently. But whether this is seen as comedy or tragedy, the stakes now are very high.
VOTV176, the final issue, was published on October 1st, 2022. It is sold out.
To order issues published between April 2013 and April 2022, please see the back issues pages. VOTV124 and VOTV127 are sold out.