White 13 Dallas 28 Roberts 51 Shackleton 66
BY RICHARD CAWLEYYou’d like to think that relegation was the end of the nightmare. But for Charlton, there is every sign that the torture will continue.
Wednesday night was crushing for the Addicks as their stay in the Championship lasted just one season. But there are not really any grounds for optimism.
It tells you everything when you can say that Charlton would have been better off with Roland Duchatelet in charge of the football club than East Street Investments.
And the chaos and lack of substance from ESI is likely to drive away Lee Bowyer, who has done such an admirable job in challenging circumstances in SE7.
Duchatelet takes some of the blame, of course he does. It was the Belgian’s decision to strike a ‘takeover’ deal which has been disastrous and damaging.
Optimism was sky high in January. The noises from ESI were that they were going to ‘under-promise and over-deliver’. They indicated privately that they would look to secure Bowyer and star striker Lyle Taylor on new deals along with looking to sign Josh Cullen permanently from West Ham.
Aside from Bowyer extending his stay until 2023, none of those other things materialised. ESI have been all talk – much of it in-fighting on social media platforms – and no action.
The January transfer window was an unmitigated disaster.
Matt Southall, appointed as chairman, instructed Bowyer and director of football Steve Gallen to go and meet Marcus Maddison, then at Peterborough United. They also travelled to Manchester to try and sell a loan deal to Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster.
But what supporters didn’t know then – but do now – is that ESI had not got approval for their ‘takeover’ from the EFL. The source and sufficiency of funding were an issue.
And ESI are still in that position now. Charlton have been under a registration embargo from January, which ensured they could only spend at their existing budget. And Duchatelet had not increased the wagebill from the League One level despite play-off glory at Wembley.
So as a hefty chunk of the goals were ripped out of Bowyer’s side by Connor Gallagher opting for a well-run and ambitious Swansea City side and Jonathan Leko’s serious knee injury forcing his return to West Bromwich Albion, the Addicks could only spend like-for-like on replacements.
Southall did nothing to prepare the Addicks fanbase for an anti-climatic finish to the window.
He offered a prize for the first fan to guess one of their signings on deadline day. It was Manchester City youngster Matt Smith, who went on to play just 62 minutes. His loan wasn’t extended.
Aiden McGeady and Andre Green couldn’t contribute anywhere near to the same level as Gallagher or Leko. David Davis struggled to hold down a starting spot and opted not to extend following lockdown.
Charlton were weaker for the January window and I’d be lying if I said the decision by Taylor not to play in the last nine fixtures didn’t have a major effect.
The Addicks failed to score in five of those games and you just know that the former AFC Wimbledon man would have taken some of the chances created. That’s meant as absolutely no slight on Macauley Bonne, who had an excellent first campaign in SE7.
But I’d also say that Charlton’s short-term planning under Duchatelet was always going to come back to bite them.
The good clubs reward players as both parties progress. While the champagne was still chilling in the ice buckets after that epic victory over Sunderland, the likes of Taylor should have been handed a significantly improved contract.
But Duchatelet doesn’t work that way. He didn’t even rush to lock down Bowyer on a long-term deal following promotion.
And the Belgian only ramped up the salary offer to Taylor when Brentford made a concerted effort to tempt him away in August, effectively matching their terms.
Sometimes you can shut down situations happening and avoid flashpoints. Duchatelet didn’t do that with Taylor, and the price was a heavy one.
Players want to see ambition. They want to see professionalism at boardroom level. They want to see there is untapped potential.
And you can’t tick those boxes at Charlton. Not at the moment. Bowyer and the players achieved success despite limitations placed on them. But you don’t last in the Championship without an owner backing you.
Taylor won’t be the last quality player to leave Charlton because of the current situation. Patrick Bauer and Joe Aribo – two heroes from their last campaign in League One – went last May.
And goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, recently crowned Player of the Season and with only one year left on his deal, is the subject of serious interest from clubs playing at a higher level than the South Londoners.
The same applies to Alfie Doughty, who also only has 12 months to run on his terms. Fulham made it clear that they would pay £2million for him in January. His pace and natural attributes mean his development potential is sky high.
Charlton have 15 players contracted for the 2020-21 season. But Tom Lockyer has a relegation release clause which allows him to go for nothing.
If Bowyer does move on – and the noises are that he will – then that will leave a managerial appointment alongside a rebuild of the squad.
And we’re still waiting on the EFL to make a statement. What are they going to do about the fact that ESI have not passed their tests to officially take control of the club?
One train of thought is that they could prevent Charlton from competing in the league.
Something as drastic as that might then force Duchatelet to change his approach.
He still owns The Valley and Sparrows Lane training ground but interested parties say he is obstinately insisting he has a deal in place with ESI and so there is no need to talk to anyone else.
Andrew Barclay – one of those looking to engage with Duchatelet – spelled out his stance before kick off at Elland Road.
“Whatever the outcome, our interest in acquiring The Valley, training ground and club remains,” he tweeted.
When it comes to sifting through the wreckage for the black box which details the reasons why Charlton crashed back to English football’s third tier, you have to place a huge amount of responsibility on those in control of the purse strings.
Whether it was ESI bickering like immature children or Duchatelet wanting out and not prepared to significantly invest, this season was always going to be a battle for survival.
The signs looked good early on but then an injury crisis – with up to 14 senior first-teamers sidelined at one point – took its toll.
After a confident and comfortable 3-0 victory over Derby County on October 19 they were seventh in the table, only four points behind leaders West Bromwich Albion. There was even talk of a play-off push.
Charlton had six victories from their first 12 matches. They would only win the same amount in their final 34 fixtures.
From October 23 until January 22 they won once in 17 games, sliding to 19th in the standings.
Then it became a dogfight. Taylor played in all but two of their wins prior to the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s ifs and buts, but slim margins decide things. He missed 13 matches after damaging knee ligaments while on international duty with Montserrat. A thigh injury ruled him out for another couple.
Bowyer – never shy to criticise the officials – will point to a succession of poor officiating calls. He also complained about his team not taking chances. Every club in the league will be able to cite similar circumstances.
It’s tempting just to look at the most recent matches for defining moments. See out the Birmingham City match and that would have seen the Midlands club go down. Instead Lukas Jutkiewicz scored deep into stoppage time.
The reality is that you really wanted Charlton not to need to go to Leeds – the outstanding team in a division with maddening inconsistency – needing a win to end any doubts about going down.
The hope was that the Yorkshire giants would still be drunk on ending their lengthy wait for a return to the Premier League. But the only influence they were under was the brilliance of Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds could have led by more than Ben White and Stuart Dallas goals at the interval and it had become about results elsewhere well before Tyler Roberts and Jamie Shackleton made it a more damaging reverse.
The Addicks were staying up until Clarke Odour’s 91st-minute goal at Brentford produced one final, late sickening twist to proceedings.
Duchatelet will not get a £1.5m survival bonus agreed with ESI. But it’s small fry considering the club’s existence is at threat.
Charlton (5-3-2): Phillips 7, Matthews 4, Lockyer 4, Pearce 4 (Morgan 45, 4), Sarr 4, Doughty 6, Cullen 4, Field 4, McGeady 4 (Williams 46, 4), Davison 5 (Aneke 46, 4), Bonne 4 (Green 79). Not used: Amos, Purrington, Oshilaja, Lapslie.
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