After the appointment of Karl Robinson, a supporter commented on the Charlton Life forum that at last Duchâtelet had appointed a young manager with promotion experience.
But didn’t we have one of those in place when the Belgian took over our club, I mused? Not only a young, enthusiastic manager, but one who was steeped in the culture and values of the Addicks; one who had played 244 games for the club in three stints; one who got us promoted in record-breaking style back to The Championship in his first full season in charge and one who was hugely liked and respected, not only by our fans, but throughout the English footballing world?
When he sacked Chris Powell in March 2014, Duchâtelet stated, "I can assure supporters this was not an easy decision, but it has been made with the club's future in mind. Time will tell if it is the right decision." Sadly for our club, time has indeed told its tale in a depressingly cruel way. It has also shed a harsh light on events.
Former club employee, Jimmy Stone, released the first two episodes of his carefully-compiled radio documentary "Getting to Know the Network" a couple of weeks ago. At the same time, he revealed the contents of two emails sent by Duchâtelet to Chris Powell. The first pointedly challenges why Thuram had not played in goal in the preceding two matches (when Ben Alnwick had kept consecutive clean sheets). The second contains a remarkably condescending explanation of tactics and training methods - going as far as to name a first eleven.
The immediate response from The Valley was that the club do not comment on “private emails”. Clearly this statement did not make it across the Channel, as the very next day, Roland ranted to a Belgian newspaper that the emails were authentic - meaning that Powell had leaked them, that Powell refused to answer the phone to him, which is why he sent emails, and that it should not be unheard of that the boss of a last-place club should offer his coach sound advice.
In the intervening two and a half years, Roland’s recollection of facts is clearly playing tricks on him. Just about every claim in his recent statement can be challenged, the authenticity of the emails aside. We can all make up our own minds from the content whether the missives constitute direct orders from the owner regarding team selection and set-up or whether, as Roland suggests, they are simply offering guidance and “sound advice”. Katrien, after all, is on the record as saying that the former would be “mind-blowing”.
Powell explained to the Trust in an interview in February 2015 just how much effort he had put in to make the relationship with the new ownership work: “I was very open with them at the start – I said to Roland, I will come over and I will meet you, and you can tell me exactly what your plans are. I held my hand out, extended friendship to say welcome to South East London. I will tell you exactly what the Club’s about, what’s gone great, what hasn’t.” This does not sound like a man who refused to pick up the phone – at least in the beginning. Let’s also put to bed the notion that Powell himself leaked the emails – Jimmy Stone has categorically refuted this.
Concerning our league position, the emails were sent at the end of January, when Charlton were not in last place, but 22nd, with one or two games in hand on immediate rivals and a far superior goal difference. At the time of Powell’s sacking in March, Duchâtelet’s official statement stressed that the decision had more to do with a failure to find common ground rather than shortcomings on the pitch. He said there had been "good progress" in talks over a new deal for Powell but that the two parties "could not reach an agreement over the club's football strategy going forward.” He admitted that the arrival of network signings and sale of Stephens and Kermorgant had “put a strain on the working relationship between Chris and the board. Therefore, I think it is best for all parties that we part ways at this stage.” One can only deduce that certain emails added to that strain.
It is quite noticeable that the owner’s communication style in the statements has changed considerably in the past two and a half years, both in substance and in tone. In the Belgian newspaper article two weeks ago Duchâtelet brazenly concludes, “The regular fans, even today, still think we did a good job.” For such a rational man, Roland nevertheless seems to be bang on trend with the Oxford Dictionary’s international word of the year: post-truth.