New dawn at the Valley?

Posted by on Jan 9, 2011 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Taking one’s time over a post can have its downsides. Having begun piecing together an assessment of Charlton Athletic’s situation following the announcement on 31 December that a long-awaited takeover had finally been completed, I didn’t expect quite yet to have to rip up (figuratively, of course) and start again. A feeling no doubt shared by most who filed into the Valley last Monday night.

The emphasis of new chairman Michael Slater in his maiden press interview on Friday was firmly on stability. To questions regarding manager Phil Parkinson’s position, he responded:

“It’s certainly not our intention to make any change. Phil’s done a great job. We’re third in the league and that speaks for itself, so we’re going to have a sit down with Phil over the next few days and we’ll give him every support.”

The presence of ex-chief executive and long-standing fan of the club Peter Varney and the previous chair of the board, Richard Murray, by his side compounded the impression that there would be no rush to judgement as the new owners made settled in. But then came events, dear boy. A manic 3-3 draw away at Colchester on the opening day of the new year was the prelude to Monday’s 2-4 reverse at home to struggling Swindon Town, a desperate performance dissected elsewhere.

It’s often said that a week is a long time in politics. Football moves at an even quicker pace. And, with the calls of ‘Parky Out’ still lingering in the North Stand, the new men acted. Tuesday saw another press statement from Slater, though this time with a radically different message:

“Clearly, improvement is needed on the field. The team has not won in the league since November and recent performances have simply not been good enough.”

“Last night’s defeat [to Swindon Town] convinced us as a board that change is required now while we are still in the hunt for promotion, and that we must appoint a new manager to give us every chance of going up.”

Was this a premeditated manoeuvre or a spasm of the knee? The subsequent return of Keith Peacock to the brown macintosh labelled ‘caretaker’ suggests reaction, rather than a first step in a detailed plan. But the decision has nonetheless garnered a fair amount of praise on the Valley forums at least, with some suggesting that the sight of an already diminished crowd disappearing before Slater and Jimenez’s very eyes was too much to bear. Until a more permanent management team is appointed, it’s hard to make a prognosis for the back end of the season. But what of the new owners?

A handful of dirt has already been thrown. This seems mainly to stem from the involvement of the erstwhile vice-president (player recruitment) at Newcastle, Tony Jimenez. Perhaps the most prominent achievement of his time at St James’s was the signing of Hispanic talents Xisco and ‘Nacho’ Gonzà¡lez, the latter on the basis of a grainy YouTube compilation. It subsequently emerged during a hearing regarding a claim of constructive dismissal brought by ex-Messiah Kevin Keegan that Gonzà¡lez was signed as an offering to unnamed South American agents, in the hope of future favours. Strangely, there was no mention of this in the official announcement. In its place, oblique references to his ‘contacts’ within football and a business career as an ‘international property developer’.

Slater’s background, meanwhile, is more straightforward. A history as a partner in solicitors’ firms in the UK, a consultant to various investment companies and chairman of a vehicle rental business make him the obvious front-man, although the day-to-day running of the club will be delegated to Varney and another former board member, Stephen Kavanagh. The nature of the transaction remain unpublished, but it is unlikely to extend beyond assuming liability for the holding company’s limited debts.

Given that neither Slater nor Jimenez appear to have money to throw at a football club, speculation has been rife that a reclusive multi-millionaire is hiding somewhere behind the curtain. Wyn Grant has posted an interesting piece speculating that just such a shy, retiring tycoon called Kevin Cash may be the man, a suggestion which has since been picked up by the Guardian. Call me cynical, but the evidence so far appears slight. The ownership structure is opaque, but this is not proof in itself. In an interview with the club’s official site on Wednesday, Murray’s words were measured:

“If you ask me ‘why Michael and Tony?’, I wanted it to be football people,” said Richard. “People who will take a long-term view. People who have the necessary money to make this club stable.
“That doesn’t mean throwing money at it like some clubs have done, but [enough] to make sure we’re in business and that we’re a solid club.

Those involved in the takeover insist that Slater and Jimenez are indeed the only individuals with a shareholding of more than 10% , and this rather more prosaic explanation is probably closer to the truth. Sorry to burst the bubble, but I wouldn’t expect to see Cash in red polyester any time soon.

Whatever the truth of the situation, the financial data makes it clear that new investment was necessary. In the year from June 2007 to June 2008 – the club’s first season back in the Football League following relegation for the top flight – a net loss of £11.5 million was recorded. This despite receiving parachute payments in that year. Financial profligacy in the wake of Alan Curbishley’s departure, mainly down to a series of ill-conceived managerial changes, started the descent. But, attempts to reduce overheads in subsequent years have come with a hefty price on the pitch, as fans accrued during the Premier League years have thinned out. Murray’s commitment is unquestioned, as demonstrated by his continued service on the board. However, the operating losses were too great a load for him to bear alone. The infrastructure of a Premier League club doesn’t come cheap and it’s clear the new owners desire a swift promotion as much to boost the club’s revenues as for the kudos. Much will depend on the new manager and the resources granted to him in this month’s transfer window. The slaying of a resplendent Tottenham side today would make up for a false start to this new phase.

As a kid, Stanley undertook an odyssey around the football grounds of London and North Kent before alighting at Millwall. Despite the efforts of Jason Dair and many others, as an adult he decided to move closer to the arena erroneously known as the New Den and is now a proud season-ticket holder.


  1. Michael
    January 9, 2011

    This appeared in The Guardian when Jimenez was appointed at Newcastle:

    Surprise was articulated in expletives while a recurrent theme was that Jimenez might be a “good bloke” but where was his football background? “I'm amazed that he has been entrusted with player recruitment,” said one agent. “He knows nothing about football.”

    Subsequent events suggest he was right.

  2. Ben
    January 9, 2011

    Though little was actually known about him Jimenez isn't remembered with any fondness on Tyneside – largely because of his association with Dennis Wise. Good point, Michael – what does an 'international property developer' know about scouting for and recruiting football players?

    As regards the Gonzalez deal, during the Keegan tribunal the hierarchy tried to make out that it had been done for the long-term good of the club i.e. it would help curry favour with the agents who would then give us first choice and rich pickings of South American talent in future. The implication, then, was that Keegan's stubborn objections meant he was impeding or harming progress and development.

    The truth, of course, is that Keegan merely had principles (something the hierarchy couldn't hope to understand) and was resisting the interference by clueless non-footballing suits he'd been promised wouldn't happen when he took the job. The tribunal vindicated Keegan's argument and was critical of the hierarchy. Also worth pointing out that the supposed influx of quality South Americans never materialised either – all of which made us look very foolish indeed.

    Charlton fans may have been hoping for a change – but, with Jimenez involved, I'd be careful what you wish for…

  3. Stanley
    January 9, 2011

    There is still not a great deal of information out there about Jimenez, apart from the Newcastle debacle. His fabled 'contacts' appear to stretch to being mates with Wise and Gustavo Poyet. It's hard to see what he brings to the Valley, unless he is intent on transposing his brilliant recruitment scheme from St James's to SE7.

  4. Ben
    January 9, 2011

    I meant to add – that's an astonishing volte-face from Slater! With someone that fickle at the helm Addicks fans could be in for a very rough ride.

  5. optionplayer
    March 3, 2011

    Cash & Kevin , where does the cash really derive from?

    any serious suggestions ? as the thread s and possible innuendos , could warrant an enquirer?


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