BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Former Charlton Athletic director David White reckons that Roland Duchatelet is not remotely close to a sale of the club – and has accused the Belgian tycoon of having no genuine interest in promotion.
White is one of a number of former board members who are owed a total of £7million in loans.
Derek Chappell (£1.2m), David Sumners (£250,000), Bob Whitehand (£1.2m), Richard Murray (£2.6m), Maurice Hatter (£1m), David Hughes (£500,000) and White (£250,000) are due the money if the club gain promotion back to the Premier League. It is also potentially up for negotiation to buy out the debt, most likely to happen as part of a takeover process.
Charlton owner Duchatelet recently demanded that the EFL acquire the League One club off of him – which the organisation ruled out in a statement on Wednesday.
White, who has supported Charlton for 52 years, told the South London Press: “There’s nothing that he said which was feasible. As everyone knows, the EFL aren’t set up to own a club and they are not going to bail a club for any reason.
“They are a co-operative of the 72 [EFL] clubs.”
It is no secret that Duchatelet has been ready to listen to offers for Charlton for at least the last 18 months.
“His business plan undoubtedly means he doesn’t want to get out of League One,” said White. “The way he has set up suggests the only way he is ever going to make money is zero sum the costs against a player sale per year, roughly.
“He knows that going up to the Championship, his costs will rise dramatically. That’s nothing to do with buying better players, it’s to do with the actual costs of running the club in the Championship as against where we are now.
“To me his business plan is to keep the costs as minimal as you can and produce players and sell them on. That’s not feasible in the Championship.
“That’s the reason the potential loan signing or out of contract player in place of Karlan Grant didn’t happen. It reduced the likelihood of them getting promoted.
“As far as selling the club, there are two parts to that. I don’t think they made any real effort to sell the club. I’ve been on the periphery as a bond-holder. I’ve been spoken to once directly by the club in the last couple of years and that was to make a derisory offer for my debt.
“And I spoke once to a potential buyer back in about October 2017, one of the potential Australian consortium, who along with Richard Murray came around to my house to discuss the thing.
“They haven’t made any effort to engage with us in terms of the debt – what we can do with it or what we want to do with it. Although we’re not necessarily a deciding factor, I know a purchaser would want to engage with us regarding a sale – because most purchasers want a clean slate.
“In the last year I’ve cleared my mind of all the tittle-tattle. There’s so much noise in the world of social media – a bit of hearsay becomes fact. But I would guess 95 per cent of it is nonsense. Even to the point where people have said it’s close – it’s going to be next week – I don’t think we’ve ever been that close, at all. Which is sad.
“I strongly believe Charlton as a concern is viable, and the same geographically – the potential fanbase is viable. The only block I can see is the asking price.
“In saying that, there have been some numbers bandied around – I don’t think anyone is asking £50m for the club. But the problem for a potential buyer is if he’s talking about £25-£30m – my guess – the buyer has got that conundrum of why he doesn’t want to get promoted.
“The cost of getting promoted and building a viable team, you’re probably talking about another £50m straight away. The purchase price is not necessarily the thing that stops people, it’s the added costs of trying to get to that promised land of the Premier League.
“The problem in the Championship is that you’ve got all the teams vying for what is really the one place. Other than your Rotherhams and one or two others, they are all trying to buy that place to the Premier League.
“One might be successful but there are 15 or 16 who have spent the same amount of money and not been successful. Which is why you see the fall away of teams like Ipswich. They tried and tried and tried it but then he [Marcus Evans] has just said: ‘No, I’m not doing it any more’.
“But you’ll always have other people try it. So it’s a scary place. Going back to his business plan, it’s an awful thing to say, but I get where he is coming from.”
Duchatelet never looked to get rid of the historic debt before he bought Charlton in January 2014.
It’s been said more than once that credible investors would see that as an issue.
“There was no need for him to resolve it,” said White. “There was no need for him to pay £7m for something he didn’t need.
“And really the set-up of the original deal was poor. You’ve got the charge over the club – which is our defence mechanism – but the only way that is ever going to get paid is if they get promoted to the Premier League and you can afford to pay it. So why would anyone touch it?
“If they bought out the £7m of debt, he literally could do what he wants. And that’s more dangerous.
“Having a charge over the assets is a good thing, as we stand at the moment. It’s not necessarily good for the people who are owed money, or a good thing for the right type of owner.”
And White doesn’t expect Duchatelet to be gone soon – despite Charlton fans protesting heavily in recent years for his removal.
“I don’t think there’s any possibility of it being settled soon,” said White. “I don’t know the guy, never met him, but he’s obviously stubborn. I don’t think he’ll go ‘I was wrong all along – here’s the club. I’ll take this amount’.
“It’s either got to get to the point where he has to give up, because he’s getting too much [abuse], or he’ll carry on. I’m a businessman, and I don’t get it. I think his stubbornness will override everything.”
White rubbishes the claim from the Belgian multi-millionaire that demonstrations have harmed bringing buyers forward.
“A potential buyer, that is what they’d buy – that strength of feeling [from fans]. It shows he has got English football so wrong, in what it means to fans – the tribalism or whatever you want to call it. He doesn’t get it.
“If you were a potential buyer you would actually garner that and take it in-house and say ‘how do we leverage that? how do we make more money out of that?’
“I remember the meeting with the guys here 18 months ago. I said to them that the first two things you have got to do is get the community trust onside – I’m a trustee of that but still believe it – and also get the fans onside.
“Once you’ve got that, it’s relatively easy. If you can’t get that, it doesn’t work.
“Those protests, which the majority of them were humorous, non-threatening and made national press widely – as a potential owner you’d love that.
“They can look at the situation at Blackpool. What is the situation with the fanbase and crowds at Blackpool with Oyston being removed? I would not doubt, one bit, if we had decent new owners our first crowd would not be far short of capacity. And you go from there.
“You [Duchatelet] are effectively causing 20,000 people not to come, rather than saying we got another 7,000 through the gate. It’s the wrong way around.”