I have now watched the video of Roland's press conference which also had contributions from Chris Powell and Richard Murray. Katrien was there, but confined herself to smiling intelligently at appropriate points. I thought that Chris Powell seemed a bit ill at ease, particularly at first. However, one thing that came across was that one thing that Roland liked about Chris was his ability to manage effectively on a small budget, 'keeping Charlton afloat with very low investment in players in the past'.
For the last Voice of the Valley I had to write something in a few hours after a contributor had dropped out. Rick Everitt asked me to write something on the 'European angle', hardly having to add that he knew where I lived and one of his goblins would be calling round if the copy did not appear.
I decided to write something about what I thought might be Roland's European vision. It was speculative, but to use one of Roland's words it had a 'foundation': my knowledge of EU policies on football; the information I had gathered about Roland and in particular his political career and my knowledge of Belgium and Belgian politics (admittedly fragmentary, but I am reading up on it).
However, it seems I was not that far off the mark. Roland specifically referred to 'football being a more European kind of thing.' He drew a specific analogy with the Erasmus programme which allows students to spend a year or a shorter period in a university in another European country. It's very popular because it allows them to become familiar with another culture and, hopefully, improves their language skills, although even French universities are now teaching in English.
He sees himself as running an equivalent programme for footballers with a chance for them to develop in a different culture and environment. Of course, Richard Murray then intervened and made a not very helpful aside about Nigel Farrage taking us out of the EU. It needs to be remembered that even those European countries that are not members of the EU are linked with it by various kinds of association agreements which, for example, even affect Swiss football as we showed in our book on The Transformation of European Football: the Europeanisation of the National Game. If Britain was not in the EU it would need such an agreement to access the internal market. In any event, this is all at least three years away.
Roland also emphasised the way in which football is a huge social event, marked by the diversity of fans in terms of age, gender, religion and political views. Belgium is a lapsed Catholic country and Roland suggested that football served as a substitute for the act of communion in church. Above all, a football club needed foundations based in the community and these foundations need to be strengthened at Charlton.
However, it is clearly a long-term plan. As Roland said, there is no point in going up to the Premier League and then getting relegated. One wants the club to be in a condition where it can stay up. Roland is a stronger supporter of financial fair play and thinks that clubs can break even. I think that is actually quite difficult for a number of reasons that are specific to football, e.g., high capital costs relative to the frequency of use of the assets. There is also the question of player wages, although Roland's model may help there. He is also very committed to the Academy model which is one of the things that attracted him to Charlton.
Roland was never going to splash the cash, although I understand that a larger sum has been spent on players than under the previous regime. I think that Roland is conducting an interesting experiment which is rational enough given trends towards the Europeanisation of football. These trends could be halted or reversed, but I think that the underlying dynamic is a strong one.
Will this experiment benefit Charlton? That is harder to say. Richard Murray spoke of the potential offered by the Thames Gateway development, but many of those moving there will already have established allegiances. The London football market is very competitive and a less glamorous club like Charlton has to compete against Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and, increasingly in the future, West Ham.
For now the target is to avoid relegation. That is down to Chris Powell and the players, and Roland made it clear that Chris has the choice whether or not to play those brought over from Europe. Nevertheless, he must feel some pressure and they are a mixed bunch in terms of ability and achievement. Time will tell, but it is clear that we live in interesting times.