Evening Standard

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There is much that Michael Slater, the Charlton chairman, will not disclose. Ask him how much he and his partner Tony Jimenez paid for the League One club when they completed the take over last December and he says: “It was a nominal amount to take responsibility for not insignificant debts.”

In fact, with debts of £14million and Charlton facing administration, the nominal figure was just £1.

Or ask Slater how much Charlton have spent on transfers this summer and he replies: “That is not something I would like to say.”

The transfer activity was so hectic the London club virtually changed their entire squad. Only five of last season’s group remain, with 14 players leaving and 18 coming in. But each time Charlton announced a new signing they added “for an undisclosed fee”. So often has the phrase been used that the joke doing the rounds at The Valley is: “Our best player is undisclosed fee.”

It is estimated the club spent around £1m on new players, the sum brought in by the sale of defender Carl Jenkinson to Arsenal.

This tight-lipped, very legalistic approach may be appropriate for a man who, having practised as a solicitor, now heads up property funds and investment groups. What makes the 45-year-old an unusual chairman is that, in an increasingly tribal game, where to suggest that you have ever had another loyalty is considered an act of treachery, he openly advertises his love for another club.

“I still have a season ticket for Man City,” he says. “I grew up six miles from Moss Side and I was taken to Maine Road when I was five.”

His early memories are all about City’s great players of the Seventies: Joe Corrigan, Dennis Tueart, Ray Ranson, Willie Donachie, Mick Channon, Dave Watson, Gary Owen and, his hero, Peter Barnes. Now, bankrolled by the billions of City owner Sheik Mansour, the club are creating a new generation for fans to worship.

“I saw the opening game of the season against Swansea, [Sergio] Aguero scored two incredible goals. My mother lives in south Manchester. On match days I drive up, have tea with my mother, then meet friends and go to the Eastlands. It is quite easy.”

And, just in case there is any doubt, like a true City fan he adds: “There is only one club in Manchester. We do not regard Trafford Rovers, that is what Man United should really be called, as Manchester.”

We are meeting at The Valley as Charlton play Exeter and at half-time both Charlton and City are leading 1-0. Slater always watches the team he owns when they are at home but, as happened on Saturday, still closely follows his first love at the same time. As we gather back in the chairman’s suite, he says: “Tevez missed a penalty and they hit the post twice.”

Charlton go on to win 2-0 and City 3-0, with only goal difference keeping both second in their respective leagues.

This love for City did make Slater pause when business partner Jimenez suggested they buy Charlton. Despite the dire financial situation, he was attracted to them by their potential, good support and a fine stadium that, unlike Selhurst Park or Vicarage Road, did not require much investment.

“But,” admits Slater, “I had real reservations. As chairman you are a figurehead and it would be not be right if the chairman is not a huge fan of the club. Never having been a Charlton fan, I felt I would not be passionate and really excited about watching the club.”

Looking back he is surprised he had any fears. “It is bizarre. I’d never had thought a year ago I could watch another club and be as excited as I have always been about watching City. After a few weeks it was extraordinary. It got so stressful in the last half of the season as we weren’t doing well that my wife and I stopped making social plans on Saturday nights. It was just miserable.”

With the clubs two divisions apart, the only chance of a meeting is in one of the cup competitions. Were that to happen, where would Slater’s loyalties lie? “That would be a tricky one, it really would,” he admits.

And when I ask him if his wish for the season is for Charlton to win promotion or Manchester City the Premier League, Slater starts by saying: “That is also a tricky one.” However, he then quickly adds: “My wish for this season is for Charlton to win promotion. I think Man City have the best squad but whether they have that collective winning mentality remains to be seen.”

Slater insists Charlton supporters fully understand his dual allegiance. “Fan reaction has been generally good. It has helped that, since we came in, we have brought in better players and are doing well. I suspect they do not see us as quick buck artists.”

This was also helped by appointing Chris Powell as manager. Powell had never managed a club but, given he was one of Charlton’s most loved players, were the little known new owners trying to win over supporters?

“We were not trying to make fans happy by appointing a fans’ favourite,” says Slater. “However, because Chris has been a real hero, we knew appointing him probably means they will be a bit more patient with him than they would be with somebody else. We thought, whoever we appointed, it would be important to be patient.”

Powell had also impressed Slater and Jimenez with his brand of patient football. “Although personality-wise we did not have the right mix last season, we could see pretty quickly what he was trying to do. Proper passing football and not just resorting to long balls.”

Since then the new signings have made Slater all the more convinced Charlton are on the right road.

“I was confident before the season and I am just as confident now that we are looking at promotion. When I look at the team, we’ve got a midfield that is superior to anything else in the division. Bradley Wright-Phillips is going to bag 20 goals a season (he already has five). He has played in the Championship and the Premier League but has been unfortunate with injury, so let us hope he stays injury free.”

Charlton have struggled to win at The Valley this season: Saturday’s victory was the first there in the League since the opening day of the campaign and they will hope to build on that tonight when they entertain Preston in the Carling Cup.

Slater says: “Our problems this season have been a few sloppy goals, not clearing the lines. But it is not as if we are being pulled out of shape, being punished by killer passes because players are out of position. There are things that need to be dealt with in training.”

But he knows it is down to Powell, not him, to confront the squad.”Chris would be justifiably annoyed if the chairman started lambasting the players. I occasionally go into the dressing room but never before a match, that would be trespassing on Chris’s time with the players.

“After the Carling Cup win against Reading, I went to the changing room and congratulated the players on a great performance. But 20-year-old players do not want to be chatting with a stuffy old chairman. Most matches, win, lose or draw, I go down to the manager’s office and chat through a few issues.”

Despite Slater’s confidence he spells out the consequences of the club failing to go up in the next few seasons. He says: “It would be a real problem is if it takes three or four more years, financially that would be really painful.”

Whatever happens, he is sure that Charlton fans will not turn against him. “We felt, at the takeover time, that the club were at their lowest point. Whenever my tenure comes to an end, this club will be in a much better position than it was. I do not worry about a fans’ backlash. If we deliver promotion, I do not think there will be too many Charlton fans who think having Slater as chairman was such a bad move.”

Indeed, he is so relaxed about it that he can even joke as to which fans might be shouting for his departure. “If we draw City in the Cup, a huge contingent will come down from Manchester to The Valley and shout ‘Slater out’.”


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