Roland Duchatelet – Fact or Fiction?

Article researched and written in late December 2013 for Charlton Life. Time has  told a very sorry tale given the state of Charlton Athletic in June 2018. Photo courtesy of Ken Sinyard/ CASTrust.

As Charlton fans wait impatiently to find out whether this latest takeover alert turns out finally to be fact or yet more fiction, I thought it would be useful to summarise what we do know for certain about Mr Duchatelet.

While not quite following BBC principles of two independent sources to corroborate every fact, I have tried to look a bit beyond instant claims, Google Translate and Wikipedia.  Understanding both Dutch and French hopefully qualifies me a little to get under the skin of this Belgian man.

I was once told, by someone from that country, that there is no such thing as a Belgian – you are either Flemish (speaking a dialect of Dutch) or Walloon (speaking French).  And rarely shall the twain meet.  The name Duchatelet sounds more French, whilst Roland is a common first name in both languages.  In articles he is sometimes described as a Flemish businessman, and in a Youtube profile of him as a politician he speaks fluent Dutch.  However, his French sounds just as good in an end of season Standard Liege press conference.  So maybe he is that rare specimen –a genuine Belgian?

Aged 67, he is a family man, together for more than 17 years with his second partner, Marieke, with whom he has two teenage daughters.  He has four further offspring from his first marriage, two sons and two daughters, now in their thirties, and several grandchildren.  The family home is in Sint Truiden, also the base of the first club he owned, of which he was president from 2003 until he had to step down on taking over Standard Liege.  He enjoys DIY, helps out with the cleaning at home, plays tennis, has a swimming pool and thinks it is rude of people to contact him out of business hours on his mobile phone – preferring email.

He has made his money principally through electrical engineering, building up an empire of companies. He founded one of the most successful, Melexis, which makes sensors for cars – like the ones that turn your lights on in the rain and make the windscreen wipers go faster or slower without you lifting a finger.  He employs 5,000 worldwide, including 500 in Belgium. 

His net worth is about half a billion Euros, but I imagine much of that is tied up in the value of the companies – it seems he had to make a few disposals to raise the cash to buy Standard Liege.

I am no expert on Belgian politics, so will stick to the facts here.  Initially he backed a new party called Banaan (yes, it is Dutch for banana) – with the principle, “Better to look for alternatives than do nothing.”  He then founded his own party, Vivant, in the mid 90s, which later merged with the Flemish Liberal Democrats (VLD) to become Open VLD.  He was a senator from 2007 – 2010, proud to serve his country during difficult economic times.  He believes in sustainable global development and a living basic wage.

He’s written a couple of books along the way, one in 1994 and one in 2004, so perhaps he’s busy working on another for next year  – but don’t expect blockbusters with titles such as ‘Belgium PLC, a report to shareholders’ and ‘The road to more net domestic happiness’.  If you are really curious, there’s a used copy of the former available on Amazon – for a meagre £899!

He comes across on Youtube clips (well, if it was good enough for Pardew…) as a calm, self-assured and thoughtful individual.  He is not afraid of controversy, though, especially in the realm of football.  He has proposed that the Belgian league should merge with the Dutch to become a more attractive TV proposition, and he may think he has the answer to The Valley’s pitch problems – he introduced artificial grass at Sint Truiden in 2011, saying, “Laying an artificial grass surface offers numerous advantages. First of all a FIFA 2STAR approved artificial grass surface has the same technical playing properties as an ideal natural grass pitch. You can also play the whole year through on an artificial grass surface. Football days can be organised on artificial grass, with in the afternoons women or young people playing and the first-division team in the evening. That isn’t possible on a natural grass pitch: it would just be played to ruin. Finally, an artificial grass pitch can be played on in all weather conditions. There are no water logging problems with artificial grass. The water is drained away perfectly so the pitch can always be played on.”

His takeover of Standard Liege was a surprise and his arrival was followed by a lot of upheaval, with players sold.  The previous manager had already resigned before the takeover. 

The first manager appointed by Duchatelet, Jose Riga, lasted one season, and the next one, Dutchman Ron Jans, just six months.  Former player Romanian Mircea Rednic followed, and took Standard into the Europa League, but was then sacked at the end of the season, and claims Duchatelet wanted a puppet not a coach. 

The current coach is former Israeli U21 manager, Guy Luzon, who has taken them to the top of the league in his first season.   So it has not been a smooth ride.

There was still unrest this summer, with 5,000 fans breaking into the stadium to demonstrate at the AGM, accusing Duchatelet of taking money out of the club for personal use.  He called their bluff in an interview in which he said he would not tolerate violence and would step down provided 90% of the clubs sponsors (a major income stream) approved of whoever became the new shareholders.  Things seem to have calmed down, and there is certainly support for him too on message boards, so perhaps our somewhat controversial new Lawrie Wilson song lyrics might even apply in this case?

Just two weeks ago our potential new owner bought Carl Zeiss Jena, former European Cup Winners in 1981 now languishing in the German fourth division, for just 2M Euros. In October 2011 his elder son, Roderick, took control of Hungarian sleeping giants Ujpest – who won nine championships in 11 years in the 1970s.  They have always had a reputation for developing young players, and, after flirting with relegation in 2011/12, are now more stable financially and in mid-table.  The new owner appointed a Belgian coach in July 2012, but he left after a 6-0 defeat in March 2013, and the current manager is Hungarian.

So make of this and Roland Duchatelet what you will – only time will tell – but he’s a bit easier to research than a certain Mr Jimenez!

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