The Duchatelet family bought Újpest FC on 19th October 2011. When the purchase was complete, the Belgians promised to bring back the glory of the clubs’ ancestors. However, in the last 7 years, Lilak have not been contenders for the title of the Hungarian league and you can barely find a player in the squad who came through the youth system. In the 2016/17 season Újpest were placed under a transfer embargo, due to some irregularities in a transfer and were therefore not allowed to sign any new players. Additionally, the club were excluded from international football after a forming a new corporation to avoid bankruptcy which still allowed them to compete in the top league. During the time of the exclusion, Újpest could have entered Europa League’s qualification stage on two separate occasions but were prevented from doing so, as the ban was still active. We took a closer look at the Duchatelet family’s calamities to understand what’s going on at the club.
Újpest FC’s preparation for the Europa League was far from ideal. Róbert Litauszki, team captain, made it publicly known that the travelling squad on the way to Azerbaijan were treated horribly, prior to the first leg. They went onto lose 3-1 leaving them with just a small chance of being able to progress any further.
According to the defender, the circumstances of the trip to Baku were amateur at best in order to make the trip as cheap as possible. A large part of the journey was taken by road, with the players only being given sandwiches to eat. The office staff at the club didn’t even take care of the players’ visas in time, despite having been advised that they would be needed. Litauszki himself travelled not knowing whether his visa would come through in time or not, he turned out to be lucky and his did arrive before they reached Azerbaijan. Two of his teammates were not so lucky and having been refused entry to Azerbaijan were put straight back on a plane back to Hungary. They arrived at the hotel at 2.30am before the match leaving them unable to train or prepare properly for the game ahead.
After all the calamities every fan asked one question:
What sort of a businessman doesn’t realise, that the amount of money saved by cheaper flights and hotels is nowhere near to the income of a Europa League clash with Sevilla FC?
Lilak won the home tie with a spectacular performance 4-0 and ended achieving the dream tie with Sevilla. It highlighted the very real difference between a manager and his team being able to properly prepare for a match unhindered and one where the chance to prepare was taken from them for the sake of saving a few Euros.
To understand the model used at Újpest we should look no further than the other clubs the Duchatelet family owns. It tells the whole story.
Let’s start at the beginning and learn who the businessman with the final say so on everything is. Roland Duchatelet, (71), started as an economist and engineer. In the early 90’s he quickly understood with his qualifications that electronics – specifically micro-electronics – were the future. Gathering his knowledge and all his money (not so much at the time) invested into his own corporation. He made multiple international corporations, Melexis and X-Fab being the most well-known, to specifically produce one product – semi-conductors.
His project was so successful that according to Belgian sources his personal wealth was over €500 million in 2011 making him the country’s 7th richest person. This was the time when he bought Újpest too.
After the success of his corporations, Duchatelet turned to politics as he pleaded for more transparency in economics and politics. To reach his goal he even published a book with the title “NV België, verslag aan de aandeelhouders” which means something among the lines of “Joint stock company Belgium, a report to the shareholders”.
He even started his own political party for this goal in 1998 called VIVANT, which is short for Voor Individuele Vrijheid en Arbeid in een Nieuwe Toekomst (for individual freedom and labour in a new future). After three years of alliance with VLD, they merged into one party in 2007 (Open VLD) and ended up elected as a member of the Belgian Senate.
His attention to football came in the early 2000’s, firstly as a sponsor at the local club in the first league, Sint-Truidense VV. In 2004 he bought the entire club as outright owner. That was his first purchase of a club.
Duchatelet at Sint-Truiden
Fans of The Canaries know the ups and downs as their team got relegated from the first league, before winning promotion and finishing in 2nd place. At the time of Duchatelet’s arrival, the club had finished 14th out of 18 teams.
The arrival of a wealthy man filled the supporters’ hearts with hope. Duchatelet bought the club for €31 million and they thought he would invest in the team. That’s not what happened.
Sint-Truiden stalled in their progress. They fought against relegation without any sign of improvements year after year until eventually falling out of the first division in 2008. The only improvements were to infrastructure with the pitch and club buildings being renovated. The club bounced back to enter the Jupiler League once again and in the 2009/10 season the team finished 5th and almost got an international appearance, but in the end, they fell short in the playoffs. This was a much better season for The Canaries than the rest of the Duchatelet-era where they usually finished in 10-14th place.
Since Roland Duchatelet became sole owner, the squad has been built on free or very cheap players. The good performers were sold, the worse footballers kept Sint-Truiden’ head just above the water.
Duchatelet at Standard Liège
The news of Sint-Truiden’s owner buying another Belgian club in 2011 shocked many people. The opportunity came to the businessman because at the time Standard Liège had two owners: Dominique D’Onofrio and Robert Louis-Dreyfus. When Robert Louis-Dreyfus passed away, his wife didn’t want to be involved with football. The question wasn’t whether she wanted to sell the club, but who would buy it from her? This is the point where Duchatelet comes into the picture. He had previously helped out with some money and a few percent of the stocks landed in his pocket, putting him in prime position to buy the club.
D’Onofrio realised he would only have a very small amount of ownership in the club so ended up selling his shares too, leaving Duchatelet the opportunity to become sole owner. According to demorgen.be he paid around 41 million euros for Les Rouges.
There was only one problem: FIFA strictly forbids one person to own two clubs from the same league and therefore STVV needed a new owner.
The solution came from within the family, Roland Duchatelet’s partner, Marieke Hhöfte became the president of Sint-Truiden. Interestingly enough, she already had 80% of ownership, as Duchatelet transferred it to her in 2008. With this, the family tricked the system and had two teams in the Jupiler League. On paper it was two different owners. Fans of Standard Liège were suspicious.
“Opinions were very different in the beginning. We fans knew nothing about him, besides he was a president of football club STVV and he was one of the richest man in Belgium. I was optimistic, but some weren’t, and, in the end, the pessimists were right.” – Standard Liège fan @Standart780
The club’s coaches changed rapidly. Jose Riga spent only one year at Standard, Ron Jans only had half a season. Les Rouges’ former player, Mircea Rednic however led the team into Europa League. He was also sacked at the end of the season. According to Belgian media’s sources, his only “crime” was asking the owner for more players to come into the team.
“I need more, we need competition in every position. I already had a chat with our president and told him I need more players.” – said Rednic to a Romanian site called gsp.ro.
In another interview to prosport.ro Rednic didn’t hold back when they asked him about Standard Liège’s owner.
“I didn’t let anyone tell me what to do. Roland Duchatelet didn’t want a good coach, he wanted a marionette, who does exactly how he tells them to do. I’m a grownup, I won’t take lessons from a president. This is why I was sacked.”
It’s an ATM
One of Belgium’s most reliable newspapers, HLN reported that the owner took money from the club every now and then. In an article from 2015 staatsbladmonitor reported that Standard Liège paid €10 million to shareholders.
A little digging into this led to the conclusion that the club didn’t pay Bruno Venanzi – who bought the club in 2015 – but in fact Duchatelet. Furthermore, he takes more money here and there.
Duchatelet was smart about his finances, he had a high salary for himself as president, so with some tricks and taking money he “paid back” the club’s fee in 2013. This means at that point he earned nothing but also lost nothing financially.
In 2015 he ended up selling one of Belgium’s biggest club, though. Why?
The fans of Standard Liège didn’t like what was going on. After Rednic left the club they decided to let him know how they feel and got into Duchatelet’s office. There’s a video about the incident in which the supporters ask him to tell them what’s the deal with weird decisions and left saying he has no place at the club.
The relationship between the fans and the club members escalated quickly. Supporters were booing whether the team lost or won. The solution was to sell the club – especially since within his football empire he already had Újpest FC and Charlton Athletic, not to mention STVV at his wife’s hand.
“I think they are great businessmen but awful club presidents. Especially Roland. He fired our coach Mircea Rednic after finally some good results. He bought players who mostly came of Ligue 2 in France, the second division. Almost none had a decent level of football. They were just not too expensive for him. He was very greedy.” – our Twitter-fan sums up the Duchatelet-era perfectly.
Duchatelet at Charlton Athletic
The Duchatelet family entered into another market in January of 2014 buying a club in London. The Championship side (which is competing in League One nowadays) had seen better days at the time, they basically ran out of money in the 90’s. However, Charlton are in England where the supporters often see the club as a part of their family, and naturally, they didn’t let the club go bankrupt. They united: fans were raising money, cleaning the facilities, painting the facilities, transporting the youth team’s players, essentially keeping their beloved club alive.
This fantastic effort had a massive impact on the community, it didn’t even matter which league the team played in. It was all about the Charlton family. It wasn’t a solution for the long term though. The situation was dire, the club needed a new owner who could help Charlton back to its feet. Roland Duchatelet was supposed to be that man.
“Our previous owners were broke it turned out, they didn’t fully own the club and had leveraged it to secure funding so even before Roland we were in a dire position. At first, I was quite naive, I’d heard of Roland but more from his ownership of Standard. Initially, I, like a number of fans were hopeful of a seemingly wealthy owner being able to invest in the club like previous owners hadn’t” – Jon, a Charlton fan.
It became clear very soon that the new Belgian owner is not compatible with the fans, who were really proud of their heritage and community. The changing room had a positive atmosphere at the time even though they were fighting against relegation and the reason for that was one man: Chris Powell. Playing previously for the club, the popular manager led Charlton between 2011 and 2014. After only two months working with Duchatelet, Powell was sacked as manager.
The fan favourite’s exit had a huge impact on players and fans alike, and it didn’t help that Powell claimed, he left because the owner wanted to tell him who to play in the matches. A similar problem to Standard Liège.
“Their worst moves were interfering with team selection which led to the resignation of our manager at the time and they brought in players that would struggle in Sunday league football and paid them high wages they have and still are selling our best young players for well below their value. They pushed out our former striker Yann Kermogant who was a massive fan favourite and wanted to stay. They employed people who knew nothing about football.” – Nick, another fan.
Coalition Against Duchatelet
Jon, who was quoted earlier in this article has similar thoughts on the owner.
“Roland wasn’t interested in the club, the fans or the club’s history, he saw an opportunity where our respected youth system could be farmed for profit, this was admitted as such.”
Duchatelet only invests in property which stays valuable. Real estate for example, like the stadiums or restaurants/hotels nearby. The value of these commodoties only rise which means he can profit from selling the clubs no matter how good or bad the squad is. The fact that Charlton’s pitch was renewed as well as STVV’s adds to the point.
What’s the point of a nice stadium if there are no people to fill it in though?
“Today the club is not even a shadow of what it once was. The stadium is not even a third full on match days. Barely a skeleton staff running the club. We’re a club that’s just been poisoned in every department by Duchatelet.” – Thomas, another fan. He had much more to say when we asked him: what angered the fans so much exactly?
“Honestly there are too many bad moves to narrow down one. Accusing the fans of wanting the club to fail. Farming players in from a scouting network run from the bedroom of 22-year-old Thomas Driesen, whose only football knowledge is from computer games. Openly admitting that Charlton take up 2% of his empire and time. The CEO summit, likening fans to mere customers of a restaurant, to Roland likening us to racists, the list is endless. Duchatelet has never been interested in us. The only interest he had was bringing through as many young players as possible and selling them on. It’s all about what money he can make.”
The News Shopper had a lengthy article about Thomas Driesen’s activities based on reliable Belgian sources and tells a lot about the Duchatelet-network. Driesen is checking a lot of algorithms and statistics and then he suggests players based on that. This method is known as “Moneyball”.
Since his employment in 2014, Driesen scouted players for Charlton, Újpest and Sint-Truiden. This method angered the English clubs chief scout, Phil Chapple so much that he left the club after 8 years of loyal service to join Fulham in 2015.
Charlton’s former manager, Guy Luzon wasn’t a fan of Driesen’s method either.
“I was not the one who chose how to do the recruitment – the last say was from the network scout, not from me. The transfers were done through the scout in Belgium and he was the person who had the last say about players at Charlton. I would give him my opinion on a certain player, but the last say was from the network scout.” recalls Luzon his problem at Charlton.
The fans absolutely turned against the owner and started a huge movement which is going strong to this day. The Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet (C.A.R.D.) formed in January 2016 and keeps Duchatelet, who is admittedly looking to sell the English club, pressured. If one checks Twitter, it’s easy to find tweets with the hashtag #RolandOut.
A Charlton fan, Stuart sums up how the fans feel in a very emotional way.
“I’m a Charlton supporter for 36 years. I’ve gone from being a devoted fan, having a season ticket on and off for over 25 years to not following the results on a Saturday. My dream since before I became a father was to take my boys (one day) to the club I loved, that my father took me too when I was 6. Now I don’t let them support Charlton as they are not the club I grew up loving.”
The Duchatelet system
This information might be about Roland Duchatelet, not his son Roderick, who owns Újpest, but gives us a clear picture of the family’s method perfectly. The basics, however, are there at Újpest FC exactly the same as at Charlton.
- Own the entire club and its facilities or at least an enormous amount of it. This way you can do whatever you want to without anyone opposing you
- Reduce the staff to the absolute minimum possible for the cheapest wages possible, it doesn’t even matter if they know nothing about football. The same applies to the actual squad as well.
- The point above applies to the signing of new players too. If anyone earns or wants more either sell them or exile them to the stands. Also get rid of any player who has a word in the dressing room to avoid players’ uprising.
- The attendance doesn’t pay enough, so focus on selling players and TV rights.
- Selling can be very chaotic, they proved that when the signature of Darwin Andrade turned out to have a lot of irregularities with fees and other contracts. UEFA ended up banning Újpest from signing new players for a year. Duchatelet used a trick again: bought Donát Zsótér and Soma Novothny for Sint-Truiden and loaned them out to Budapest Honvéd and Diósgyőr. After the ban was lifted, they “signed” for Újpest properly.
Today’s Újpest is a true reflection of this emotionless business point of view. There are less and less staff members at the team, the squad is at the bare minimum and mostly made of foreigners, who might perform well, might not. Being a foreigner, it is less likely to raise their voice against the owner, so they are ideal employees. And why would they rebel? The circumstances are perfect: good pitches, good changing rooms, nice facilities and most importantly the wages arrive in time constantly.
What do you say? The fans don’t like that? Well, there’s always another “customer”…
*We take no credit for the article, credit remains solely with the author Aranyossy Áron, who has given us his permission to reproduce a translated copy of his work on our website*