Recent comments on the site in relation to the Mike Ashley era and all that comes with it have inspired me to write an article on what had otherwise become an exhausted argument.
Not because of my lack of interest, it is actually one of the most interesting topics to write about as regards Newcastle. I love the passion and insight Ashley brings out in people on both sides of the fence but simply have not had the time to write something detailed and join in the debate as of late.
The last article I posted showed a fraction of the statistical data which could be used to back up the argument for clear progression as a club. For anyone who missed it yesterday it can be found here. For those who did read it I will spare you reading over it all again on this post. Instead I would like to address the ‘cons’ to big Mike outlined by a regular contributor to the site and see how people feel about him since the dust settled from the summer and more recent decisions.
Lets start. The first one is easy. Due diligence. Why fans see this as a con and something to hold against Mike Ashley is beyond me. Of course there have been measures taken as a result to fix the unholy mess which the Shepherd and Hall era left us with but regardless of who took over the club these were necessary measures for survival as a club.
True, if he had done due diligence before buying the club he may well have ran a mile and chosen someone else to invest in, but does that make it a bad decision for the good of the club or in fact one that probably saved us from eventual administration procedures? Did it not in fact save us from becoming a Portsmouth or worse again a Leeds?
In business or club terms, whichever way you are more comfortable looking at it, fact is without that buyout at the time it came in all probability we would have gone under, and if not been forced to sell every asset, including players, possible in order to stay afloat, and with that in turn gone the route of Portsmouth or Leeds and been relegated anyway, maybe never to return to top flight football.
Is it not a good thing to have an owner which wiped clean the debt to the bank, a high interest debt may I add on a club that was incurring £30m+ losses per year as it was, and replaced it with a zero interest loan owed back to Ashley himself with no fixed timeframe or payment schedule on how and when instalments or all of which had to be paid back?
Is it not a good thing in light of financial fair play rules and other intiatives which require football clubs to be run more as a functioning business model to have taken measures, however unpopular they may have been, in order to make the club virtually self-sufficient within five years of taking over?
Sorry but in my humble opinion the man cannot be knocked whatsoever for what he did in the immediate aftermath of buying the club in most if not all measures taken relating to the financial and internal overhaul that has gone on since that time. It is plain as day we are in a better position financially. Brink of meltdown to break-even and virtual self-sufficiency? It`s a no-brainer.
What came soon after he bought the club in footballing terms is what most on the anti-Ashley bus have a problem with, and in fairness there is a certain amount of substance to it. I understand why some do harbour animosity towards him for past mistakes, and would not attempt to deny that he has made some in his time, but when acting as devils advocate to those in opposition you tend to see a logic.
One of the biggest mistakes in fans eyes was the so-called treatment of Kevin Keegan after what people lauded as the second coming. It is difficult to stay rational when countering an argument defending a club legend but fact is the mistake was made in re-appointing Keegan in the first place. For what the owner and club was attempting to do Keegan was the wrong fit for the job.
He is the definitive traditional English manager. He wants to run the club from top to bottom and in modern football this is becoming a rarity and in most cases virtually impossible to do effectively. The only two managers of clubs our size left in England who have this structure and manager power are Arsenal and Manchester United. The reason they do is because their managers have been there long enough.
The modern game and general shelf life of managers does not allow for this power to be given to everyone who takes the seat. You can run a club like this but it will not be successful. There is no long term in mind. The philosophy of manager, squad and club as a whole rides on the shelf life of that manager and when they go so does the philosophy.
The global recognition and commercialisation of the English game and football as a whole has made English clubs have to change how they are run. More often than not there is an awful lot that has to be taken out of the managers hands in order for him to get the best out of the squad itself and sadly there are still a fair few homegrown managers who are stuck in the old way of doing things, Keegan is one of them.
Now there is no doubt that certain decisions made in Keegan’s short second stint with the club could have been better managed but that is not to say they were not the right thing to do in theory, it was the application where the mistake was made.
The appointment of Dennis Wise was the main one. Hate is a term I use with caution. There are not many I would apply it to but Wise is one and it has very little to do with his time at Newcastle.
Look, he cannot be blamed for taking the job. It was an unbelievable opportunity for him and anyone in his position would have jumped at the chance. We found out very quickly he was not up to the job and in fairness, despite general stubbornness on the part of Ashley in spite of fans wishes he promptly got rid. The method in which Wise was appointed was a mistake, note the method, not the role itself. It should have been an appointment in which Keegan was consulted about and approved of.
The role itself however I always thought was something that was needed under the new structure. Derek Llambias is no doubt a more than competent businessman but in terms of knowledge and experience within football he lacks considerable clout. Someone alongside him with this experience is something that, if implemented correctly, would be a definite asset to the club in my opinion.
Again, Dennis Wise was not the right man for the job. His frankly laughable method of scouting and selecting players, the infamous YouTube scout, and more so the clear disapproval of the manager was something that was never going to work out. Keegan should not have been kept in the dark and was sold on some promises that did not materialize. Mistake? Yes. Not right? Maybe.
Where my problem with Keegan’s conduct arises is how quickly he was willing to walk out on on the club he loved. Some say he was right to do so. They may be right but was he right to take the owner to court and look for 20-odd million in compensation? In winning his case taking Ashley, so in turn the club he loved, for 20-odd million? Something does not sit right with me there.
In terms of his capability as a manager upon his return, for me anyway the jury is out. Aside from his initial stint at Newcastle, ‘managerial record and conduct is not the greatest, far from it to be honest. There was no guarantee he would have saved us from what I considered an inevitability in getting relegated, and that in my opinion was something that was coming for a few years before Ashley.
The counter argument to this is that it still happened under him and decisions made such as the appointments of Wise and Kinnear didn’t help matters. Kinnear was brought in as Souness was in his time, as a fighter to try and get a rise out of a squad in awful shape. It is a method used by many a club in trouble in the past, as is appointing a club legend such as Keegan or right before our demise, Shearer.
Keegan and Shearer were appointed not for the squad or their managerial genius but in an attempt to get such a reaction from fans at home that it would rally the troops enough at home to pick enough enough points to survive. It is a technique used by many a club in trouble, sometimes it works, sometimes it goes belly up. We suffered the latter but as I said, it was coming long before then.
Anyway, that argument aside it is clear there were mistakes made in the application of decisions, notably the Dennis Wise one, but I think a more recent decision or appointment has showed that the a football director was and is needed and was in fact a good move for the club. Maybe Football Director is the wrong title for it. How about Football Development Manager. Ring any bells?
Someone who knows football, who knows Newcastle. Someone who has played the game at the top level. Someone who has coached on various levels including youth development. Someone who worked under our current manager and therefore someone who was obviously approved by Alan Pardew. Someone who has been appointed in the right way this time, rectifying mistakes of the past.
I think it’s obvious by now that someone is Peter Beardsley. Not a lot has been said about his new role and it is is something I have tried to figure out since the appointment but the more I look at it the more I see it as precisely the role created for Wise during Keegan’s return. Time will tell whether I am right and whether it is as effective as I think it could be if implemented in the right way but I think it is a good move.
More than that I think it is a good example of what most if not all decisions have been post-relegation. The implementation of a good original plan for the long term being stuck to, tweaked instead of simply abandoned. More so than this it shows that mistakes that were made have and continue to be rectified. It shows an admittance of wrongdoing and a willingness to put it right, not with empty words but with actions, and that is what matters.
Anyway back to the supposed cons outlined by those in opposition. Next up would be relegation. I won`t say much about this. A recent article on this site covered it comprehensively and I would agree that it was coming, is not something that should be pinned on Ashley and was the best thing to happen to the club. It provided the opportunity to overhaul in a way that is virtually impossible while in the Premier League and we are much better off for it.
Since then the most notable grievances among some fans come in terms of player sales and the reinvestment of that money into the team. Lets tackle player sales first. Many went and rightfully so after relegation but we’ve all moved on from them so who are the more recent departures? Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, Jose Enrique and Andy Carroll.
Big character and captain as he may have been, I had a feeling at the time, as some did, and have been proven right at this stage. Nolan is nowhere near the player he once was and to get £4.5million for him looks to be an unbelievably good bit of business. He is a good Championship player now, no more and would be an absolute liability to us with the high work rate way we play with now.
With that in mind and remembering the words of Pardew when he said that Nolan was looking for a five year deal on money considerably above our new wage structure when in all likelihood he may not even get into the team in a couple of years, I think any remaining stragglers left on the pro-Nolan bus need to admit defeat on this one at least.
As for Joey Barton, much the same. He wanted a five year deal on big money when he might not get into the side in two to three years. On top of that one good season was never a guarantee that he could play that well in the future and what would we be left with? Another Alan Smith only with a bad attitude who we can’t get rid of until his contact runs out? No thanks.
Joey falls under the category of rectifying mistakes of the past in my opinion. A good player but a character that could destroy a dressing room if things are not going his way. We had to cut our losses for the good of the club. Best of luck to the lad. He served us well last season but we have progressed past needing Joey more than he needed us and is not the type of character I would like to see at the club in the future.
Jose Enrique was different in that we had little choice but to sell. He originally promised to sign a new contract if we stayed up and went back on that. He was looking for wages well above the pay grade and above all else wanted to leave for European and international football. With his contract running down to the bare bones we simply had to sell before he went for free.
I liked Enrique as a player and he is the one who has gone I would liked to have held on to but he made the choice not Ashley or anyone else. As it has turned out he is at a club not in Europe with no guarantee of getting there either and in terms of getting into the Spain side, from what I have seen of Jordi Alba it will be a long time before Enrique gets a sniff of that left back spot. All that leaves is move for the money so on that basis not someone we want.
I hate approaching the Andy Carroll argument just because of the price tag. There is no doubt he is a good player and will do well in the future but I think his time at Liverpool has shown there is no way on earth he is worth anything even close to £35million. On that basis alone I think the decision on whether to sell is a pointless argument. Of course you have to sell him for that sum. You would be mad not to.
Where the problem lies with fans as regards Ashley is the reinvestment of that £35m million back into the team. There is a clear division of opinion on what was said about this money. Some believe it was promised to go back into player purchases. Others see it for what it was, clever wording. It was said that this money would be reinvested back into the club, not team, but we’ll put that aside for a minute.
There’s an argument that we haven’t spent a penny of this money. It is ridiculous to think that. I covered it in another article but we have spent approximately £12 million of the Carroll money alone on players and nearly £20 million since last January including the money from other sales. Now although hypothetically this leaves £23 million in the kitty, did anyone actually expect every penny to be spent on players?
I would expect with no more sales to see another £10 million of that money to be spent on players. The other £13million, has and will be used for new contracts to existing players, training facility upgrades, pitch resurfacing and other work, and the remainder if any used for general running costs. This all falls under the plan of making the club self-sufficient as far as I can see and is not a bad thing.
Some may disagree with me on that last one, and maybe as regards all the players we have sold, but to me it seems like there is too much emphasis put on the amount of money spent when it should be on value for money, quality of players signed and improvement of the squad, regardless of personal attachment to certain players. Players come and go but the club is where my love lies.
To replace Nolan, Barton, Enrique and Carroll with Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Davide Santon, Demba Ba, Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid is unquestionably, in my opinion, both good business and has made us a better side. If nothing else the results speak for themselves. Individual ability in comparison can maybe be debated but as unit we are better off.
As for how this applies to Ashley, well he is the man signing off on deals and I don`t see any of these decisions to be bad ones. Even if some seen them as such in the immediate aftermath time has shown that maybe fans don`t know best sometimes and more faith should be shown in the project at hand. I couldn’t care less if we spent £35 million or £35 on players once the squad is going in the right direction.
The last resort in this argument is obviously the failure to get a striker in the summer and maybe another defender. I was as annoyed as anyone given I showed faith that we would and it is hard to argue a defence for it other than this. Of the players we were linked with, would it have been a good decision to spend the money being asked for them? Would we have been getting quality and value for money?
As frustrating as it may have been would anybody complain if January or next summer comes and we got the likes of Maiga for a couple of million less than what was asked? If we got EriK Pieters at cut price or even free in the summer? If we unearthed another gem like Tiote or Cabaye for next to nothing?
It requires a lot of faith after a let down at the end of an otherwise great transfer window in the summer but I think our squad and start has surprised everyone including Newcastle fans and maybe afforded us that luxury, and maybe warrants the benefit of the doubt on Mike Ashley’s part.
I think the only other decision made which has not endeared Ashley to the fans is the recent stadium name change. There is not a lot I can say on this one, it’s too soon to tell whether it will benefit us or not but with deals running out soon and a statement of intent to secure deals for both shirts and stadium sponsorship revenue by the new year more can be said at that point.
What I will say is as much as it is not nice to see happen, such is the way of the footballing world these days. Many a club have done it in the past and many more are looking to do it in the future. Sources of revenue are depleting fast these days and clubs have to make money with the new rules coming into effect and like it or not there are very few ways aside form selling big players to make that sort of money.
The way I have chosen to look at it for now is if a deal is struck which guarantees us an extra £10 million per year and in turn means we do not have to sell one of our best players ever summer then I can get over the fact it won`t be officially called St James’ Park any more. After all it will always be known as such by the fans. It has been the Sports Direct @ St James’ Park Stadium for a while now and not once have I heard someone refer to it as that.
Apologies for the length of the post and cheers anyone and everyone who got through it. All of the above is obviously my own opinion and all arguments in opposition are welcome to what I have said. I’m not one to blindly think what I see as true to be indisputable fact but it’s just how I see things and really think Ashley gets it in the neck a bit too much. It’s that little git Llambias I don`t like.
Anyway, as far as any mistakes that have been made in the past go, the way I look at it is the past cannot be taken back and I have no interest in hearing an apology from Ashley or Llambias now. In an ideal world we would all like to wind the clock back and not have made those mistakes, I’m sure Ashley would too, but all animosity aside for anyone who does not like him, fact is he owns the club and probably will do for the foreseeable future.
Is it not time we let events of the past go and give some level of support and benefit of the doubt to Mike Ashley? Trust with caution maybe but trust nonetheless.
Is it not better to have an owner who will make the tough an unpopular decisions rather than someone who will shy away just to keep in the good books of the fans when maybe it might not be what’s best for the club?
Has he in fact, as some say, actually done more harm than good? Or is he an evil genius leading the way in terms of how a club should be run?
As always, all comments and insight appreciated.