The recent article on the man they love to hate seemed to get a good response and sparked some interesting debate among those for and against the current regime.
Although unconvinced as yet to jump the fence by the views of those in opposition, it did present an interesting argument, this being that we are football supporters at the end of the day not business analysts, and that is in fact what Mike Ashley should be judged on, the progression of the team.
A fair point. Debate about the ownership and running of the club naturally takes the route of finances and off the pitch decisions, often ones which do not make reference to the team itself, which is what matters most after all. It is tough to keep the argument on the football when ultimately that comes under the job responsibilities of the manager but I`ll do my best.
The main concern in this regard seems to be the fact that top players have been sold in the past and will continue to be sold in future for profit and not the good of the team. This one has always confused me to be honest. I can understand where it comes from but it is not that black and white.
Since Mike Ashley took over there have been approximately twenty first team players sold. Of that number, and overshooting for the sake of argument, I would say just over half of that were what I would regard as our better players. A decent number admittedly but as I said it`s not black and white.
Lets start in 07/08. The big players who left were Nolberto Solano, Kieron Dyer, Albert Luque and Stephen Carr. Solano requested a move to be closer to his family. Alberto Luque was either injured and besides that was a flop, and Kieron Dyer and Stephen Carr spent more time on the physio table than on the training ground.
In 08/09 the big names who left were Charles N`Zogbia, Shay Given, James Milner and Emre. Again all justifiable sales from an owners point of view. N`Zogbia requested to leave even before falling out with Joe Kinnear. Emre, although a potential great spent three injury ridden seasons at Newcastle before we cut our losses and he was sold to Fenerbache.
After ten odd years between the sticks Shay Given requested a move when the big money of Man City came knocking. Poor aul Shay had been pelted out of it with shots for many a year previous and had been as loyal as they come. The opportunity came for him, or so he thought, to be number one at a club buying some huge stars and he wanted to win a few things before he retired, can`t begrudge him that or blame Ashley for letting him go.
As for James Milner, his Newcastle career was on the rocks long before Ashley when he was dropped and subsequently fell out with Graeme Souness. It was in fact a clause in his contract allowing him to be loaned to Aston Villa due to us signing Solano from them which sent him out the door on loan initially. When he returned, Freddie Shepherd tried to sell him for around £4m but talks broke down but he was eventually sold a year or so later for around £12m after the player handed in a transfer request.
09/10 was our season in the Championship and the summer preceding that brought an expected exodus of players on high wages and those who wanted to remain in top flight football, unwilling to remain at the club for another season to help us return at the first time of asking. We did so anyway and comfortably and I think everyone would agree got rid of an awful lot of deadweight from the squad.
The ones who would have been considered top players of those who left would be Michael Owen, Sebastien Bassong, Obafemi Martins, Habib Beye, Damien Duff and Mark Viduka. I could go through each case individually but I honestly don`t think there is a need. There is not one of those players I would want at the club now with maybe the exception being Duff, but he was brutal in his time here.
Back to the top flight we came in 10/11 and the only sale of note was the infamous Andy Carroll sale in January. Now we could all debate until we are blue in the face about spending the fee but for now that’s not the point. Fact is although he was the main man up front at the time we got an offer we simply could not refuse and anyone who says we should have turned that down is out of their mind.
Completing the recap of sales under current ownership we come to the summer just passed and the sales of Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique and the free transfer of Joey Barton. I covered these in the last article and personally think they were all justifiable. Of course it would have been nice to get something for Barton but they had enough and wanted rid. Enrique wanted to leave and Nolan can`t run, simple as.
So with all that said, what conclusions are there to draw from it? Has the current owner got a history of selling our top talent solely for the purpose of making a profit? I would have to say no. In fact if we had not received a mental offer for Carroll we may not have sold, in which case the only season in which we would have made a profit in the transfer market would have been the season we got relegated, which pretty much comes with the territory.
Now comes the argument of selling top players to replace them with cheap, and worse, replacements. Given the clear evidence of both a stronger team and although limited squad depth, quality within that depth, I find it hard to understand the argument that we replace any players that are sold with cheap knock-offs.
The team we had on paper, note on paper, the season before we were relegated looked considerably better, but as we all know football is not played on paper and that team had about as much togetherness, creativity and fight as… I’m struggling to find a fitting analogy… they just had none of the above. The team we have now is just that, a team and one which is proving their worth every week.
It pleases me when I see some comparing this set of players not to those who contributed to our relegation but to the teams of real quality in our Premier League history. The side under Sir Bobby and of course the Entertainers under Keegan’s first stint. They are not comparable to either in style of play but football has moved on from those times and fact is we are now a side built from the back who can score goals and grind out results.
People like Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez, Danny Guthrie, Danny Simpson and Ryan Taylor were all signed in the first couple of years under the current regime. Since the overhaul and more recently we have seen quality such as Cheik Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon and Sylvain Marveaux arrive at the club. With that a prime example of the focus on future in the talented Mehdi Abeid as well as a number of academy prospects making the step up.
I understand the point that we could be doing even better if we splashed out a few times but I also understand that we have done that umpteen times before Ashley and more often than not it has not paid off. Sorry to bring finances into it but they are bound to crop up somewhere. The new transfer policy seems to be working for us and we are getting burned less so I for one support it completely, even if it can be frustrating at times.
Anyway back onto the impact on the football. Why is it that along with a promising looking side we all of a sudden have youth talent coming through the ranks and actually looking like real players for the future? Is it because of financial investment in the academy? Yes, partly, but it is more so a philosophy change as regards how we utilize our academy, and that has come from the owner on down.
The reason Newcastle have not seen potential stars emerge from youth level for a long time was down to our previous owner, and in fact originated with Keegan. It was at that time they made a concious decision to use the transfer market alone to bring quality, not develop it ourselves. It may have worked back then but in modern football unless you have Man City’s money you will never have any real squad depth unless you effectively develop young talent from within. Man Utd are the prime example of this.
So if we are going to try and get the best value for money, keep the purse strings tight and invest in our academy and young talent what do you need? A damn good scouting system and the backing of the board to have them working their socks off to find the next diamond in the rough for next to nothing. I think in Graham Carr and his team of scouting ninjas we have that and they have the full backing of the owner, whether it be financial or otherwise.
Next you need the facilities to develop these players and for those on the fence about signing, you have to impress. We have always been blessed in that regard through passion of fans and a stadium which rivals the top clubs in the country but it is also good to hear that there has been investment in improving training facilities, the academy and even the stadium itself, relaid pitch, undersoil heating etc.
To attract players in the future you also need a team that is performing well and has good togetherness and spirit. To achieve this you need a good manager and coaching staff. Fair enough there have been mistakes made in this regard as I alluded to in the previous article but I think we finally have that in place.
Alan Pardew has surprised nearly everyone in football I think and proved that he has the character, discipline, motivation and tactical prowess to be an extremely good manager. Behind him we have some really good members of staff in John Carver and Steve Stone, and formerly at academy level and now in charge of youth development we have Peter Beardsley.
Beyond that there is very little else an owner can do in terms of the football itself as far as I can see. Well there is one concern among fans and a legitimate one that comes with the policy but before that I think the fans need addressing. Obviously Ashley is not on great terms with many and to be honest I don’t think that will change dramatically.
The fact is he does not speak publicly ever, and that goes outside Newcastle Utd and has been the case long before he was owner. In terms of public opinion with having Derek Llambias as his right hand man and Managing Director. Again we can debate all day about his ability to do the job but in terms of the likeability factor, Derek just does not have it and never will.
So with that being the case and I don’t think either care too much what people think of them anyway, how do they still harness the power of fans to aid performances on the pitch? Basically by filling the stadium every week. With the current state of the economy and less and less people with the spare cash to go to every game this is proving difficult for all clubs.
However in Newcastle’s case there has been a number of positive steps taken by the owner to ensure we are as close to capacity come a Saturday afternoon as possible. The half price season ticket offer looked to be a good promotion and was proven as such with over 5,000 more season tickets being sold in little over a week.
There has just been a new promotion released for those who are not season ticket holders which allows them to bulk buy for a certain amount of games. There are a couple of different tariffs but as far as I know it is pretty much based around getting tickets for twelve games for the price of ten. It may not be a massive gesture but a gesture nonetheless and will help to get those empty seats filled.
The final point I wanted to make was as regards the relatively new wage structure and cap at the club which is a financial thing but does have an impact on the football or team and in turn will concern some fans as to our ability to sign top players but more importantly hang on to our best players.
It is a legitimate concern and a tricky thing to get right. As far as bringing players to the club, chances are it will restrict us from signing a lot of players that play in big enough clubs in England but may want to move on.
They will already be on a considerable wage packet and will not want it to drop given the choice. This means we may have to scour European leagues who pay players less than what they get in England, which is what we have done as of late, mainly cherrypicking from France.
It does make life a bit harder no doubt in terms of signing certain players, and it probably makes for more complex and drawn out negotiations too, but all things considered I think it is a good thing in terms of player acquisition in that we are almost guaranteed that any player coming here is not here solely for the pay packet but for footballing reasons, and in most cases, genuinely wants to play for Newcastle.
In terms of players currently on the books, again a difficult one to balance. Those on the higher end of the pay scale have been recently signed to long contracts with the exception of Coloccini. Obviously we would like to see him signed up soon and hopefully he will but negotiations are ongoing on that one so time will tell. Being that he seems a real man of principle, is happy to play for Newcastle and delighted to have been made captain I am hopeful that it will sort itself out.
As for those on long contracts with big wages, when time comes four or five year down the line to renegotiate we will see how it goes. Our progression as a club, getting into Europe etc will obviously help that cause but all pie in the sky for now. I think peoples main concern is over losing the likes of Cheik Tiote, which I understand completely.
Look having a policy like this will mean you lose the odd player, as we have seen with Jose Enrique in the summer. The only way you can counteract it is to sign up on long deals with no clauses so that player power is at a minimum. You will either get a massive bid mid-contract you can’t refuse or they will be coming to the end of a contract and you may be forced to sell if new terms are not agreed.
Very few clubs give five year deals to players. The reason I think Newcastle have done so is that if we are put in the situation of being forced to sell or lose for free, more often than not these players will have all but passed their peak by then and will be close to if not in their thirties. By then, even if it may not seem like a good thing, it may just be the right time to sell and get good money too.
Arsene Wenger has been the master of this in the past and I’m hoping we can manage to pull off something similar in the future if a big player wants out. As far as the younger players go they are not on big money but are on five year deals. This means we still have the ability to negotiate an improved deal to keep them at the club when the time comes.
So although I understand and have some of the same concerns as others as regards holding on to big players I think we have a system which works best for the club. Yes we will lose the odd player to a big money bid or not be willing to pay them what they want, and for the odd player in our squad such as Tiote that will be a sad day but it falls back on the likes of Carr and our scouting system to make sure we have ready made replacements, and so far so good in that regard.
I will wrap it up there for now but would be interested as to what other people think about the owners impact on direct footballing matters. It`s difficult to separate business and football when talking about the money men but hopefully I’ve done a decent job getting how I see his influence on the football side of things across.
All in all I would say, especially since being relegated, in terms of Mike Ashley’s impact on the football, we are going in the right direction and long may it continue. In Pardew and Co I think we have the people in place to achieve that even if it takes some time.
I’ve been waiting my whole lifetime for a trophy. I can wait a bit longer.
As always, all comments and insight appreciated.