Including the amount he paid for the club, initial investment, post-relegation funding, and outstanding debt from inherited bank loans, it would take approx. £270m to buy Mike Ashley out at break-even, him just walking away without making any return on investment. Unless someone who wants him out has that in their sky rocket or knows someone who does, then that plan falls flat on its face right there.
Insane amounts of ready and expendable capital aside, there is an argument for ‘better the devil you know’ as regards football club owners, considering some of the catastrophic takeovers in recent times, Carson Yeung, Tony Fernandes, and Venky’s being three examples of ranging but similarly shockingly bad owners. Newcastle not being in, or at any risk of being in, financial jeopardy, now or in future, cannot be taken for granted.
For the sake of just wanting someone out, there’s always the risk what comes after will be another person with the financial means and starry-eyed idea of owning a football club, with the same lack of football background or knowledge as Mike Ashley, but worse again, also without the astute financial plan to, at worst, limit the instability of the club to that of backroom appointments or player sales.
Next up is his actual input, which is virtually non-existent. As the handful of Newcastle fans who have ever actually met Mike Ashley and spoken to him about Newcastle will probably tell you, he has no involvement in the day-to-day running of the club. His only input is the hiring and firing of managers or higher ups, which I will get to. Until recent developments, the running of the club was left to Derek Llambias.
To date, as far as restructuring the club financially to a point of self-sufficiency, so much so, the club probably makes a relatively small but decent profit, especially with the new TV deal, Llambias has done a very good job, but maybe it has come to a point where what’s needed is someone who can deliver what Llambias could not, lucrative commercial deals and generally more effective negotiating skills, in both in commercial deals and transfers.
With this new TV deal, the extra revenue is estimated to provide clubs with approx. £18 million extra per season, which could either be used for player purchases, or if fans really want Ashley out, put towards clearing the debt owed and in-turn the price the club would cost to buy him out. For arguments sake, say £15 million per season of that was used to clear the debt, it would take around eight years to do so.
This however would also mean next to no real budget being allocated towards transfers for those eight years, unless of course we were to sell a big name or two every couple of years, which could either bring the debt down quicker or give us funds to replace what we’ve just sold while still allocating the £15 million from TV revenue to bring down the debt. Far from an appealing scenario really.
So what’s the alternative? Try force him out through demonstrations, in-game protests, threats? Can’t see that working really, can you? Even if it did have an impact, it would have to be done constantly over time and chances are it will have a massive negative impact on how the club and its fans are perceived, as well as maybe forcing a lot more than him to leave in the meantime, mainly players.
Any other options? Maybe… As hard as it is for some to put the anger aside and look at the situation somewhat objectively, it may well be the case that what’s best for the club, even if you’re someone who is hell bent on getting rid of Ashley, is to accept the ‘better the devil you know’ scenario, and analysing it, manipulating it with a more measured, different angle of approach.
The real issue isn’t Mike Ashley or his involvement. It’s the decisions he has made at times in relation to senior appointments or sackings that have caused outrage. I will get to Kinnear in a bit, but for now, Derek Llambias has just resigned. While financially doing a lot of good in his time, he did a lot that was bad too. Commercial development has been a major failing of his. We pale in comparison to clubs we should be in or around in this regard.
Fans often take what’s fed by the media as gospel instead of thinking and questioning what’s reported. Maybe it has come to the stage where Llambias had served his purpose and someone of more marketing/commercial expertise was needed. Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with unrest at the appointment of Kinnear, as was reported. Maybe this will in fact be for the better of the club going forward. Derek wasn’t exactly popular.
The concern shouldn’t be with Ashley as owner, but who gets appointed to run the club. This is something that supporter groups could actually use as an angle to show that they are a valuable asset worth listening to, if it’s approached in the right manner. While the position is open, it would surely serve more of a purpose to try and engage Ashley rather than call for his head, as one supporter once said, “be the critical friend rather than the angry enemy.”
We all know where Mike falls down as an owner. He doesn’t come from a football background, doesn’t know many people in football, well, many people of the experience and level of expertise we’d like him to. For this reason, he almost always tends to go with those he does know and trust, which can sometimes, may would say often, be the wrong move. No better example than the recent appointment of Joe Kinnear.
If there was a concerted effort on the part of supporters groups, intelligently put together with more than just passionate words, but statistics, studies from other clubs, etc. showing why this is the main problem with the club, what damages his relationship with fans most, and the need to utllisie resources at his disposal to headhunt the best possible candidates to key positions at the club, it may not fall on deaf ears.
He will always want someone involved who he knows, trusts, and can report back to him, with his best interests in mind, and that’s perfectly understandable, but the influential commercial and football positions have to be filled by high caliber individuals from those fields of expertise, not friends. If this could be communicated through contactable club officials in a reasoned, detailed, and convincing manner, it would be something everyone should get behind.
Now it could well fall on deaf ears regardless, but is much more constructive and positive approach than driving an even bigger wedge between owner and supporters. At least if it was approached in this manner, the result provides clarity. If taken on board and responded to, he’s showing fans they are listened to, valuable, and respected. If not, then it confirms what critics think, he doesn’t care, even after an approach and olive branch of said kind.
Hypothetically, lets say it does have the desired impact, consultations take place, expert appointments are made instead of jobs for the boys, then Newcastle becomes a far different beast. It becomes a club with the personnel to deliver big commercial revenue and increase the global brand. It becomes a more attractive club for overseas, having more revenue to put that extra few million into securing deals and raising the wage ceiling to keep our major players.
Another knock-on of the commercial growth of the club would be the more efficient recouping of debt owed to him, without it taking away from the TV deal, revenue, or potential budget for transfers, also meaning less need to sell big names every season or so to create a transfer kitty capable of replacing those players and consistently improving the squad, season ticket and individual match prices also being able to remain affordable too.
From a football point of view, an expert commercial director should also be able to source, deliver, and progress the club brand through various deals, such as pre-season tours or projects, high caliber and lucrative kit manufacturing and sponsorship deals, and even from the players point of view, work with them on individual sponsorship and advertising deals, players benefiting financially, but the club benefiting also as a result.
This is something, despite his obvious great work in getting the club to the position of financial stability, that was far beyond the capabilities of Derek Llambias, but is now what the position should be focused on. I don’t know Mike Ashley or his friends, but judging on previous appointments, he doesn’t personally know someone that can deliver in this regard, but it would be highly beneficial for both the club and him personally to headhunt such a person.
The Director of Football is next up and something I have actually long thought could be extremely beneficial to us, again, if the right person is appointed. There’s too much involved in the running of a large scale football club for a manager to do it all without something, or maybe everything, suffering. As well as that, managers shelf lives aren’t what they used to be, so if the clubs footballing philosophy rests with the manager, if he goes, so does the philosophy. There’s no real consistency to that. It’s solely dependent on a manager being there for a very long time.
It’s part of the reason why continental clubs implement a Director of Football. They oversee the football at all levels in the club, with a clear, long-term, consistent philosophy on how the club and its supporter want to see the team play football. All fans want to see exciting attacking football, but Newcastle happens to be one club which wants it more than most. In recent history, we can blame/thank Keegan for instilling that need.
Much like the Spanish and German international set-ups, work has to go into streamlining the style of play throughout the club, from academy to the senior first team. The knock-on of this is that all players at the club fit the system, new signings are bought who will suit the system, in case of mass injuries, squad or younger players can step into the first team and not be lost, instantly familiar with the style and system, not needing to have much time to adapt.
Another major role of the Director of Football rests on reputation in world football, not only domestic. If all the aforementioned can be put in place and the team plays nice football to go with it, the cherry on top is to have someone highly respected in football that can convince high caliber players that Newcastle is where they should be playing their football. This is my issue, and most other fans I assume, with Joe Kinnear. He’s just not capable of all that, not even close.
The management and coaches at all levels are next and have to buy into both the clubs financial structure and the footballing philosophy. This is another appointment that should, in my opinion, be scouted and suited for purpose much like players should. English managers don’t generally suit or feel comfortable in this set-up. For that and some other reasons, I would personally bring a continental manager and reserve/academy coaches in.
All easier said than done, but what seems a more worthwhile and positive cause to put efforts into? Accepting the lack of day-to-day influence the owner has. Trying to engage and work with him to put the other positions in place, for the benefit of both him and the club? Or finding £280 million, never mind the multi-billion pound wealth and financial acumen to run a club well? As i said, even if we could find someone, always the risk of being a Venky’s.
The ‘better the devil you know’ scenario with aforementioned approach to the future set-up is a much less risky and much more controllable and stable option, for me anyway. Worst case scenario, for those who are hell bent on Ashley selling up, the option becomes much more realistic the sooner that debt is paid off. The alternative is wait another eight years plus with very little spent on transfers, further big name sales to fund them, and still the end-game risk of a new owner being the same if not worse.
Final point – a lot of fans seem to think that a Geordie owner would be the ideal. I understand the sentiment, but I’m not so sure to be honest. True, you would be guaranteed the passion and desire to do what they think is best for the club, but fan opinion is divided at the best of times on any number of issues. A Geordie owner won’t necessarily do what you or many think is best.
Another issue for me would actually be that direct affiliation. There are a lot of clubs that make silly decisions based on the owner not being able to look at the situation and make decisions objectively. Passion and tinted glasses can sometimes cloud judgement. Personally, I’d value objectivity and expertise over being from Newcastle any day, but as I said, I do understand where people come from on that point.
Anyway, that’s me for now. As always, all feedback appreciated.