In a rare interview from NUFC’s managing director, Lee Charnley has opened up about the financial ‘risk’ Mike Ashley took following our drop into the Championship, revealing just how it impacted the club and addressing our ambitions moving forward.
It’s a fairly wide-ranging interview, but mainly sees Charnley address just why our annual financial report showed big losses – explaining the decisions both he and Mike Ashley have made following relegation (and promotion) over the past few years.
There’s only so much sympathy I have for Lee here (he made several mistakes that led to our demise two years ago), but, in his defence, he comes across well here and admits to his mistakes – as well as a lot of what he says making sense.
Here’s what he’s had to say during an interview with the Mail’s Craig Hope, initially explaining just what would have happened if we didn’t secure promotion at the first attempt:
‘It would have been a catastrophe, a bloodbath,’
‘The manager would likely have gone. This was a one-season gamble from his view as well.
“Some of the players would have wanted to go. Matt Ritchie, for example, bought into this on the basis of, “One year in the Championship then I am going to the Premier League”.
‘And then we would have had Financial Fair Play. You cannot operate a business continually that has a wage bill higher than its turnover, it’s not sustainable.
‘We’d have had no choice but to recruit Championship players. Three teams then come down with more money than you and you end up on this cycle of trying to catch them. You have to reset financially. It would have taken years to get out of the Championship.’
This is pretty hard hitting stuff, showing just why it was vital that we came up at the first attempt. That being said, they should’ve seen this coming and acted before it was too late.
Yes Ashley gave Benitez the backing to get us out of this mess two years ago, but his mistakes made prior to that were the reason we ended up where we did.
Charnley then went on, opening up about the day an already relegated NUFC serenaded Rafa Benitez while we beat Spurs 5-1 at St James’ Park – revealing what Ashley told him after the game ahead of our year in the Championship:
‘There should have been a negativity around the club given what had gone before,’ ‘It was surreal watching us beat a team who were going for second place and beat them like we did.
‘We had planned a conversation with the manager after the game. The thinking could have been, “We have to scale back because the revenues have gone down”, whereas Mike was, “We are going for it”.
‘We talked through the game, “If we could get the manager to stay, get off to a decent start, fans behind you, you build momentum and it can develop a life of its own”.
‘So Mike’s priority was to keep Rafa. He said, “I am going to leave you two to get on with it, I’m going to support you and, come next year, I do not want to be in this league”.’
At this point, Charnley justified why the club were unable to back Benitez in his infamous pursuit of Andros Townsend in January 2017, stating that, at the time, the money was just not there to allow that deal to happen:
‘It’s not like we’re sat on a big pot of cash keeping it for a rainy day,’
‘Money comes in, money goes out and what’s left is available to spend, it’s that simple.’
It’s hard to take, but this makes sense. The story states that Palace wanted £12m but the money was not there to sign him, with a loan move and obligation to buy also being unwise given the fact we’d be “left with a £70,000-per-week player in the Championship” if we didn’t go up.
Craig Hope then admits that despite our title win and the £10m bonuses that came with it, Charnley refused to accept his share – an admirable move after feeling as though it was partly his responsibility that we went down in the first place:
‘In simple terms, I accept my share of the responsibility for us going down – Steve McClaren was my appointment.
‘Given the owner’s approach in terms of supporting the manager, me and the club, it just didn’t fit.’
Charnley then had the following to say when touching on the club’s ambition to win a cup:
‘The players are now hugely incentivised when it comes to the cup competitions. We’ve made our view clear on the cups in the past but now – and we’ve said this to Rafa – it’s, “Have a go, try and win a cup”.’
Finally, Charnley discussed the club’s expected approach and ambitions moving forward after successfully surviving our first year back in the top flight – praising the job Benitez has done but admitting that it will ‘take some time’ to get to where we want to be:
‘This year was about staying in the Premier League and now it’s about growing and improving year on year, but doing that within our means,’ he said.
‘Thats not to say there is a lack of ambition, because there definitely is ambition, it will just take some time.’
‘He, and the talented staff around him, are incredibly professional, meticulous and focussed. We have seen the benefit of that.
‘What Rafa has certainly done is improve the group of players on a whole. I look at Jamaal Lascelles from when he came in and he’s made huge strides.
‘We have got a group now who have an incredible spirit, work ethic and a real togetherness.
‘If you look to improve going forward, it’s a real fight to get the balance between improving the quality of the individuals and also retaining that team ethic. To find the two is not always easy – and potentially very expensive.’
Some VERY interesting stuff here.
A part of me feels like this is just another way of justifying why we won’t (‘can’t’) spend much this summer, but he does come across well; accepting his mistakes and making a fairly well balanced argument as to why things have panned out as they have since we went down.
What do you make of all this folks??