The Way Forward for Newcastle United
Newcastle United is the biggest club in the northeast and top-four finishes used to be a reasonable expectation among the fans. However, life has been tough since Mike Ashley bought the Magpies in 2007 and he would have been better off gambling with a no deposit casino bonus instead. With the club not being run properly, there’s a lot of work ahead to finish in the top four again.
The Early Promise Has Gone
Back in 1992, Kevin Keegan was installed as manager and fought off relegation to the third division before winning the First Division in 1992/93. The yo-yo-ing between leagues had ended and the Magpies would play in the recently established Premier League for the first time. Incredibly, the attack-minded Keegan masterminded a third-place finish in the club’s debut season in the division.
After dropping to sixth in 94/95, Keegan guided the Toon to a second-place finish in 95/96 a second-place finish in 95/96, though unfortunately lost out to Manchester United on both occasions. The following season saw Keegan depart in January and be replaced by Kenny Dalglish, who steadied the ship and led the club to second-place, again behind Man Utd.
From 2002 until 2004, Bobby Robson led the club to fourth, third, and fifth, respectively, before leaving. Since Robson, however, the club has struggled with consistency and the best Premier League finish in the past 17 seasons has been fifth, which came under Alan Pardew in 2012/13. With Newcastle again yo-yo-ing between the Premier League and the Championship, the consistent issue has been Ashley’s lack of support as an owner.
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Ashley in the Way
Being shrewd and being cheap are two different qualities. While the shrewd spender aims to spend effectively, the cheap spender focuses on saving money at the expense of any long-term strategy. And Ashley is so driven by money that he sold naming rights to St James’s Park in 2012 to payday loan company Wonga, having used the name Sports Direct Arena – after his sporting goods company – in 2011.
Another ill-advised decision was Ashley’s commitment to providing Alan Pardew with an eight-year contract in September 20212. Ashley had already been criticised for failing to invest in transfers since becoming owner, having previously made an incoming pledge to the fans. The new contract came after a fifth-place finish though Pardew would only complete two full seasons after finishing 16th in 2012/13 and 10th in 2013/14.
In 2015/16, Pardew made a rare good decision by employing Rafa Benítez toward the end of the season. Although Benítez couldn’t save Newcastle from relegation, he remained with the club and won the Championship the following season. Despite having a trophy-winning manager, Ashley didn’t adequately back the Spanish tactician, who worked hard to secure 10th place in 2017/18 and 13th in 2018/19.
Despite loving Newcastle and the fans, Benítez ended up leaving the club because he wasn’t adequately backed by Ashley. With Benítez gone, Ashley made a backward step in employing Steve Bruce. Although Bruce loves the club, it cannot be disputed that he doesn’t have a Champions League crown or La Liga title on his CV. Nevertheless, Bruce has provided memorable moments, such as the nail-biting 4-3 defeat against Man City.
Ashley Needs to Sell – and Soon
For Newcastle, it’s difficult to see a path back into the top four unless Ashley sells and moves on. Right now, the club still has talented players in the form of crack finisher Calum Wilson and the scintillating Allan Saint-Maximin. If the right pieces can be added around them, the club can eye a return to the top half of the table. Once the club is established in the top half and the TV revenue begins to increase, better players can be purchased, and then the top four will be within reach.
After purchasing the club for £133 million in 2007, it’s been reported that Ashley is now seeking £300 million to sell his stake. The Sports Direct owner has made no secret of his willingness to listen to offers. Unfortunately for the fans, however, tangible offers haven’t been forthcoming. And, until that happens, Ashley isn’t going to sell.
Saudi Arabia Bid Fails
Predictably for fans, Ashley couldn’t sell the club when the £300 million Saudi Arabian takeover failed – even Ashley couldn’t pick the right owner to sell to. Although bidding an acceptable value of £300 million, the Saudi Arabian consortium was denied the opportunity to complete the purchase of the club, having failed the Premier League’s owners’ test.
Among the issues that undermined the prospective bid was the Premier League’s inability to determine the involvement of the Saudi Arabian government as well as the illegal broadcasting of matches in the country. In response, the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust wanted clarification on the decision, given the dissatisfaction with Ashley as an owner.
Moving forward, the club needs to be sold to an owner with the resources to bolster the squad and bankroll a long-term push for the top four. However, Ashley’s asking price will remain a stumbling block and it could be difficult to find a buyer, given the diminished economic climate that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Without Ashley selling, Bruce’s success will be measured by keeping the Magpies in the Premier League.