Mike Ashley still divides opinion at Newcastle. Some people like him and think he’s good for the club and others hate him and would have him hogtied, marched to the Bigg Market and placed in the stocks to be pelted with projectiles of choice. Then there are plenty of shades of grey in the middle of that – people who either think some of his ideas are bad and some are okay, or folk that are deferring opinion for now.
One thing Ashley rarely is, though, is predictable. Who, at the beginning of Ashley’s term of office, would have predicted he’d usher in the return of Keegan, precipitate Keegan’s unfair dismissal, put the club up for sale twice, receive accusations of being both cockney and Mafioso, appoint Chris Hughton as manager, sack Chris Hughton for no obvious reason, appoint Alan Shearer as manager, dig up Alan Pardew and make him manager, replace Chris Mort with a man of the owlish persuasion, oversee the team’s relegation, oversee the team’s subsequent promotion, rename St James’ Park to an email address and the plethora of other things he does that keep us guessing?
He’s certainly caused a fair bit of unrest in his time and I understand the sales of bedsheets in Tyneside shops have never been better.
It’s hard to know where to begin assessing the man but today I want to kind of follow on from Worky’s recent article about Newcastle’s transfer spending and then go off at a bit of a tangent and talk about communication.
You can dispute the players on Worky’s list if you want, you can include wage fees in the figures if you choose (but then you’d also have to include wages saved on players sold) and you can include costs associated with relegation, under-soil heating and whatever you like, but the upshot is that the club is on a trend to spend less money whichever way you look at it.
This, you might argue, is a good thing. I think it is – in principle – because the club was being strangled by debt and simply couldn’t go on that way. But things are slightly more complex than that from a fan’s point of view. I think we have to ask why Ashley is keen to reduce the debt and where the balance sits between reduced operating costs and investment for the future.
If Ashley’s sole objective is to make the club financially viable to sell, then we could be faced with many seasons of mediocrity such as Doug Ellis oversaw at Aston Villa. You could argue that it was for the best in the long run as his financial prudence would have gone some way to persuading Randy Lerner to buy the club, whereupon Villa’s fortunes on the pitch improved. But who wants to sit through many seasons of mediocrity? And if such is actually the situation at Newcastle, you could argue that the only reason Ashley’s tightening the purse strings at Newcastle is to help him sell the club on for his own personal benefit.
If however you believe Mike Ashley is committed to the club on a long-term basis then making it financially sound is for our benefit too. If there really is a five-year plan to compete for European football then restraint on things like player purchases – buying enough to improve a bit without going bananas – could set us on the straight and narrow for improvements in future seasons too. This summer’s spending can be seen as just one step in a long-term plan to make Newcastle United a successful club both on the pitch and in the accounting ledgers.
So which is it?
I don’t know, but there is a way Ashley could easily help us understand. He could come out and unequivocally state that he is committed to Newcastle for the next 5 years and he could clearly state his aims for the club over that time, both in terms of finances and on-pitch achievements. A formal ‘club announcement’ would be the best way to do this in my opinion. Obviously he couldn’t go deep in details because they may change over time by necessity but something along the lines of:
Mr Ashley confirms that he will not sell Newcastle United and is committed to building a successful club over the next 5 years by adhering to the following broad plan:
- Alan Pardew will remain as manager for the duration.
- Two or three seasons of gradual improvement alongside financial prudence are necessary for the next few years, but our aim will still be to maintain top-half finishes and challenge as hard as we can.
- Seasons four and five will see us benefit from that financially secure base and money will be invested in the squad such that anything less than a top 6 finish will be considered a disappointment.
Unrealistic? Maybe, but that’s just an example of the sort of clarity (rather than actual content) I’d like to see. (I know some people would vomit at the idea of Alan Pardew remaining manager for 5 years!)
For sure, it would still be up to us to decide whether or not we believe him but that’s a different cauldron of chordata. It would demonstrate commitment on his behalf to those who may sit in that grey area of opinion about him at the moment.
I can remember when Ashley and Llambias decided they didn’t communicate enough with us and thought they would try to do so. They made a bit of a dog’s dinner of things and fairly soon we were wishing they would just shut up again, so it’s probably understandable that they’re reluctant to say too much now. But I’d urge Ashley to break the silence and come out with a clear statement of intent. It would certainly be a big step in helping me decide whether I ‘support’ the man’s policies or not. I’d then only have to decide whether I believe him or not and that’s something that could change over time if I saw the promised plan being implemented.
Note that I’m talking about ‘intent’ here. There’s always going to be room to argue the various ins and outs about the ‘methods’ used to make a club successful, but I’d like to see the intent first.
What do you think?