Friedrich Nietzsche – The Will to Power
I quoted the great proto-existentialist philosopher there because it seems such a perfect summary of all that Mike Ashley has to offer Newcastle United fans, in the past, the present and in the future; existence as it is, without meaning or aim, and yet recurring inevitably This includes the humiliation of being lied to and treated as fools on a regular basis, and paying hundreds of pounds for the privilege in many cases. Mike Ashley’s latest alleged overhaul is just as superficial and dishonest as the previous ones, which is why everything coming out of the club must be so strictly controlled. In his hubris, Ashley still hasn’t learned that a Premier League club the size of Newcastle United has to be like Rolls Royce, not Sports Direct. The faces might be different, but the thinking which has taken Newcastle United nowhere is still the same, recurring inevitably.
From that you might be thinking I’m referring to spending on players, especially so as there hasn’t been any but actually I’m not. I write that because though very good players are essential, firstly you need to make at least a decent investment in having the right manager, coaching staff and boardroom staff to make the right choices and get the best out of them. Though the Toon squad is not quite what some of us would expect it to be, it should still be a strong mid table side which shouldn’t have to think about relegation if it only it had a good manager and coaching staff at least. In other words, invest in a good manager, a good Managing Director and then start thinking about how the club should invest a considerably larger amount in new signings. Even with the latest overhaul and new head coach, Mike Ashley is still relying on the same methods which have made Newcastle a side that has been relegated once, and nearly relegated twice so far. Something which was unimaginable even in the decay and decadence of the Freddy Shepherd era.
Looking at the policy on managers, including the latest in Steve McClaren, Newcastle United’s appointments under Ashley have fallen into two categories so far.
First there are the virgins thrown straight into the deep end like Alan Shearer, or assistants who have never managed at the highest level before except for the odd game as caretaker like Chris Hughton or John Carver.
Secondly and more relevantly as far as the latest appointment goes, there are those who had a good period at some stage in the past, but have fallen on hard times like Pardew and McClaren, or even those who had retired from the game completely like Joe Kinnear and even (If I dare to say it in the same sentence), Kevin Keegan. Whatever their respective places in the affections of fans though, both had similar profiles, ie good spells as managers a long time ago but had since lost touch with the game completely. Like Pardew, McClaren hadn’t lost touch with the game, but had been plucked from the bargain bin of football after being sacked by a lower league team. Looking on the bright side here, it could have been big Ron Atkinson or Peter Reid.
The Managing Director appointments have been just as bad from Llambias too, a Casino manager with no experience in football, and a liar who brought Newcastle United into disrepute with fiascos such as Keegangate and the Llambiasgate tapes, and proudly boasted about how “horrible” he and Ashley could be.
As Kevin Keegan rightly said in one of his comic Keeganisms:
“Mike Ashley doesn’t know anything about football. That’s the first thing. The second thing is Llambias knows even less than him!”
However, if Ashley knows nothing about football and Llambias knows less than that, then the current MD, Lee Charnley, seems to know even less than Llambias if that is possible. In Charnley’s short spell so far, what should be an upper mid-table side were almost relegated with the club’s seeming paralysis over appointing a new coach. Speculating wildly, perhaps it was a ridiculous hope that John Carver would emulate the success of Garry Monk at Swansea?
You hardly ever know what is true at Newcastle United nowadays, especially with the club’s Stalinesque relationship with the media, which will put added pressure on McClaren and Charnley with over 90% of the media and many of the fans of course. All that is a story in itself though. Getting back to McClaren, he gave Charnley the credit for the latest bizarre move, the club’s new reinvention of the football club board. On the unprecedented move of being appointed as a board member as well as head coach, Steve McClaren said:
“What Lee Charnley is trying to do is to create a new structure and to get everyone involved. He doesn’t want people to be in their own offices doing their thing without being aware of what else is going on.
That’s a logical fallacy though, suggesting that the only alternative to Charnley’s latest bright idea is people wandering around in a state of complete cluelessness about what’s going on, even though this recent move is unique in the Premier League. If you look at leading clubs overseas like Barcelona or Bayern Munich, they don’t do it either. There is a reason for this; it’s because it’s good to keep a respectful distance between the coaching / dressing room side and the boardroom side. When other clubs want to improve communications between the dressing room and the board room, they appoint a Director of Football. Still, when Ashley tried that, he teamed up Dennis Wise with Kevin Keegan and set off a catastrophic chain of events which ended with the club being relegated from the Premier League for the first time ever. You just can’t seem to win either way with Ashley.
McClaren gave a possible insight into a more realistic motive later in the same interview quoted above. Reflecting on his time at Middlesbrough he said:
“I had a similar experience when I was at Boro. I was invited to board meetings because they wanted me to know about things like season ticket prices, and that I’d have the idea that money isn’t grown on trees. Lee wanted someone from the football side on that and I think it’s a good idea.”
Whether at Middlesbrough, Newcastle or elsewhere, why should McClaren want to worry about season ticket prices and suchlike? He is the manager and the head of the team, and should be concentrating on that with every fibre of his being. Really, they just want to control McClaren and don’t want any repeat of the Chris Hughton situation, where the players and the manager were too close and Hughton interceeded on the issue of player bonuses. Like Pardew and Carver before him, the new head coach must be reminded that Ashley is in control and that McClaren works for the board and not the team, even if it upsets the delicate balance maintained at other top sides between the dressing room and the boardroom. I can almost imagine Ashley singing the Human League’s “Don’t you want me” to the likes of Pardew and McClaren:
You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.
That’s the way Ashley likes it, a manager who is desperate, malleable and cheap. Hence, ambitious managers who can pick and choose are an anathema to Ashley.
There might be peaks and troughs but after eight years and another overhaul of the club, still nothing has changed really and it seems that fundamentally, nothing ever will so long as Ashley is here because his personality will not change.