Adam Behan discusses the actions, or lack thereof, of Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, as the North East club head into a third transfer window without signing a senior player on a permanent deal.
In the summer of 2007, Mike Ashley saved Newcastle United FC.
Having purchased the stakes of former shareholders Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd, Ashley saved the Tyneside club from financial ruin by paying off the debt which had amounted during the previous regime. His initial popularity among the fans is highlighted more than anywhere else in his early choice to act as one of them, drinking in local bars and pubs and sitting among them at matches, both home and away.
It would have been impossible to predict, at this stage, the complete reversal of this approach by the Newcastle United owner in the coming years. Now, in 2014, the billionaire could be regarded as the most elusive football club owner in the Premier League. Just where he stands with the club, his intentions and his desires for it can only be guessed at given his lack of contact with the public.
Communication with the fans is now only made indirectly, through Fans’ Forum meetings held intermittently throughout the Premier League season, leaving the fans very much in the dark.
Because Mike Ashley cannot be judged by his words, seeing as he uses none, he can only be judged by his actions; in terms of action, perhaps the strongest indicator of an owner’s intentions, apart from putting the club up for sale, is his activity in the transfer market.
On examination of the club’s recent dealings in this section of the business of football, the reasons for discontent among Newcastle fans become apparent.
The past three years have seen players integral to the performance of the team sold midway through the season. January 2011 saw the departure of striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool for a fee of £35,000,000. In January 2013, Demba Ba was sold to Chelsea for £7,000,000. Most recently, playmaker Yohan Cabaye was sold to French giants PSG for a fee estimated around £19,000,000.
The only season which did not see the departure of a key player at its midway point was 2012, the season Newcastle finished 5th and qualified for the Europa League.
There are of course practical considerations to take into account when reviewing these sales. £35,000,000 is an enormous sum of money that simply could not have been turned down. The sale of Demba Ba was the result of an activation of his release clause. And yet the feeling that offers would be listened to for even their most important players, in spite of the detrimental effect it would have on the team’s performance, pervaded, and was confirmed with the sale of Yohan Cabaye in January of this year.
Though it exclusively did not cause the downward spiral that Newcastle experienced in the second half of the 2013/14 season, the Frenchman’s departure can be pointed to as the most significant contributor.
The discontent created by a transfer policy that appears to not only allow, but aspire to the maximum financial income from the selling of its star players, could in part be alleviated if the income received was put towards their replacements. The last two transfer windows have, however, seen the arrival of not a single senior player on a permanent signing.
Newcastle United is the only club in the history of the Premier League, since the inception of the transfer windows, to do this.
I only now come to mention the figure of Joe Kinnear, appointed and removed as Director of Football within the space of months. The outrage expressed by fans, along with his controversial statements and bewildering incapacity for the job, would require another article in itself.
The five signings made in January of 2012/13 cannot and should not be ignored, but these seemed closer to a knee-jerk reaction at the prospect of potential relegation rather than an indication of ambition on Ashley’s part. The loss incurred by these new players would be far outweighed by that which would accompany relegation to the Championship.
As we enter the transfer window of summer 2014, it is obvious that new players are needed on Tyneside, not only to provide a lift to the fans, but to restore their faith in an owner from whom they have become increasingly disillusioned.
Given Ashley’s refusal to speak publicly regarding the club, it is unlikely that the division between him and the fans that now exists could be bridged quickly or easily. Yet it would at least provide an indicator of his ambitions for Newcastle United.
More fundamentally, given the relegation form showed by the club in the second half of last season, changes will be needed to prevent such a struggle next season. Ashley has already opted not to affect a managerial change. He must therefore allow change within the playing squad by providing the financial means at his disposal.
Adam Behan, Pundit Arena.