Mike Ashley purchased Newcastle United around 6 years ago, and has been ripped to shreds for his hiring and firing of managers, inability to spend money and persistence in pissing everyone off, especially by selling top players – usually one per summer. He also never speaks to the media, and tends to go against the grain because he can.
He has done some good though, set the club free of debt and incurring interest payments that the late Malcolm Glazer would be all too familiar with. An interest free loan of over £100m has helped the club no end, clearing the mess that nearly bankrupted Newcastle, no thanks to Freddy Shepherd.
In the transfer department it’s either of two extremes – Brilliant or Baffling. He has sold Andy Carroll, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy and a few more for humongous profit – £67m in total (£57m profit), yet more often than not failed to bring in a capable replacement within 6 months. On the other hand, he will never overpay for a player, or be extorted. The club set a fair figure and rarely budge on it – which means they either get a good deal at a fair market rate, or nobody.
It’s had some rewards – Yohan Cabaye cost just £4.5m, Moussa Sissoko less than £2m, but on the flip side the club failed to sign a player on a permanent contract from January 2013 to June 2014 – near 18 months. This had a catastrophic affect, with the club capitulating after Christmas in the 2013/14 season, going from 4 points off Liverpool in 7th to drifting in midtable after one of the worst runs the league has ever seen.
Part of the issue is appointing people he trusts who are not worthy of the job. Dennis Wise, Joe Kinnear and Derek Llambias – a casino manager – were all not up to the job. This time round he has employed somebody from within the club, who has been there for 15 years, Lee Charnley, formerly Club Secretary, who according to many agents is well respected by all within the game. In his first summer in the job he has managed to secure the club 6 players – Siem De Jong, Daryl Janmaat, Remy Cabella, Emmanuele Riviere, Jack Colback and Ayoze Perez. Bar the last two, they are well known in Europe as very good players. The cost of those 6 – around £28m.
Now, stay with me…What makes me think he has the right idea is his policy of never overpaying. This summer I have witnessed some extortionate transfers for average players in the Premier League. The issue is every club in the World know the TV revenue has just risen 70%, ergo prices go up. A bit like when Andy Carroll went to Liverpool for £35m – he had half a good season. So after that everyone’s attitude was “ if Carroll is worth that, then my player is worth just as much”.
Examples this summer are as such – Graziano Pelle (29) – £8m to Southampton. Adam Lallana (27) – £25m to Liverpool. Ideye Brown (25) – £10m to West Brom. Enner Valenica – £15m to West Ham. Ross McCormack (27) – £11m to Fulham. Dusan Tadic – £10.9m to Southampton.
McCormack is a decent Championship striker, but for a fellow Championship team to pay £11m is unheralded. Valencia had a couple of good games for Ecuador in the World Cup, and his value has sky-rocketed from around £3/4m to £15m, in 3 games. West Ham are foolish to pay so much. Adam Lallana has been good for Southampton, but £25m for a 27 year old is again, ridiculous. Luke Shaw to Man Utd for an overall cost of £30m+, at 18, is again a lot of money, but he looks like a future star, so the money could be well spent. Pelle is ageing, and despite scoring 50 in 57 league games for Feyenoord, could well be another Afonso Alves. Dusan Tadic maybe harsh – last season he ended with 16 goals and 14 assists, but Nacer Chadli had similar figures, and he has been very poor for Tottenham.
Look at foreign countries – Toni Kroos has just gone to Real Madrid from Bayern for LESS than Lallana, and he is a World Cup winner, with 12 trophies under his belt. A genuinely World Class player cost less than a player who has had a very good 18 months in the Premier League, and won a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy…
In the case of McCormack. Valencia, Ideye etc – Newcastle were offered these players, like many clubs are, and told them there was no interest whatsoever. Many agents hold mandates to sell players all over the world, and they are out to make themselves as much as possible. In January, Cabaye was sold and no replacement could be agreed – targets such as Cabella and Grenier did not want to come mid-season. So rather than buying someone at January prices, they waited – and despite the bad run, if you look back, they have done well. Newcastle have targets, a list from A to E or F in each position, who have been intensively scouted over time – they stick to this, and almost never deviate from this.
Siem De Jong as a classy player, as shown against Man City in recent times – £7m is a bargain. Remy Cabella has been dubbed as the next Ginola by those in France, another £7m signing. Daryl Janmaat had a brilliant World Cup with Holland, and looks every bit as good as Debuchy, £5m a very good price for someone who has had such a good tournament, and three years at Feyenoord. Riviere is a bit of a gamble, but has impressive stats for Monaco – 11 goals in 19 starts, with better goal-to-shot ratio than anyone in Ligue 1 as well as incredible pace – £6m – the jury is out. Perez is an unknown one, but scored 16 last season for a Segunda side, and had been scouted by Real Madrid, also turning down Porto to sign for the Magpies. Colback also looks a decent player on a free transfer from Sunderland
Ashley met and had dinner with captain, Fabricio Coloccini and assured him players would be signed, and it appears his words ring true. 6 before pre-season is a great start, a top striker and some reinforcements in defence and midfield and the club look set for a good season.
Now, if you are ever lucky enough to hear from Mike Ashely, he will no doubt admit errors, but after 6 seasons he seems to have got the right guy in Charnley, and communication with the fans seems a lot better. Pre-season was done and announced very early to accommodate fans, players were signed before pre-season so they could integrate over that period, and after it was announced two fans had died in the MH17 flight that was shot down over Ukraine, the club acted swiftly with a statement, a page in their honour and a section of the stadium set aside for those to lay flowers, shirts and messages.
The transfer strategy has come to fruition, despite frustration in previous years with haggling over the odd million quid. Had there been a small amount of flexibility last summer Loic Remy could have been a permanent signing, and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang would have been in the black and white of Newcastle rather than the Black and Yellow of Dortmund (although he may find his way there this summer). Despite criticism over the lack of English players, I am with them on this. According to those close to the club, the Toon Army were quoted £14m for Will Hughes, a player with no Premier League experience. When you also look at the cost of Caulker, Shaw and Lallana, you can’t help but support teams who buy foreign, with the FFP rules teams simply cannot afford it!
Despite being a fan – I am one of Ashley’s biggest critics, but am willing to give some credit when it is due. He has done some stupid things – the Wonga deal and the apparent deal with The Sun have disappointed me a lot, but nowadays he is getting more things right than wrong – hell, even keeping Pardew may possibly be a good thing! Who knows…
It seems to be that the strategy is perfectly fine, it was just the men employed that were letting the owner down. Graham Carr continues to pick out players he thinks will do well, mediates with Pardew, and then Charnley brokers the deals. Has Ashley finally found the right combination?