Newcastle United have a battle against relegation, we all know that. Captain Coloccini has set an example by apologising to the supporters. It is sad that his motives are questioned after being at the club for 7 years.
Whilst the captain has been put in the firing line, he is not the cause of the problems. Starting a season with 3 senior central defenders was always going to be a recipe for disaster. Mbiwa did not have to be sent out on loan. A couple of seasons back we could have signed Douglas on a free but no, Ashley brought in Joe Kinnear.
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Having one fit recognised senior striker plus a French journeyman was also always going to be a recipe for disaster. Ba had been sold at a profit, Carroll had been sold at a profit, even Leon Best had been sold at a profit. Unwilling to lay out serious cash, Remy was only ever going to be here on loan. Ashley didn’t invest.
The problems run deeper, a journeyman manager was replaced by a journeyman assistant. The theme at the club has been to cut costs and generate profit. This is down to the person who should have a fraction of the decency and courage of his captain. Ashley owes an apology.
It is easy to sit on the sidelines and complain. This piece is an attempt to offer Ashley a constructive way forward. His football business is no closer to achieving his 5 year plan after 8 years at the helm. His idea of cutting corners results in a poor quality product that falls apart, both in football and in his other brands.
In order to put bums back on seats generating gate income, to increase commercial revenue from ethical sponsors, Ashley needs a product that is fit for purpose. Here is a simple 7 stage plan for you, Mr Ashley:
Step 1 – follow your captain’s example. It is fine for Charnley to say that mistakes have been made but be up front. Accept that those mistakes have been made by you. Take responsibility. 2 top 10 finishes in your 8 years is not good enough for one of the 20 richest clubs in the world. It is your stewardship that has led to underperformance.
Step 2 – communicate with your customer base. If you won’t do it, appoint a deputy who will. Local radio stations will willingly host a once monthly phone-in for whoever is appointed. Charnley himself acknowledged that communication must improve. If he hasn’t got the balls to do it, appoint someone who has.
Step 3 – appoint a football director who is accessible and who can provide support to a manager. There are people out there who it may even suit on a part-time basis. They can also help to establish a club philosophy, preferably in keeping with NUFC traditions of battling attacking football. Appointing someone like Keegan would make step 1, your apology, meaningful. The likes of Hoddle could be a compromise.
Step 4 – immediately appoint a progressive manager. We do not know what division we will be in at the moment but if relegated, you have Pardew’s compensation to play with. There are managers who have recent experience of the league; Karanka, Warburton, even Adkins who surpassed his predecessor at Southampton.
If top flight status is retained, then there are a host of other managers on the European stage who could fit the bill. The Premier League should be attractive to the very best and after all, your people did tell us that there were 80 credible applicants in January.
Step 5 – commit to having a quality squad. Given the playing philosophy outlined in step 3, it should not be hard to ensure that we have 3 decent goalkeepers and 2 players per position among the senior squad. Our poor run was arguably started when poor young Alnwick was asked to step up. It may be that a busy period did not allow for rotation of central defenders with Steve Taylor injured. A lack of goals could be down to Riviere being our only fit ‘striker’.
Yes, we know injuries happen. A hungry squad of Under 21s should provide further back up.
The squad must also have a blend that includes experience. Aside from Coloccini and Williamson, sometimes Jonas, sometimes Ryan Taylor have been the only over 30s to provide a mature head. We need balance.
Step 6 – invest. OK, the sale of Bale by Spurs distorts their figures, Burnley are a small club going back down, but them aside, Newcastle United has had the lowest net investment in the playing squad in the Premier League over the last 5 years. In fact, since selling Carroll you have a substantial surplus.
You clearly have plenty of cash in reserve. Investment is required in the summer, on top of any outgoing players. You still have over £10m surplus from last year’s increase in cash after raiding the bargain basement last summer. You should also generate a further cash surplus in excess of £40m this season. That is the minimum net spend that you should target to build a balanced squad.
Ok, it is acceptable that not every season should be the same but it seems reasonable to compete with clubs less rich than Newcastle United. You have your surplus, use it wisely. In future seasons it seems reasonable to commit a minimum of 15% of turnover or 50% of cash surplus in order to progress relative to competitors.
Step 7 – build in some safeguards. You seem to like performance related contracts. Your other business employs workers on zero hours contracts. If they do not work therefore do not produce, you do not pay them.
The same should apply to your customers. If they do not get what they pay for, they should not have to pay. A good brand will generate business. Anybody who advertises should pay an appropriate rate, including that shabby retail chain.
You should produce a season ticket deal that is performance related. If you do not meet commitments, if you do not meet targets, then build in a rebate scheme. If not in the top 10 after 19 games, refund 25% of the season ticket. If not in the top 10 at the end of the season, refund 50%. This should be retrospectively self funding since it will be down to your lack of squad investment.
You give your workers performance related pay. Is that too good for your customers, or are you a hypocrite?
There you have it, Mr Ashley, free advice and 7 simple steps. They may not be as attractive to you in the short term as the 7 deadly sins but in the medium will give you a platform to build your ethical commercial income from ethical sponsors.
You will have a marketable club with capital growth. Who knows, you may win a few friends on Tyneside too.