I sometimes wonder if Newcastle finishing fifth in the Premier League, was the worst possible thing that could have happened under Mike Ashley.
The club’s owner was in shock and not in a good, winning the lottery, kind of way.
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Whilst fans saw it as a breakthrough season, with only two or three quality players needing to be added in summer 2012 to stabilise Newcastle in the top six or seven as a minimum…I think Mike Ashley saw a nightmare unfolding.
His decisive action was to make no net spending in the transfer market and bring only one player in who wasn’t even good enough for the Premier League, Vurnon Anita.
Finishing higher than the safety of mid-table wasn’t in the business plan, so spending significantly on transfer fees and wages was never going to happen.
Instead, I get the feeling that he was happy to see that squad which over-achieved in 2011/12, when everything went just right, to deflate back to a truer reflection of around tenth or a place or two above at worst/best. Easily more than enough to make sure Newcastle would book another season in the Premier League, but no risk of risking that close shave with the Europa League, and certainly not the Champions League, again.
I honestly think that qualifying for the Champions League would simply be seen as a big headache for Mike Ashley.
I don’t think, sadly, he sees the potential that is there with Newcastle United, a club that could grow and grow and establish itself as a top club, building year on year with the help of Champions League cash (like Arsenal have done) and becoming what equals a ‘big’ club these days.
Rather, I think Ashley sees that if by some chance Newcastle made it into the Champions League, he would 100% believe there was no chance of it being anything but a one-off.
So yes he could claim a one-off chunk of cash but other than that it would just create problems.
To avoid total embarrassment and possible meltdown of league form, he would have to bring some extra players in, players who would cost bigger fees and wages than he would want to pay. This would then lead his existing better players to expect more money and so on.
One season of CL money but ending up being committed to three, four or five years of significantly higher wages for X number of players.
On top of this, whilst some fans talk of the extra exposure he would then get for Sports Direct and the rest of his brands, it simply isn’t the case. The Champions League machine takes over your stadium and rebrands it with their own centrally sold advertising.
So ironically, unless Mike Ashley spent money (perish the thought!) to advertise, the Champions League would pass his retail empire by, with St James Park not featuring any of hi advertising.
So coming back to my theory, I think Mike Ashley wanted to rein back United’s ambitions and potential in that summer of 2012, but didn’t appreciate just how much everything had gone right the season before, and just how small a group of players were key to that success.
Failing to invest almost produced relegation in 2012/13, with United only ensuring staying up on the day of the final away match at QPR.
It had been a close run thing and NUFC only survived because Mike Ashley suddenly realised Newcastle had no squad to speak of and that could equal relegation. Whilst that key small group of players didn’t come anywhere near the previous season’s form, through injury, form and leaving the club.
However, the pattern had been set and after January 2013, he only invested on one of the four following transfer windows, bringing in a mixed bag of signings last summer. A mixed bag which proved to be nowhere near enough to put right the seriously weakened squad he had allowed to develop.
Then after an ominous 47 days without any visible activity, Georginio Wijnaldum was signed on Saturday.
A player who had been much talked about but was a massive surprise to actually land him, when Mike Ashley coaxed him over the line. In the process paying significantly more on a transfer (£14.5m) than he has ever allowed to happen before.
These next 51 days before the window closes will tell us whether Wijnaldum is THE signing, or one of a handful of credible players who have been recruited to help drag Newcastle away from being regular relegation battlers.
Has Mike Ashley accepted that he can’t gamble any more on such small margins of error?
The latest roll of the dice only in January, when believing another Premier League season was in the bag, the club owner sanctioned the departure of Santon and Yanga-Mbiwa, as well as Hatem Ben Arfa to be released from his contract AND the manager to leave.
All four allowed to walk out of the door to slash costs and bring in revenue, with not one single replacement.
Only the final 90 minutes of the season saw Newcastle crawl into the Premier League safety zone.
A 23 man squad (Wijnaldum to join them later), with three goalkeepers it means there were 20 outfield players.
Amongst that group of 20 were Gael Bigirimana, Shane Ferguson, Mike Williamson, Emmanuel Riviere, Gabriel Obertan, Yoan Gouffran and Steven Taylor
Whilst the likes of Jamaal Lascelles, Rolando Aarons, Curtis Good, Adam Armstrong and Massadio Haidara are all yet to be given the chance/show that they can make it in the Premier League.
There are big challenges ahead for Newcastle to be in any kind of a healthy shape come August 9 and the visit of Southampton.
Steve McClaren appears to have came over well to the vast majority of Newcastle fans but if Ashley fails to back up the Wijnaldum signing with more of the same, that dice may well be getting rolled again when it comes to our Premier League fate this coming season.