Newcastle United spent over £50m in the summer, and appointed a new head coach, but with the team languishing towards the bottom, I would suggest nothing has really changed at St James Park.
Ashley’s statement prior to the West Ham game suggested a brave new era but I believe it’s just more of the same.
There has been debate and arguments amongst fans about who is to blame for our present predicament – whether it’s the manager, the players and the quality of the new signings and Mike Ashley seems to have been removed from the equation due to his investment.
However, I suggest there is something more basic causing the problems at the club and the owner is still at the heart of it. Ashley has stepped back and there is a new board but they are following his script.
Buy low and sell high has always been the basis of all the club’s signings, alongside a wage and age cap. True, they moved up a level with significant spending in the summer but the basis of the policy remains, buy young players who they hope to develop and sell on for profit with ‘come and put yourself in the shop window’ the recruiting slogan for potential signings.
Yes, it’s true we initially enjoyed limited success with the policy. The signings helping us to fifth but the following season we finished 16th.
Has the much vaunted policy actually made money for the club and what effect has it had on success on the field?
We made approx. £7m on Demba Ba, £6.5m on Mathieu Debuchy and £11m on Yohan Cabaye. However, the club made losses on the likes of Mapou and Hatem and I suspect we will make a substantial loss on Cabella.
We are also stuck with players like Marveaux, Gouffran and Obertan who earn decent money and are unlikely to leave anytime soon.
The irony is that we made £35m on Carroll, a player who came through the ranks. The players we have signed have plenty of potential but if they fulfil it, the suspicion is that they will be moved on with no consideration to the impact on the team or squad building.
For me the fact we did not sign proven Premier league players this summer is confirmation that long-term goals will not be sacrificed for the sake of squad building or team morale.
The seeds of the current mess were sown over several seasons. Trying to correct squad failings in one window was never going to work, especially when stuck with the policy of signing young foreign hopefuls as opposed to older Premier league experience.
The decisions made by Charnley at Ashley’s behest are based on finance not football. Pardew said recently that he was sometimes frustrated that players were bought for the club and not the team. Whilst Carver said the current signings were selected by the club i.e. Graham Carr, long before McClaren was appointed.
There is nothing wrong in buying a few young players to develop and perhaps sell on later but when it becomes the raison d’être of the club, with no consideration to the needs of the team, it is doomed to failure.
Did anyone seriously expect to buy five players, unproven at Premier league level, albeit most internationals, and assimilate them into a team that narrowly avoided the drop and then be in the top eight, whoever was the manager, sorry – head coach?
Or was the top eight aspiration more a PR stunt to get the fans on board? The financial transfer policy along with the club’s imposed wage/age cap has made a glass ceiling for the team no matter who runs the team.
McClaren is a tactics board coach not a motivator and the club seems to have appointed him on the basis of his reputation for bringing on young players.
This fits in with the transfer policy and he is obviously happy to work with players chosen by someone else. To me McClaren’s appointment represented a lack of ambition. He is not an up and coming, nor an accomplished, manager. The fans wanted either an exciting or a recently successful manager like De Boer, or Laudrup. But would any quality manager with ambition work under the conditions imposed by the club? Possibly, but McClaren is their perfect fit. No doubt other managers could probably do better with what we have but the same limitations would apply.
Signing proven Premier league players for the team, like Cabaye (not popular I know) and Austin for example may not have made financial sense to the money men but they would have gone straight into the team and were more likely to succeed than the new players we signed.
Far too many overseas players have been thrown in at the deep end at St James Park, instantly put in the first team after arriving rather than being allowed to gradually adapt to the challenges of the Premier League.
Thauvin looks a typical example and I would not be surprised to see him back in France next season. Would the money not have been better spent on a more experienced Premier league defender which, although not making financial sense, was something the team was crying out for?
Success on the field would lead to bigger gates and increased revenue, as the declining gates during this dismal season illustrate. Half a dozen places up the league also mean a lot more prize money. Last year’s figures showed commercial income had grown an impressive 86% in the last two years, but it still has not returned to the pre-Ashley levels.
Given Ashley’s reputation as a smooth commercial operator, this must be embarrassing and it’s strange he can’t see the limits he has placed on the possibility of success on the pitch, or perhaps he is very happy as things are.
The problem is that despite their stated aims I believe there is no real long-term ambition to have success on the pitch. There is talk of more signings in January. It may be too late, but will these be made to meet the needs of the team, or for the club? If it’s the latter I suggest we are in for more long-term pain.
A club of the size and stature of NUFC is crying out for success on the field but the only things fit for purpose at present, are the devoted fans that support the club through thin and thinner.
An owner only interested in finance at the expense of the team will not improve things anytime soon with an operating policy that limits the size and scope of the club.
Newcastle as a club seems to lack both identity and a sense of purpose, with a team built around a financial policy that has failed on the field time and again.
Only a real change of heart by the owner will result in improvements on the field and a happier fan base. Will it happen? I won’t hold my breath.
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