Amidst all the post-mortems of Newcastle’s crushing 5-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday one thing has become clearer than ever, we cannot go on as we are.
Mike Ashley’s model of how to run a football club has failed completely and something has to give.
The club is a shambles from top to bottom, from an owner who does not seem to understand that you cannot run a football club the same way you can run a retail business, through a MD who seems to know absolutely nothing about football, to a manager who has consistently failed at every major job he has had and who’s Newcastle team now bear a worrying similarity to the England team that he failed to take to Euro 2008.
In the middle of all this it is easy to forget that 4 years ago Newcastle United were flying high in the Premier League. Indeed, in November of 2011 we were as high as second before eventually finishing the 11/12 season in fifth place. Alan Pardew was named Manager of the Season and the team was in contention for a Champions League place until the last day of the season.
So what has gone wrong since then and how did we end up where we are now?
Let’s take a look at 5 key moments that took Newcastle United from a team that could compete with anyone in the Premier League to the shambles we are today
The sale of Demba Ba
In 2011-12 Newcastle had one of the most lethal strike forces in the Premier League, Demba Ba and Pappis Cisse scored 29 goals between them and carried the team to their highest finish since the days of Bobby Robson.
The following season Ba had scored 13 goals in 20 appearances before being sold to Chelsea. He still finished that season as the Newcastle’s highest scorer.
The ridiculously low release clause of £7 million written into his contract when he signed meant that as soon as he scored a few goals it would become inevitable that another club would take him away from St James Park. Cisse failed to carry the goalscoring burden on his own and Newcastle have not had a strike force worthy of the name since.
Graham Carr goes bargain hunting
In January 2013, with Newcastle struggling in 15th position in the Premier League, the club decided new signings were needed.
Chief scout Graham Carr brought in 6 players in total, none with Premier League experience, including 5 from the French League 1, a division with a marked difference in intensity and quality from the premier league.
Graham Carr pictured to the left of Mike Ashley above
Of those players only Moussa Sissoko is still a regular first team player today and even his performances have been well below par for some time now. The manner of these signings signalled a clear transfer policy that Newcastle would be looking to buy unproven young players from abroad with cheap transfer fees and potential big resale value.
That policy continues to this day and has been a major reason for the lack of quality in Newcastle’s current squad. Many of these players, such as Remy Cabella and Florian Thauvin, have simply been not up to the standard needed to compete in the Premier League.
The sale of Yohan Cabaye
Despite the questionable policy of some of Carr’s signings, by the midpoint of 2013-14 manager Alan Pardew had built a strong team, based around the talents of one of the few great signings of the Ashley era, Yohan Cabaye. Pardew himself always said this was his best ever team and the stats back it up.
After a difficulty start to the season, by Christmas Newcastle were flying high, beating Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time since 1972 and sitting only 4 points off the Champions League placings.
What followed after Cabaye was sold to Paris St Germain was a spectacular disaster, as fan protests engulfed St James Park and the team consistently surrendered in a manner that has become all too familiar since. The sale of Yohan Cabaye ripped the heart out of this Newcastle side and it hasn’t been replaced since.
The promotion of Lee Charnley
Has there ever been a more ineffectual Managing Director in the history of the Premier League?
By now we almost expect some club owners to have no idea how to run a football club but the MD is meant to be the man with his finger on the pulse who tells the owner what needs to be done. Charnley has consistently failed to do this since rising from behind the scenes at Newcastle to become chief in April 2014.
After the departure of Pardew in January this year, it was his recommendation to Ashley that the club was already safe from relegation and so it would not be a risk to put John Carver in temporary charge for the rest of the season. This decision almost cost Newcastle their Premier League status, as Carver and his team lurched from one disaster to another, only being spared the drop into the Championship with a last day win against West Ham.
Despite this, it was Charnley who Mike Ashley put in charge of the hunt for a new permanent manager this summer, which leads us to the last mistake that has left Newcastle in their current position.
When the search began for a new permanent manager in the summer, there was a massive chance to draw a line under everything that had gone before and make a big statement for the future. There was a chance to show a new ambition to make Newcastle a big club again.
This may sound absurd now but this club could have been pitched to Jürgen Klopp.
When Klopp took charge of Borussia Dortmund they were in 13th place in the Bundesliga and in a state not far removed from where Newcastle found themselves before the 2015-16 season. St James Park also boasts an atmosphere and passionate fan base similar to the one that Klopp so connected with at the Westfalenstadion.
Ashely and Charnley could have promised Klopp a sizeable transfer kitty, the club ended up spending over £50 million in the summer transfer window, and control over signings.
Instead they went down the route of appointing another yes man, just like the club had with Pardew and Carver. Mike Ashley’s main concern in hiring managers seems to be merely that they will agree to the current management structure, to not having any say in the transfer market and to not rocking the corporate boat.
As a result he tends to appoint managers whose previous record is so average that they will simply be grateful for the chance to manage a club as big as Newcastle and so will agree to any conditions imposed on them.
Pardew had been sacked by then League 1 Southampton when Ashley came calling and McClaren had been fired by Championship side Derby County for a run which saw them fall from League leaders to 8th position with a run of two wins from their last thirteen games.
Hiring people who have failed at their previous jobs is not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for mediocrity and failure, two things we have all sadly seen too much of at St James Park in recent seasons.
For Newcastle to compete seriously in the Premier League and become a force to be reckoned with, there needs to be a complete change of policy from the top to the bottom of the club.
Can this happen under Mike Ashley? Time will tell but the fans are not holding their breath.
It may be that we have to wait until a new owner takes charge of the club before we see Newcastle back where they belong as a serious football club challenging the upper reaches of the Premier League.
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