Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United ambition is driven by fear.
Jonjo Shelvey is the first England international Newcastle United have bought since Alan Smith in 2007. Nine years since one of the world’s biggest clubs paid out for one of the country’s best players.
Rob Lee once said that the only way Roy Hodgson would come to St James’ Park would be if he were French. Perhaps more criminally than Newcastle’s lack of domestic investment, Shelvey is the first player deemed to be a direct replacement for a certain Yohan Cabaye; a Frenchman who departed 2 years ago.
A player who can make Newcastle tick, as demonstrated on a brilliant debut against West Ham, Shelvey’s signing has been celebrated in the North East. Andros Townsend soon followed last week in another big money deal, and £21 million is suddenly on the table for Saido Berahino; a deal which would smash Michael Owen’s transfer record from over a decade ago.
It is a far cry from the questionable and incredibly frustrating transfer policy Newcastle have adopted since Graham Carr’s cut-price capture of Cabaye in 2011. So why only now has the club changed its stance?
Steve McClaren’s influence on the newly formed board means targeting players with more Premier League experience will be a regular occurrence. It is obvious that Shelvey and Townsend were McClaren signings and that Henri Saivet, like Florian Thauvin before him, was another arrival from Graham Carr’s French conveyor belt.
The club’s reluctance to shake off their continental recruitment policy has heavily contributed to a slow demise in the Premier League since finishing 5th in 2011/12. As far as Mike Ashley’s approval of big money deals for England internationals goes, it’s a green light driven by fear.
The Newcastle owner came out of public hiding for a timely pre-match interview before the final day victory over West Ham last season. A last-ditch throw of the dice from a man who realised that an unthinkable relegation was firmly on the cards. A speech to stir players and fans alike before a crucial game, Ashley promised a summer of big signings and renewed ambition.
Indeed the signings of Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, and Chancel Mbemba were impressive and welcome, but a preference for a Thauvin over a Townsend had sections of supporters questioning the additions’ Premier League know-how.
Had Newcastle not been sitting so perilously to the drop going into this transfer window, and had been hovering around the top eight as targeted, there is no doubt that the owner would be reluctant to spend on the likes of Shelvey when he could wait until the summer.
Financially for Ashley, relegation would be disastrous. He knows that spending the money now is just a mere fraction in comparison to the reward of next season’s TV money if the club stay in the league. He fears the drop, so he is spending big to avoid it. The club can claim ambition, a new approach, but in reality the owner doesn’t want to lose a lucrative place in England’s top league.
Go back to the Championship season of 2009/10. Newcastle were going well towards a return to the Premier League going into the January transfer window. But with nothing near guaranteed, Ashley made the signings that ensured the squad would get well over the line. The ‘risk’ of spending on transfers was worth it for Ashley. Not getting promoted was simply not an option financially.
A 5th placed finish and the Europa League would surely be enough for most clubs to recognise the need to kick on and strengthen with acquisitions. Yet Ashley stood still and needed to fast track a clutch of signings in the January of 2013 to shake up a squad in freefall. Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran were supposed to be post-season free/cheap transfers, and the club used that as an excuse to explain why only a loan signing of Loic Remy was bank-rolled ahead of 2013/14.
Newcastle were going very well indeed in January 2014 when Cabaye was sold to Paris St Germain. No danger of the drop so no need to spend was the attitude, but the playing and coaching staff imploded and finished meekly once again.
Signings were promised and made as the club recognised that the lack of action in the wake of Cabaye’s departure had threatened their future as a top flight side. Eventually paying dividends, the club’s hierarchy failed to act in a different sense in January 2015 as Alan Pardew walked out to take charge at Crystal Palace. Once again in no apparent danger, John Carver was left in charge until the end of the season and we all know how that went.
The point is this; if Newcastle United are ‘safe’ in the bosom of the Premier League table then the hand will stay firmly in the pocket, as quite frankly the target is met. The club can dress it up as ambition and come out and make impassioned declarations, but the actions are driven by fear of loss by a single-minded owner.
In the current Premier League climate, with vast amounts of money available to each and every club, the likes of Leicester, Stoke City, West Ham, and Southampton have seized an opportunity to kick on as aspiring football clubs. They have done things in the right way in all departments, moved with the times. There has been no standing still but genuine ambition to reach greater heights in a now very open Premier League.
A club of Newcastle United’s magnitude should be right up there, but 21 points and 18th in the league tells you how it really is.
Newcastle United’s image as a ‘stepping stone’ club for aspiring European internationals needs to be firmly quashed. It has been a policy that has slowly diseased a club that is sinking year on year closer to an inevitable drop. It is no coincidence that Newcastle have struggled for goals when the burden has been placed on a 21 year old Mitrovic, who has a potentially high sell on value in the next 5 years, rather than a nailed on Premier League goal getter like 27 year old Charlie Austin.
An unwillingness to pay that bit more for guaranteed, proven results and take risks on players that may or (more often) may not pay off, has ultimately now left Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley needing to take risks the other way round. They seem to only learn when mistake after mistake is made.
But with Newcastle only serving to consistently lose games in the Premier League and stay firmly in the relegation mire, too many mistakes may well have been made. There is no doubt, with a minimum of five wins needed from the remaining 15 games, that Newcastle are not showing enough to suggest they will definitely stay up this time.
Yes, Mike Ashley may well be bringing in impressive signings with a Premier League blueprint now, but it could be too little too late for Newcastle United.
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