There is a well-known poem from the first-world-war:
‘Good-morning; Good-morning’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack
But he did for them both by his plan of attack’
It’s a fantastic piece of writing and it makes a point (not just about the tragedy of the trenches, but more generally) which is still as true 100 years on as it was then – in any sort of organisation, if the person at the top is giving the wrong orders, then the sh*t rolls downhill, and everyone else underneath tends to get covered with it.
So, in Flanders 100 years ago it didn’t really make much difference how brave the soldiers were, or how skilled and daring the officers in the trenches were – if the orders from on high were for them all to get up out of their trenches at dawn and walk across no-man’s land towards uncut barbed wire in the face of machine-gun fire, well they had pretty much had their chips.
At Newcastle United over the last decade, we have seen mis-management on an epic scale.
In the football world money talks increasingly loudly, the rich clubs have bought their way to the top and the rest have been left behind – but as a result of their colossal blunders, the top brass at Newcastle United have managed to buck the trend, Having managed to get one of the richest clubs in the world relegated – not once, but twice!
I wouldn’t pretend to know a great deal about what’s involved in running a big business – I’m sure some of it is very complex. However, to anyone with even the smallest bit of sense or even the smallest understanding of football, some of the decisions made at NUFC have seemed inexplicable.
There have been times where you have had to wonder whether Mike Ashley was just having a great big, very expensive joke at our expense (Joe Kinnear, the Sports Direct Arena, Wonga, Joe Kinnear again, John Carver, the list goes on and on).
Then after all those years of ineptitude, the events of this summer have seemed like – a brave new world!
Since the day we got relegated, instead of everything going wrong, it has all started to go right. Things that we have nearly all wanted to see happen for years have happened. We have had a Manager appointed who we all admire and respect; it looks like he is being allowed to manage the football side of things with a free hand; we have brought in a whole team’s worth of new players who look like they want to play for the club; and we have cleared out virtually all of the poisonous old wood from the squad.
Now, there was an interesting article in the Mag a few days back about whether or not we as fans should re-assess our judgement of Mike Ashley. I’m not going to say anything much about that (it’s a bit early for my taste – if he gives Rafa a free hand and gets rid of Wonga then in a year or so we might look at it again, maybe) but, I think it might be time to re-assess the abilities of our Managing Director, Lee Charnley.
It isn’t easy looking from outside at an organisation to know exactly what is going on inside. As fans, we have made our judgements based on what we have been able to see – and, until recently, the business management of the club has looked like a complete shambles. And it’s fair to say that by-and-large we as fans have written Lee Charnley off.
However, look back at the poem I started with.
In our case Mike Ashley is the General. He’s the one who has done for us all with his plan of attack. ‘And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine’.
We don’t really know what the orders are that Lee Charnley has had in the past from above – but I imagine that he has had a pretty clear set of business objectives given to him and I imagine they were something like:
- Make sure I don’t have to put my hand in my pocket
- Run the business so that it trades in the black
- Try to organise the recruitment of players so that over time the capital value of the playing squad increases.
- Sell players at the top of their value
- Operate in a way which supports my main business, Sports Direct
- It would be too expensive to aim too high, so on the playing side a league position between 10th and 17th will be fine
I don’t suppose his business objectives included getting relegated – but if you spend too much time circling round the plug-hole, eventually you are going to get sucked down the drain!
However, now we have somebody involved in the management of the club who we can trust. I think Rafa is an honest man. In that respect he reminds me of King Kev. I think we can rely on him; that what he says is true, and that he won’t just be spinning us a line.
And what Rafa has told us is that the football side of things is run by him – 100%. And the business side of things is run by Lee Charnley. I think if that’s what Rafa says, then we can believe him.
It means that the decisions about who should be bought, sold or loaned are Rafa’s decisions. We can judge him on them, and I think that most of us are, frankly, over the moon about the transformation of the squad this summer.
However, the other side of the coin is that the business side of things isn’t Rafa’s responsibility – it’s Lee Charnley’s. And if we take a fair, unbiased view of the business the club has done this summer – it also seems to be very, very good.
- We have brought in a teamful of players for a total transfer spend (according to transfermarkt.com) of £54.74 million
- We have managed to get completely rid of players such as Cisse and Coloccini who were on expensive contracts
- We have managed to clear out a load of bit-part players on loan and will be saving a lot of wages which would otherwise have been wasted.
- We shifted Cabella for £6.8m, Janmaat for £7.57m, and even got £4.97m for Papiss Cisse (all according to transfermarkt.com)
- We managed to get £23.38m for Wijnaldum. He did so little for most of last season that I began to wonder if he was a figment of my imagination. £23.38m!! Back of the net!
- The cherry on the cake – £30m for Sissoko. It’s the first time I’ve ever found myself cheering at Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day as if a goal had gone in. Unbelievable.
As the transfer deadline approached, I expect we were all wondering what the hell was going to happen. There didn’t seem to be any real offers for Sissoko – and you started to get people losing their nerve, saying we should lower the asking price and flog him off for whatever we could get…but not Mr Charnley.
While all around were starting to panic, he held his nerve, and in the end he got his money. And to make it even better, the person on the other side of the deal, paying massively over-the-odds for someone who is a good football player 2 or 3 days in the year but an awful person 365 days in the year – was none other than Daniel Levy of Spurs, master deal-maker and famously tough negotiator.
Hats off to you Lee Charnley! You’ve played a blinder.