Ten years of Mike Ashley.
It was a milestone that slipped by almost unnoticed, perhaps testament to a club striving once more to get its house in order. About bloody time.
As things currently stand, we’d all agree that it could be so much worse under the controversial Sports Direct billionaire.
That’s a starting point that may raise a few hackles, but it just goes to show that good PR, level headed investment and the employment of a manager in step with the club’s stature goes a long way to keeping the fans feeling contented. That was all that was ever needed, right from day one, in that May of 2007 when he finally snapped up Freddy Shepherd’s stake.
It has been a transformative 12 months. Whether Mr Ashley signs off every single boardroom decision remains to be seen, but from somewhere, Newcastle Utd has gone from on its knees to being on the brink of something that many supporters feel could be quite exciting.
The change of course came about when Lee Charnley bagged the services of Benitez. Everything has flowed from that appointment in March last year. Not even relegation seemed to dent a sense that with the Spaniard in charge things were on the up.
Ashley’s approval rating, usually quite usefully measured by polls in the Chronicle, actually started to rise in the summer of 2015. There was finally a bit more investment but the flawed managerial appointments carried on unabated. Whether they were his decisions or not, it happened on his watch. Being an absent landlord is no excuse.
He is an owner who will never be able to escape the fact he’s overseen two relegations from the Premier League. Trust is a massive issue. I don’t trust Mike Ashley, but maybe, just maybe, he’s latched on to an approach that is working.
The fact that it’s not rocket science how you oversee a successful football club will annoy many Newcastle fans. We didn’t ask for spending sprees like Chelsea or Man City (would have been nice of course!), just a credible approach that was in step with other, dare I say, smaller clubs who have managed to firmly establish themselves in the English top flight.
The litany of disaster on Ashley’s watch is quite breathtaking.
From the Keegan walkout, Joe Kinnear being brought in not once but twice, changing the name of our iconic stadium, W*nga, the issues around the land at Gallowgate, an over reliance on Graham Carr, Pardew, John Carver, not taking the cups seriously, and a shed load of penny pinching. And all the while this is a man whose sports retail empire has faced massive criticism from politicians and countless others over zero hours contracts, alleged workhouse practices and substandard corporate governance.
His football club has mirrored it. A sorry tale interspersed with only fleeting moments of joy – two promotions, finishing fifth in 2012 with a pretty decent side, then a European campaign that took us all the way to a quarter-final against Benfica.
It’s a decade which has had far more bad bits than good bits. My preferred option would be him selling the club- but that currently looks very unlikely. Will there ever be a buyer?
So there we are, uneasy bedfellows, for now. Newcastle is a club never far from the next implosion under this owner, but if Ashley can keep his head down and let Rafa crack on, then he could yet see an ever bigger turnaround in his approval rating among the fan base.
The clubs currently isn’t broken, and doesn’t need fixing, it’s a project now.
Ashley has met with Benitez and agreement has been reached. The manager can have every single penny of revenue to build a team. A model of sustainability is the positive spin to take. The assumption is that Rafa has autonomy over who we sign and that the age limitations are less draconian.
We now await what will hopefully be a summer of busy recruitment. There must be a decent budget there, even if some will be earmarked for wages as well as the actual capital outlay on transfer fees.
The chance is there for the owner to tread a redemptive path. The challenge for him now is to stick with it and not betray his customers again.
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