The St.James’ Park Conspiracy Theory

chrishughton1On relegation in 2009, Mike Ashley asked Alan Shearer to draw up a plan as to how to turn the club around, Shearer went away and came back with a detailed list of who he would keep and which players he’d identified to take Newcastle forward again step by step.

Ashley assured him that he was the manager he wanted and said to leave the plan with him and he’d get back to him, that was the last Alan Shearer heard from him.

I have a theory.

My understanding is that Shearer’s plan was a realistic strategy which would mean maybe spending a bit more than Ashley was perhaps wanting to commit but it wasn’t unreasonable.

At that point I think Ashley looked at Shearer’s plan and ripped it up, he had a different idea.

He’d had his fingers burnt when he bought the club, had trusted idiots like Allardyce and Wise with his money and enough was enough.

I believe at that point the owner decided he would cut his losses and from that day on make sure he risked as little as possible, not a recipe for success but whether he’d ever thought Newcastle United could be successful anyway, he certainly couldn’t see it in his crystal ball now.

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He sold the players he could but the likes of Colo, Jonas, Enrique hadn’t done anywhere near enough so far to justify other clubs matching their wages and players such as Barton, Smith and Nolan had vastly inflated contracts which meant they couldn’t be shifted.

The question was who to manage and quiet unassuming Chris Hughton would surely do as he was told as it was a big chance for him getting a manager’s job and of course he was already on the spot and cheap. Remember, he’d had an awful spell as caretaker manager during that mad relegation season and there was nothing to suggest he could resurrect this club,

Of course the rest is history, he did a brilliant job as Newcastle walked the Championship and what is more, he then established United safely in mid-table on the back of some outstanding results such as 6-0 v Villa and 5-1 v the mackems, plus winning 1-0 at the Emirates. What is more, he’d been given next to nothing to spend, Cheick Tiote for £3.5m the only ‘big’ deal as Perch arrived for next to nothing, Sol Campbell and Gosling for literally nothing and Ben Arfa on loan.

MikeAshleySQ14Only problem was that from early on there were whispers that Ashley wanted Hughton out, surely though just the usual NUFC gossip that grows and grows?

But no, with Newcastle safely in 11th and only a month after stuffing Sunderland and winning at Arsenal, Hughton was sacked and Alan Pardew appointed.

An out of work manager whose last job had been at Southampton of League one but apparently the manager that Ashley/Llambias had wanted for some time…

My feeling is that under his calm understated persona, they found that Chris Hughton had actually balls of steel, if you pardon the expression.

His success had caused them a massive problem but sacking Hughton after he’d won promotion wasn’t something even they were prepared to do.

So the season kicked off and it is now claimed they were looking to sack him at the earliest opportunity but those pesky results kept getting in the way.

My belief is that the club was now geared to bring players in who represented value, while selling players who attracted big offers. Ashley was determined to get his money back and then some.

Only problem is that I’m guessing Hughton wasn’t going to sit back and accept Andy Carroll, and potentially others, being sold and the money not reinvested.

Newcastle United needed a man who would, step forward out of work Alan Pardew. Last job League One Southampton and now offered the job of managing the third best supported club in the country. What terms would you accept if you were offered the job of managing Newcastle United?

Carroll duly sold, no replacement bought, and Shefki Kuqi in on loan, fact stranger than fiction.

The model is set in place; spend as little as possible but make sure Newcastle stay in the Premier League.

What could possibly go wrong?

Again with minimal investment, chances were taken on Ba’s knee and Hatem Ben Arfa’s recovery from a double leg break, while money from the likes of Nolan and Enrique’s sales were invested in a great spot by Graham Carr, a certain Yohan Cabaye. In addition a relatively great value for money replacement was found for Ba (a player whose contract diffiuclties meant Ashley had no intention of keeping long-term) and so Papiss Cisse arrived. While the season also brought the unexpected emergence of arguably the best young keeper around, in Tim Krul.

AP0002_Alan_Pardew_Newcastle_United_NUFCAmazingly Alan Pardew steered Newcastle United into fifth and that has spectacularly caused enormous problems for the Ashley ‘plan’.

Surely the owner’s plan of spending as little as he can get away with while long-term clawing in mid-table Premier League money, must now be adjusted?

No, outgoings paid for Anita and some bits and pieces. Alan Pardew made public his shopping list of right-back, centre-back and so on, and Mike Ashley ripped it up. Ring any bells?

Ashley doesn’t see financial value in risking £XXX to try and establish Newcastle top six and potentially break into the Champions League spots, he doesn’t think it is possible so why try?

People ponder what he would have done if Newcastle had reached the Champions League. I honestly believe that next to nothing would have changed in Ashley’s ‘plan’, Pardew might have got an extra player if he was lucky.

Just as when Hall & Shepherd sold Les Ferdinand and recruited dads army on the cheap, Ashley would have seen a Champions League season as a one-off and a chance to grab another chunk of money, a bit like the Carroll deal.

The only question now is how much, if anything, Mike Ashley is prepared to gamble to make sure of the enhanced Premier League TV money next season? If you remember, in the January transfer window during the last relegation season Ashley made a profit by selling first teamers Given and N’Zogbia, bringing in only Nolan and Ryan Taylor.

Alan Pardew started off the transfer window saying he’d made clear to the owner that he needed a minimum of three extra players (four if one goes etc.) in this transfer window, now he is talking about how important it is to get his injured players back and the big priority is buying a striker and then seeing how much money is left…

Ashley has a plan but it is a very basic one, commit as little money as possible and make as much as possible. Success, or otherwise, on the pitch has little to do with it.

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The Mag, Issue 289, 5 April 2014, Newcastle United Magazine, NUFC

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27 Responses to “The St.James’ Park Conspiracy Theory”

  1. Harryhhh

    How do you explain Cisse for 10m, Debuchy for 5m, and closely looking at Remy valued at c. 10m. The big mistake was made in the summer failing to sign as you say 3-4 players due to having a former casino manager running the club who is a hit head and not experienced.

  2. Robert Clement

    i think ash would chase a bit of success up to a point,but i get what your saying.i think the main problem is when it comes down to the nitty gritty of football ownership he is just clueless really,i hoped he would of learned something by now and maybe by the end of this window we will see if he has.debuchy is a good start but we need more and now with shola being unfairy suspended for norwich we need to get a striker in this week,and a cb

    • AndyMac

      Agreed. There’s two ways of looking at the 5th placed finish last season.

      The first (a businessman’s view) if it aint broke dont fix it ! The alternative (football professional’s view) is that every season we need two or three quality additions just to stand still let alone move forwards in this league.

      We all wanted to see a new CB and at least another left sided defender plus a striker to replace the departing Best/Loven. What we got was Anita as Bigi was supposedly a development squad addition.

      A similar situation occurred with Shepherd after SBR managed to win a second shot at the Champions League in 2003 but Fat Freddy sat on his hands (only bringing in Lee Bowyer on a free) instead of building the squad. As a result the team, low on morale, lost the QL tie and ended up playing in the UEFA Cup. Fortunately, in those days, we had a genius for a manager who helped overcome the obstacles and took us to the semi finals – I’m pretty sure we’ll get nowhere near that this time around :(

  3. AndyMac

    and here’s another part of the conspiracy theory !

    Last season the squad was in bouyant mood. Several quality players in through the door for very little outlau. Cabaye £4.5m, Ba signing on fees, Santon £5m, Marveaux signing on fees etc etc. Coupled with an 11 match unbeaten run and even Pardwho’s tactical inconsistencies cant ruin the feel good factor as we finish 5th.

    Fast forward to this season and the squad are less happy. The promised (by Pardwho) players dont arrive to bulk up the wafer thin squad and the players let it be known they’re not happy with the lack of ambition shown by the club. Pardwho tells the Fatman of his concerns and relates the problems he has with the players attitudes ! Sensing a potential revolt from the squad (remember Fatman doesnt like voices in the ranks having got rid of the vast majority of Hughton’s senior players committee) Fatman does the only thing he can do without spending any money and gives Pardwho the vote of confidence by giving him the 8 year contract thereby telling the players they could “like it or lump it” !

    Since October 27th 12 points from a possible 48 and another early cup exit at the hands of lower league opposition.

    Chickens coming home to roost ?

    • Munich Mag

      Throw in Carver and Stone, two out of work Geordies who cannot believe there luck that they are at the toon, and won’t say a peep against the regime. That’s a full squad of yes men as far as I’m concerned.

      • Dan Hall

        You think John Carver wouldn’t say a peep?

        Sorry mate, don’t think you’ve ever met the guy. He’s a great bloke but he’d bite your head off if you did anything to hurt his club.

  4. Gregory Black

    Success breeds success, failure breeds failure, lets face we have failed to do anything for years.We need a totally different approach, we need big established players to get us out of the hole Ashley and Lambias have dug for us

    • Munich Mag

      We need Ashley’s financial backing, but we don’t need Llambias’s obvious lack of footballing talent, and dare I say it Pardew’s lack of tactical nous.

  5. disqus_Pw9hBVWSsb

    People seem to forget that this club is now sustainable, all through the 00′s it was not, and it culminated in relegation and a complete rebuild. Ashley’s investment has the club on a sound footing and we have adopted a very sensible transfer policy. I am as frustrated as the next fan about our lack of signings in the summer, we had a real opportunity to beef up the squad to bring us up to the standard of a consistent Spurs/Everton side. I still think we aren’t that far away, but will it change…who knows?

    Our 5th place finish last season surprised everyone. I think at the start of last season the target set out by the management/board was top 10, then top 8 and so on. It’s clear Ashley is in no hurry to pump the money in and ‘speculate to accumulate’. Yes this season has ground to a halt/never got off the ground, but the optimistic me still says we can finish mid-table and then…hopefully…invest properly in the summer and weed out the players who are not good enough. A lot of you might say that will never happen but for I personally don’t think you can second guess Ashley, I was hugely surprised at the Cisse outlay and pleasantly surprised by Debuchy coming in. We will just have to wait and see, it could go one of two ways. For now, the most important this is avoiding relegation, for a number of reasons this season has unfortunately got to that stage.

    • Dan Hall

      Ashley has stopped the club haemorraging money true, but the surplus isn’t being re-invested as it should be. He is lining his pockets with player sales, shirt sales and TV money left, right and centre.

      Don’t be fooled he is a billionaire who knows how to make money and keep it but he is NO Newcastle United fan. He has proved WAY to many times that he couldnt give a monkeys about Newcastle United’s traditions, fans or anything else as long as he gets his ££££££££££££’s

  6. Lintonlad

    Our problem is that, whatever the standard of football, as long as we are in the PL we get huge crowds. Why should Ash invest money to get into the top, say, six, when he makes just as much if we are, say, fifteenth? The return on his investment doesn’t warrant it. That’s the difference between a fan and an owner.

  7. Kid Spotlight

    Good article, but hardly a conspiracy, more the inevitable playing out of events.

    1) Ashley overspends by £100m.

    2) Honeymoon period is over, KK departs – inept management precipitates drop into league one. Shearer’s ideas poo-pooed…

    3) Lucky break #1, Hughton is the real deal. Immediate return with reduced wage bill.

    4) Hughton (a la Shearer) demands sensible team building investment strategy – Ashley disagrees and in summer 2010 issues public statement to the effect of NO
    MORE CAPITAL INVESTMENT (ie we sell before we buy). Hughton’s days are
    numbered.

    5) Hughton out – Puppet in – Carrol swapped for £35m windfall = Lucky break #2.

    6) £35m goes on plumbing and useful but token buys. Ashley now counting
    contract wages as part of overall capital spend calculation to help
    recoup his £100m.

    7) Solid blue chip financial company dropped for loan shark sponsor offering a few quid more – dark days indeed (writing on wall).

    8) etc. etc.

    Any notional incremental equity value increase of NUFC is not going to pay back
    Ashley’s £100m faux pas, neither are windfall player deals nor
    sponsorship. In the end only Ashley can say how much of a loss he is
    prepared to make – and indeed admit to. The question is how much damage he
    does while arriving at that figure. The fact the club are ‘sustainable’
    as one contributor puts it is a by-product of events, and only a short
    term analysis, as once again Ashley plays chicken with the relegation
    zone in the hope of not having to increase his current debt burden by breaking the (already twisted) capital spending rules.

    It’s a cycle that looks set to continue for the foreseeable future…

    • Harryhhh

      Spot on. The 100m overspend when Shepherd fleeced him (hiding all that debt). He bought the club doing no due dilligence, madness. 35m for Carrol was superb.

      Hughton was the real deal and undermined, I think he brought in Carr. I don’t buy this whole conspiracy thing though, Ashley got burnt by the 100m and he’s scared to invest huge amounts. Its high risk stuff, look at Liverpool they spent some 100m under Dalglish and it got them no where.

      The sad thing about it all was 3 senior players would have really built a platform this season, instead we signed Anita and some kids.

      Ashley would love us to be sucessful he just won’t bankroll us after losing so much cash. Its not a level playing field with so many oligarghs owning clubs now.

      • AndyMac

        Yeah but………the fact that Fatman missed the debt and the repayment of the mortgage – upon change of ownership – should have been his to sort out without hanging it around the neck of the club. FFS he lost £300m on HBos shares so £74m is just casino money. The rest of the so called debt is money that he put into the club to keep it going in the Championship. Whose fault was it we were there in the first place ?

        IMO he should accept that “loss” and look for a buyer for £150m and we can all move on.

        • Harryhhh

          The only was we can compete at top level is with a huge investment that won’t come from Ashely, he will just tick us along, if he was a fan like shepherd was he’d make stupid investments pile it onto the debt and hope for the best. To sort this mess out we need an investor who take a real long term view and not too worried about returns. Given the huge increases in foreign tv money the income streams are pretty solid.

  8. Jezza

    This is the best article I have ever read about Ashley’s tenure at NUFC. An absolutely spot on analysis in every respect. Nice one.

  9. GToon Glyn Wade

    Jim
    Thats a sound article but perhaps we need to take a different look at where NUFC should be heading over the next few years. At the moment we are all in the same frame of mind, hoping for an amount of money to be spent on players that will hopefully sort out our current predicament. We are all resigned to the fact that we can’t compete with the bigger clubs in spending on players and even with QPR if the latest news on Remy is to be believed. Perhaps its time we looked at the system rather than the players. Look at Swansea for example. I don’t know half of their team. I know Routledge plays for them and he wasn’t good enough for us. I know they have beaten the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool and will also give Chelsea a run for their endless money. Perhaps we should look at their set up. I bet they could sell any of their players for loads and then just carry on regardless cos its the system that gets results, not a reliance on players like us (Cabaye and Ben Arfa). This would probably be Ashleys dream too. Imagine his delight as a player could be sold and another take his place in a seamless procession – sort of like a horror film! Swansea remind me of Nottingham Forest from the late 70s/80s. They had a way of playing and could sell Birtles and Webb to Man Utd for £millions without any effect on their team. Man Utd would then find out they had an average player who could play in a system but nothing more. I know its a bit late now but perhaps this should be our 5 year plan rather than not knowing where we will end up from one season to the next. Would this require a change in management? I don’t know. We seem to buy technically gifted players but play the long ball instead of keep ball.

    • AndyMac

      Sound thinking Glyn however you need a chairman with the vision to be able to see that through even when successive managers come and go and of course you need a master tactician, motivator and man manager to bring out the best in the players. Sadly we have neither !

      • Harryhhh

        I’m starting to agree with you on this. Long term view needed. Would love to have a Bobby Robson in his late 50s now.

  10. Alex

    I reckon Ashley will fork out some cash in January to help us stay up……. But, he’ll remember what he’s spent, and recoup that later with a ‘purple sale’ during the summer.

    • Jezza

      I don’t think Ashley will spend a single penny to help us stay up. He knows that if we go down, all our best players will want to leave so he’ll be able to make £60 million or so with that ‘purple sale’ to offset the financial losses caused by relegation.

  11. Dan Hall

    All very sad but very true. Great article and summary mate.

    I just wish a new and exciting owner who actually cared about football as well as having a bit of money would take over our club. :(

    Ashley’s entire tenure just spoils the whole feeling of what is OUR club. And we are well and truly stuck with him.

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