Buy Mike Ashley A Pint
The summer break seemed all the harder to cope with when the club appeared to be doing nothing. The news vacuum was filled with comment and speculation. The craving for 24/7 coverage of all things black and white has to be satisfied somehow.
The anti-Ashley media machine went into hyper drive. According to it, our club is owned by a mean spirited idiot whose aim is to spite loyal supporters by wrecking it. At the same time, mysteriously, he is driven solely by greed, regarding United as a source of riches. This is not really consistent with damaging the club, the explanation for this is apparently that he is prepared to run it into the ground in order to get his profit. Alternatively My Cashley is showing business incompetence by failing to make obvious investments which would bring big benefits, even if his motivation is entirely financial.
We are really unlucky with our owner if this is true. But is it?
Understanding him is difficult. Unlike other successful businessmen, such as Richard Branson or fellow retailer Philip Green, Cashley has a media profile so low as to approach disappearance. What do we know about him?
He is the sort of incompetent idiot who made around £2.5 billion from a standing start. Billionaires are different from the rest of us. To get there they take decisions, back their judgements and take risks. They are not people who can be pushed around. Success is often achieved by operating differently from others.
Although NUFC is the consuming passion for many of those reading this, it almost certainly looms less large on Cashley’s radar. Certainly in business terms, the Sports Direct empire dwarfs us. He probably bought United as a bit of a hobby. He wanted some fun. Remember him sitting in the stands and buying rounds in the nightclub? Those innocent early days soon turned sour as events took over; the Keegan trauma, relegation and a media spotlight that he almost certainly hates. Cashley has certainly made mistakes (and has admitted this). But it is hard to think of a business figure outside football who has come in for so much attack. Football, certainly in Newcastle, is different.
Huge criticism followed inactivity in the summer transfer window. We do not have to look far to see others filling up their shopping trolley with 14 new signings. All other Premier League clubs did quite a lot, why not us?
It is possible to detect a hardball approach. The business of high level football transfers is conducted in a shark pool inhabited by agents, lawyers, accountants and more shadowy figures. Negotiations in this environment are going to be tough. Competition for talent ensures that rivals are played off against each other.
One way of securing a player is to throw money at the problem. This may get a sought after player over the line, to coin a phrase. But what is the real cost? If it is necessary to pay the incoming player more than thosealready with our club, this may unsettle established players, or require huge expense in the form of an all round increase.
A very firm approach is needed to avoid a constant escalation in expenditure which may have little benefit and may even be counterproductive. Bringing in anyone new is a disruptive exercise. It can be very beneficial but does not always work out. An overpaid incoming failure is hard to move on.
We only need players who improve the squad. Getting in 14 who are no better than, say, Shola or Goufran is pretty pointless.
Is our squad too small? Maybe. Football is a risky business and squad size illustrates this. Injuries and suspensions can easily catch us out. However, a big squad can bring problems too. Small ones can work well. Players get better by playing regularly and teams can thrive when they are settled. Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich Town unexpectedly won the old First Division using only 17 players I believe in a 42 match season, Liverpool doing it with even fewer in later years. Squad size is a matter of judgement but luck is needed to get it right.
Young players need to come through and play games at top level in the process. This will not happen if the squad is overloaded with under used stars.
The lack of summer signings suggests that we refused to pay over the odds for players (e.g. Gomis) in the course of the secret detailed negotiations. Similar thinking seems to have led to the departure of Danny Simpson.
Thanks to Cashley there is certainly financial muscle available if the decision is taken to use it. Did we? Arguably yes. United no longer sells key players at an under value (Think back to Malcolm MacDonald, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Gazza…). These days star players are held to their contracts (Colo, Cabaye).
Why appoint JFK? Cashley may have little time to devote to United and decided to have a friend that he can trust act as his eyes and ears inside the club. (OK- he’s a bit of a character).
Where are we now?
Things could certainly be better but the gloom and pessimism radiating from the fans’ blogosphere is surely overdone. We have proved that we can recruit and retain very good players in a settled squad. The best should still be to come in the case of the five January recruits. We have the second longest serving manager in the Premiership(!) a great stadium and fantastic supporters. We have financial stability. It’s all to play for in 2013/4.
Anyone thinking of buying the club knows what to expect in terms of the reaction from supporters. New media provide an electronic 21st Century version of being put in the stocks. After a brief honeymoon period, this is where they are likely to end up. Not an enticing prospect. Can any owner get it right?
Who could be an ideal owner? How about a wealthy local person in a position to know how we tick? We have been there, they were called Hall and Shepherd. Their term of office still upsets many supporters. And rich though they are by normal standards, they are not in the billionaire league considered the norm for Premiership owners.
There are few Brits richer than Cashley and none have shown any interest in taking us on. This leaves the prospect of foreign ownership. Likely candidates are American sports business owners. They may be competent but will certainly be in it for the money. The cooler climate of Tyneside may appeal to some squillionaire from the overheated Middle East. He may have money but may take a bit of time to fully tune in to what NUFC is all about. Mistakes could be made in the process.
The way forward
For the time being we have Mike Ashley (There you are-I’ve stopped using the silly name). He has certainly been through a painful learning curve with us. The same thing should be happening in reverse. Some understanding of his position would not come amiss. He is not perfect and we often disagree with what is going on. This need not be the same as viewing him as the devil incarnate.
From his perspective things are looking up. In the depths of the recession bad news on the business front reduced his personal fortune to a worryingly low £1billion or so. This made his exposure to NUFC around 25% of his wealth. Thanks to an upturn this is down to a much more comfortable 10%. Time to start enjoying match days again.
So far as the club is concerned, he is not going to follow the squillionaire sheik approach or allow himself to be bullied in the push and shove of the transfer market. Ashley does not follow the herd. He runs a tight ship. Given his track record elsewhere, do not assume that his way of doing things is wrong.
It is a good sign that the club is healthy if its followers enjoy going to a match, including the owner. He has had a long session in the electronic stocks. He has paid for his seat in the ground. He belongs. A friendly gesture for a change would be very welcome. Next time you bump into him, buy him a pint.
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