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NUFC Training Ground Forward Thinking Or Smokescreen?

7 years ago
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We are one point off a Champions’ League place and we’re ahead of Manchester United.

That is a terrific achievement and one in the eye for doomsters such as myself, who confidently predicted our games in the second half of October and in November would place us firmly in the Premier League panic zone.

Instead of panic though there is serenity. Indeed there is the rustle of tenners as our glorious owner opens his chequebook.

Indeed, there might be a great deal of rustling and a great deal of tenners. Ashley’s trusty, Joseph Patrick Kinnear, has declared that every Toon fan will be over the moon with admiration, excitement and sheer exultation at the multi-million-pound investment in a new training and coaching complex at Benton.

This is very characteristic behaviour by Ashley. He rewards performance. He punishes failure.

If we were today in the panic zone, I am almost certain there would have been no announcement of anything at all by Kinnear, in terms of changes at the NUFC training ground. But we are doing well and so Big Joe has spoken in the way he has.

Two thoughts strike me about all this.

The first is the timescale. The new centre will be ready in 2015.

That suggests Ashley sees himself as being in charge in far more than two years’ time. Our owner has a tendency to link investment in football to increased player value.

So when he buys players he likes them to increase in value. So when he invests in a training centre he thinks it will produce better players. As indeed it may, though even he understands it will take a few years.

What I fear is that this might be a guide to Ashley’s own thinking about his involvement with our club. He will spend all these millions (sadly unspecified, as so often these days, and probably a less impressive number than Kinnear is trying to suggest) and then wait until a stream of productive and lucrative bargains roll off the conveyor belt.

That must mean he won’t be selling up any time soon.

But my other thought is a contrary one.

An unspecified amount being spent over a couple of years on a training centre will not be anything like what we would have to spend on a really good player. It is chicken feed, frankly.

And remember the last time we finished really well in the Premier League? Remember how much Ashley invested then?

We bought Anita for £6 million and nobody else.

The result was truly shambolic and almost disastrous. We very nearly went down despite frenetic panic buying in the January window.

Ashley was never going to reward failure on that scale and didn’t.

We didn’t buy anyone last summer, as you well remember.

We are not going to be down at the bottom of the table at Christmas, as you well know. Ashley will be reflecting that his investment of last January has borne fruit. Plus we are not in that pesky Europa Cup either, so we can continue to do well in the league.

What though if we did so well this season that we finished in the top four? After all, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham are all in their various ways misfiring this year. It’s strangely possible.

Well, I can announce without fear of contradiction that Ashley would be discombobulated. He would not be expecting that, and he would not welcome that either, in my opinion.

He doesn’t want us to finish in the top four because then he would have to spend some serious money. And I am not talking about a ‘multi-million’ spend on a training centre (Incidentally, I wonder if Pardew has designed it, like Wenger designed Arsenal’s?). It would be forty or fifty million, something like that.

If he didn’t spend serious money, it would mean two things.

First, it would mean he hasn’t learned his lesson from last season.

The Champions’ League is a much bigger distraction than the Europa Cup. We would be facing a season of decline once again.

Second, it would mean he really wasn’t ambitious for our club. Even when we were in the big league with the big boys, we still weren’t prepared to spend proper money. Everyone would know it.

So I think the best time to sell the club, if you’re Ashley, is soon.

We are about to do well in the league. We are apparently a forward-thinking club that spends on good training facilities. That’s the kind of thing that would look good in the sales brochure and would impress players and billionaires alike.

But we have not yet finished in the top four, and once we do we will need to spend big money, but until we do we don’t need to spend at all.

I’m guessing, of course, but the new training facility might be the kind of investment Ashley can see the point of.

The one that’s really a smokescreen.

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