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When Mike Ashley Sneezes – Newcastle Utd Catch A Cold

6 years ago
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Maybe Mike Ashley at one time had big ambitions for Newcastle United but one thing is for sure, that time is long gone – if it ever existed.

Possibly the worst thing that has happened since Ashley bought the club in 2007, is that his overall financial fortunes have gone through the roof, with his shareholdings and subsequent earnings making him a multi-billionaire.

There is a much used saying which states – ‘When America sneezes, the World catches a cold’, the meaning being that the USA is/was so important to the World’s economy, that even the smallest event/change there can have major repercussions for the UK and elsewhere.

That’s where we are at with Newcastle United, what Mike Ashley plans for Sports Direct and its related brands/businesses, then impacts on what he does with the football club and where we fit with his overall vision.

Every day we look/worry about who Newcastle are(n’t) going to sign and everything else that is happening at St.James’ Park. Most fans automatically assume that Mike Ashley must give at least something approaching the same level of interest, as after all he does own it.

I don’t think Newcastle United crosses his mind from day to day or even week to week most of the time. Even as a social outlet for Ashley the club seems all but dismissed, the owner only seen on a few matchdays at St.James’ Park last season.

This Wednesday there is a major event in Mike Ashley’s life, for the third time in a very short space of time, he is trying to force through a scheme which would give him tens of millions of pounds worth of bonus shares in Sports Direct.

The scheme would potentially give Ashley and senior Sports Direct staff a share of £200m worth of bonus shares, that approximate £200m figure is at today’s value but would without doubt be worth far more in the future.

Minority shareholders have blocked Ashley’s last two tries and are lining up to do the same on Wednesday, the Newcastle United owner has a majority 58% shareholding but won’t be voting as he is a major beneficiary of the proposal. Shareholders have not been informed as to what proportion of the £200m of shares would go to Ashley and are understandably unhappy with that fact, especially as they are very resistant to him upping his shareholding and getting tighter control. Various estimates suggest Mike Ashley would benefit up to maybe half of that £200m worth of shares or even more.

With that on his plate, do you really think he had Newcastle United on his mind?

In these circumstances, any other Premier League owner would bring in the best qualified person to run the club on his behalf, who would then appoint a professional management team to run the club on a day to day basis, under the guidance of a high powered board of directors used to operating at such a level.

Newcastle United have none of this.

Effectively, Lee Charnley has been promoted internally and give the title of Managing Director. In effect though he is simply the caretaker, he opens up the club each morning then locks up each night. Whether he could ever blossom into the kind of personnel who run the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United we’ll never know, as the resources at his disposal and freedom to operate are miniscule.

No doubt Newcastle do have some kind of transfer ‘plan’ this summer but I bet it is nailed down severely with little room for manoeuvre in terms of transfer fees and wages. Little wonder that the likes of Gomis ends up at Swansea and deals for the likes of Remy Cabella can’t be sorted quickly, going in fast and strong to tie up deals is not on the agenda.

Remy Cabella

Ashley has bizarrely managed to shrink the club while the revenues, almost wholly due to broadcasting deals, are increasing to a massive degree.

As was reported on this site yesterday, the likes of Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham were relegated despite spending £37m, £26m and £26m respectively on transfer in summer 2013 and January 2014 combined. I’m sure Ashley looks at that and thinks what is the point? He doesn’t want to (financially) expose himself at all after getting burnt with relegation in 2009.

The savage reductions in the first team squad and the excessive squeezing of the wage bill, means that now his exposure to relegation is almost non-existent. Coloccini is by far the biggest earner, with maybe another half a dozen or so on biggish money – the likes of Ben Arfa, Gutierrez, Tiote, Debuchy, Cisse, Mapou and Sissoko. Some of those Ashley is actively trying to jettison and/or their contract are nearly up as in Jonas and Ben Arfa’s cases, while he know that on relegation he would easily shift our better players on big money, such as Debuchy, Sissoko and Coloccini.

Getting stuck with the odd one such as Mapou would be small beer compared to the list of over paid/overrated/unproven players back in 2009, when Ashley ended up stuck with Coloccini, Jonas, Enrique, Smith, Barton, Nolan and others on massive money, which meant nobody was willing to take them off his hands.

With a skeleton squad both on and off the pitch, Mike Ashley is now in a position to take out tens of millions each season against the loan he has put against the club. With no transfer spend and Cabaye’s fee added to the broadcasting extra riches, Ashley could be taking out something in the region of £50m or more.

The transfer window so far has seen the plan continue, the free transfer of workmanlike Jack Colback and a Spanish second division striker. Even those will have already been covered by getting Shola’s wages off the bill as well as Gosling’s, and reducing the squad even further with the sale of James Tavernier and release of the likes of Conor Newton and others, with surely more to come.

I’m sure we could well bring in three or four more players but I think it very likely that at least one or two of them will be loan deals as well as a couple of players we have never heard of, who we will then all pray will be Cabaye like master strokes. Forgetting of course that Yohan was already an established French international and Ligue 1 winner when Newcastle bought him via a contract clause limiting his fee.

Whilst this may all seem doom and gloom, two rays of (weak) sunshine remain.

Mike Ashley could one day wake up and decide to run Newcastle United properly, buying in to the massive potential that still exists, although with every other club getting stronger as he shrinks Newcastle, that potential looks a more surreal concept by the day.

Alternatively, somebody may buy the club. That prospect however will surely only come when Ashley has squeezed every last remaining drop of benefit out of Newcastle United and a bit like one of those machines to squeeze out fresh orange juice, all that will remain is the pips. Or Gabriel Obertan as we like to call him.

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