Mike Ashley – Fear and Greed
The frenetic activity in the transfer market this summer is, we are now being told, down to the direct, hands-on involvement of our glorious owner.
After making a complete Horlicks of the club’s manoeuvres in the transfer market (engaging Joe Kinnear, not giving Pardew any decisive say in the sale and purchase of players, only buying Anita and nobody else after our fifth-placed finish, annoying Graham Carr by not buying anyone for eighteen months) Mike Ashley has at last acted.
And Ashley has taken this leading role, in my view, for precisely three reasons:
a) He genuinely feared we would be relegated if, in particular, we failed to sign a decent play-maker and a competent goal-scorer;
b) He genuinely feared Graham Carr would resign;
c) He genuinely feared nothing would happen in the transfer market once again if he didn’t tell his staff clearly what he wanted them to do.
There are only two primary motivators of the most competitive people – fear and greed. When Ashley behaves like he has this summer, spending a bit of money (although once again his expenditure is confined to profits he has made on recently sold players, and makes no dent at all in the television money), he is doing it purely out of fear.
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Season ticket sales are still a bit of a mystery, especially as the club’s official statements (‘six per cent non-renewals, it’s nothing out of the ordinary’) cannot possibly be true. Why extend the deadline for renewals twice if it was nothing unusual? But it’s not been season ticket sales that have put the heat on Ashley. He knows we’ve needed a strengthened squad for ages. It has been the prospect of relegation that has forced his hand.
Same old same old. But what’s interesting is that apparently we are still in the hunt for Remy and/or Lacazette. These players would each cost more than ten million, a barrier Ashley has been reluctant to breach. Selling good forwards such as Ba and Carroll for big fees is of course no problem at all. But Ashley seems continually surprised that we then need to buy replacements. If the likes of Armstrong and Campbell had stepped up to the plate and looked as though they were going to make the grade, I genuinely believe Ashley would be taking a punt on them and not buying anyone.
Of course the frequently recurring tales of hunting Carroll, seeking the signature of Remy, and being on the trail of Lasogga or Lacazette, may just be encouragements to fans to renew their season tickets.
But I don’t think so. I think we are genuinely, for once, and at last, seriously considering lashing out an eight-figure sum. For a striker of quality. And not for a bargain basement hacker.
There is an optimistic way of looking at this, which is that we are becoming a bit more ambitious. I am fairly sure we are not, sadly.
Ashley is above all supremely obstinate. He will stamp his foot until things are done his way.
Which brings me to the pessimistic way of looking at this, which is that doing things his way is making him money but might well lead the club to disaster. He’s not thick.
Ashley might already have realised, or been told, that our new signings, Riviere and Ferreyra, are limited. Pardew doesn’t seem that excited about them – not in the same way he is clearly excited about Cabella and de Jong. He will never pick these new strikers in the same team, because they couldn’t both be effective together in front of de Jong while being served by Cabella from the wing. In my opinion neither Riviere nor Ferreyra can play with our new playmakers as effectively as a traditional centre forward.
My conclusion is that, when all is said and done, and giving full credit for buying a well-chosen bunch of first-teamers and squad players, it is Ashley being cheap all over again. Only this time, in the service of being cheap, he might be persuaded to spend properly on a proven striker.
He should, of course, buy Andy Carroll (if he ever gets fit…) and play him up front on his own. Perhaps Lee Charnley has been told to get the big lad over the line!
But spend money he should. He knows it. I can’t quite believe he will. But he might!
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