“Don’t get me wrong. I did not buy Newcastle to make money. I bought Newcastle because I love football.” – Mike Ashley, BBC, 14th September 2008
Since Ashley bought the club back in 2007, he has gone on to further involve himself in various deals with Carlisle, Oldham, Portsmouth, Sheffield Wednesday and now Rangers. A curious serious of events for a man who was already wealthy beyond most people’s comprehension and got into football for the love of it. Didn’t he?
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His love for the game, or NUFC, only appears to have extended to which retail, kit, and merchandising agreements he could tie up along with advertising rights, for Sports Direct.All four lower clubs incidentally wear Sondico, a Sports Direct own brand.
Perhaps the words of Derek Llambias can better explain what Mike Ashley has never spoken of:-
“Sports Direct has a football priority going forward and affiliation with 5 different clubs: Oldham, Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth, Newcastle and Rangers [Carlisle is missing]. Their model is taking over as many retail operations in football clubs and putting them ‘into the SD machine’ for ongoing retail revenues.” (Rangers Fans Board minutes 17th February 2015)
That should be simple enough to understand, even if it does contradict the few words uttered by Ashley. Surely the doubters out there can’t argue against that, can they?
So, what of NUFC? Sorry my friends, but the facts are all the more simple. Football and club success has never played a part in Ashley’s thinking, in anything other than the same retailing terms. Mike Ashley saw a market which no one else did and it fitted his domestic and European aspirations for retail dominance. NUFC was simply the first step in making that happen.
Here are some very illuminating quotes:-
“Newcastle’s owner identified the French market as offering especially good value for money and instructed him [Carr] to prioritise sourcing cross-Channel acquisitions.”(The Guardian, Jan 29th 2013)
Does Mike Ashley have hidden football knowledge that those in the professional game don’t possess? The man who previously relied on the football wisdom of Vetere, Jimenez, Llambias, Wise and Kinnear was suddenly instructing the Chief Scout where to look for players. Value? Hidden gems? Or for other reasons…
‘Last month, Sports Direct said its strategy, “…remains to expand our international retail operations into all 17 countries that have adopted the euro currency within five years. Sports Direct will step up its challenge to Decathlon’s European dominance when it opens its first Spanish store in April.
The UK’s largest sportswear retailer will open in the north-east city of Zaragoza, adding to overseas stores in France, Belgium, Portugal, Holland, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.” (The Independent, February 3rd 2013)’
Coincidence? How about some further informed industry opinion, also from the same Independent article:-
“While there is limited overlap of both chains’ store estates currently, industry experts believe that Sports Direct and France’s Decathlon will battle each other for supremacy over the coming decade in Europe.”
Ashley’s approach to that –
“If you don’t want to play we’ll come to your country and smash you to bits.”
It’s legitimate to state that the signing of relatively cheap French players and to some extent the Dutch players (and the sole Spaniard), on Ashley’s orders is attributable to the Sports Direct expansion plan, rather than any dream of success, or love, for NUFC and football. France and Spain currently have the smallest number of his stores. What was that about more French and Spanish signings this Summer?
We are nothing more than a shop window and our players are bought with that in mind rather than their footballing prowess. I make that point because ‘the plan’ does exactly what it says on the tin.
I’ll close this article with Ashley’s own words and let you to reflect on the honesty of them.
“We look for young players, for players in foreign leagues who everyone does not know about. We try and stay ahead of the competition. We search high and low looking for value, for potential that we can bring on and for players who will allow Newcastle to compete at the very highest level but who don’t cost the earth.”