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A corner turned or history repeating?

6 years ago

As I write, Newcastle United have just confirmed the signing of Aleksandar Mitrovic for a reported £12.5m.

Together with £14.5m Georginio Wijnaldum that brings spending for the summer up to £27m.

Some will tell you that this is an abrupt change in transfer policy at the club, signalled by the interview Mike Ashley gave prior to the final game of the 14/15 season.  However, it’s not been that abrupt.

Net transfer spending over the last 3 windows is now £45.8m.  Total outlay before player sales is £64.4m over 2 summers.

It doesn’t stop there either, the upturn in the willingness of the club to spend more buying players than it recoups from selling them dates back to the sale of Jose Enrique in 2011, he was the player that took transfer profiteering under Mike Ashley to its nadir.

That was 4 years ago!

Even taking into account the likes of Cabaye, Debuchy and Ba being sold at significant profit since then, the club has consistently not only reinvested that income but extended outlay on transfer fees further.

If the sale of Enrique marked the end of a sales spree to balance the books, the £58.4m spent since then over and above the reinvestment of fees received, suggests the club really has now moved out of the sell to buy phase.

Recent purchases also indicate a willingness to invest some of the reported profits and future TV income in more expensive signings than previously.

Having bought only one player for over £10m in seven years (Coloccini), Newcastle have now broke that three times in one year (Cabella, Wijnaldum and Mitrovic).  There’s also a new manager and coaching staff in place, suggesting the club are making a new start, despite the claims of a previous chief exec that we would always look to promote from within.

Onwards and upwards then?

Perhaps not.  Most of Ashley’s harshest critics will point to the fact that the graph above shows that the purchase of Mitrovic only took Ashley into a net outlay on transfers this past week. Hardly an indication of ambition over his entire ownership.

Personally, I prefer to look at the trends to gauge the direction of the club, rather than including events seven or eight years ago and assuming Ashley’s priorities for the club then remain the same now – other than advertising his shop which will always remain the top priority, obviously.

A stronger argument for caution ahead of optimism is that while spending is increased overall, when it comes to individual purchases the club has still only been willing to outlay half what Everton were willing to spend on Lukaku (£28m).

We’ve also fallen short of prices paid by Aston Villa (£18m on Bent) and West Ham (£15.5m on Carroll). Newcastle United have the oldest standing club transfer record in the Premier League, 10 years having passed since £16m was splurged on Michael Owen.

Getting ahead of those other clubs outside of the top 6, is going to take some proven top players, not several punts on foreign starlets that will take at least a year to acclimatise to the pace of the Premier League, if they ever do.

The Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham examples above were all for players proven in the English top flight.  The jury remains very much out on Remy Cabella, a player who arrived with as much fanfare as Wijnaldum and Mitrovic, but also with just as little experience of the league.

Personally, I remain satisfied with transfer business at the club overall, this has never been an issue I’ve had with Ashley.

I think a multi-billionaire like him could have put more of his own money in, it certainly wouldn’t have broken any FFP rules if Sports Direct paid for their “partnership”, but I am happy as long as the club is allowed to invest its own money to sustain itself, whether it’s via funds in the bank or funds secured from future TV income.

The protests I have supported and joined have not been against transfer dealings.  I remain as concerned as ever that Ashley will shoot us in the foot otherwise though.  After all, we have been here before.

In 2008 the club spent £27m too, and that was more then than it is now.  Kevin Keegan was the new manager 7 years ago, the only appointment Ashley has previously made to shade McClaren in terms of popularity.  That’s not to say McClaren has been embraced at all, only that all other appointments have ranged from uninspiring to lamentable.

Back then, despite everything looking bright publicly with the purchases of Coloccini, Gutierrez and Guthrie, behind the scenes things were rotten, with Xisco foisted on the manager at a cost of £5m and the income from the sale of James Milner not being spent as wisely as Keegan wanted.

The acrimonious fallout that followed led to the arrival of Joe Kinnear, 4 managers in one season, further slash and burn tactics with the sale of N’zogbia and Given and ultimately the club being relegated.

This is the worry with Ashley, no matter how good things look, no matter what he allows the club to spend, you always wonder what catastrophe he can conjure up next.

I don’t doubt his ambition, I’m certain he wants his Newcastle project to be a success, It’s clear he will allow the club to spend within its means, he’s not taken any money out of the club in three years, his shop may have put nothing in for advertising but the club pay no interest on £129m of debt mostly (but not close to all) accrued prior to his arrival.

Despite all of this, I’m not sure he’ll ever be capable of keeping everyone associated with the club pulling in the same direction, whether on the field or in the stands.

Just as we’re getting there, he’s likely to pull a bone-headed stunt like putting Sports Direct on the roof, like stripping the stadium name, like moving fans and killing the atmosphere, like forcing membership on fans, like banning the press, or the supporters trust, like pulling Coloccini and others from another winnable cup tie he plays in both games either side of.

It’s worth celebrating the quality of signings coming in, but it’s worth tempering that optimism with caution, because McClaren has been frustrated with the pre season schedule foisted on him by the club, both at home and abroad.

He’s on the record with expressing his frustration at the back four he had to put out in Portland, less than 3 weeks before the season starts.  This after adding £14m to an already well populated midfield.

It will take more than continuing to reinvest the club’s earnings to convince me that the tide has turned on Ashley’s propensity to blow things.


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