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Mike Ashley can’t have any more skeletons in his cupboard

6 years ago

Having started a new season under a new manager and following heavy summer investment on new players, Newcastle United travelled to Old Trafford and battled to a hard-fought point.

A centre-back pairing of Coloccini and Taylor turned in committed, effective displays.  The manager praised “fantastic” Taylor and said he was “delighted” to see Coloccini put pen to paper for the club. But it wasn’t only the two centre backs that the manager praised, the  overall performance and attitude pleased him.

“You can’t carry anybody here. But if you put in a good performance and have a good attitude you just might get a result. That is what happened, and I thought we deserved the point.”

Furthermore, he was full of praise for the club set-up off the pitch too.

“We all understand our roles. We all understand what each other’s briefs are and what each of us brings to the club, and that is a good thing. That’s 100 per cent.

“We are very much united as far as I am concerned.”

“The owner has come out and said in his own words how he sees the club and where he is with the club and that was a good thing to do because it stopped all this talk of ‘well, he is thinking of selling’.

And with the transfer window due to close, his outlook was also positive on the strength of his squad.

“Milner’s the last player that Newcastle United will want to sell and I’m talking about the owner and myself. James won’t be leaving here – I’m sure of that.”

“It looks like Abdoulaye Faye is going to Stoke and Shola Ameobi has been given permission to speak to Ipswich Town.

“But that’s the end of players going out, and if those deals do happen, there will be some more players coming in.”

I’m not referring to the game over the weekend gone, I’m talking about August 2008.

Despite the facade presented after that 1-1 away draw against Man U that opened our season, within 3 weeks James Milner was indeed sold and Kevin Keegan no longer worked for Newcastle United or Mike Ashley.

Seven years later, our game against Man U at the weekend seemed a mirror image.

Similar result, similar performance, similar set-up and similar positivity around the whole club.  It’s a potent reminder how quickly things unravelled under Ashley.

Despite the cosmetic similarities and the worryingly constant presence of our inconsistent centre backs though, there’s a couple of important differences under the surface at the club now.

First and foremost, events since Keegan’s departure opened the eyes of every supporter with regards to what Ashley was all about.  While many looked on at the beer guzzling, shirtless man of the people act from Ashley with some discomfiture, not even those that blushed at his antics at the time could have imagined what he would sink to.

In 2008 supporters largely bought into what the club told them.  Keegan was a man the fans trusted, who legitimised the owner to a great extent.

Nobody is any longer under any illusion whatsoever that anything Ashley says to anyone has any basis in truth.  That’s not just when he goes on TV.  It includes what he says publicly or privately to players, manager, chief exec and fans.  It also goes as far as outside contractors who recently learned of Ashley’s last minute U-turn on the development of land behind the Gallowgate.

We now have a mountain of evidence that we didn’t have in 2008, that Ashley is not a man that can be trusted on his word.  As long as Ashley doesn’t sell, this knowledge can only benefit the club.

Supporters are in a stronger position with regards to ensuring Newcastle is run the best possible way.  I have little doubt that supporter action from boycotting single games, to cancelling season tickets, to releasing an alternative black and white jersey, are a massive factor in pushing Ashley to do more to encourage attendance and sales of merchandise.

Without action like this, and the ongoing threat of more to come, who can say if Carver would still be in charge, whether he and Stone might still be on the coaching staff, or whether the impressive roster of signings would have gone ahead prior to anyone being sold?  I certainly have my doubts.

Second of all, the passage of time has started to resolve some of the financial instability at the club.

I have always argued against the notion that Ashley has done anything significant that improved the finances of the club.  Matchday and commercial income both remain down. Only increasing TV deals have provided any growth whatsoever, and Ashley has walked a fine line with maintaining Premier League status to secure that income.  While TV income has led to increased profit, the debt remains significantly higher than when Ashley arrived too, still at £129m.

However, as long as the debt isn’t growing, as a percentage of turnover it’s going down.

The £140m debt in 2010 was 267% of our (championship) income.  Our return to the Premier League in 2011 meant that same debt reduced to 158% of turnover. While £11m of the debt was paid off in 2012 to lower it to 138% of turnover, no more has been repaid since, even so, the new premier league deal has brought debt as a percentage of turnover down to 99%.

Debt is lower than income for the first time since 2006.  The new TV deal in 2016 should add about £40m to turnover every year, which would lower debt proportionally to 75%.

While I give Ashley little credit for this, it is only a good thing for the club.  As debt becomes increasingly insignificant, the less it can be used to justify an owner working against the manager, selling players he wants to keep and only buying bargains, rather than replacing specific needs within the squad.

Unfortunately, the only constant at the club in all this time (apart from Steven Taylor) is Ashley and his inscrutability always tempers any positivity a Newcastle fan can take from the situation.

With 8 years experience of owning a football club under his belt, he should now be much better at managing and delivering to expectations.  But has he changed at all?

I often wonder if Ashley had any idea what he was bringing on by refusing to back Kevin Keegan over Dennis Wise.  Did he perhaps think for a second he had accumulated an iota of the goodwill Keegan had with fans because he had ring-fenced the debt at zero percent? Could he possibly have been surprised that almost nobody had any sympathy whatsoever for his perspective?

Whether he realised the backlash that would follow or not, it didn’t seem to teach him anything, as it was a stunt he repeated to a lesser extent when he ousted the popular Chris Hughton.  Is he liable to keep doing these things?

As someone who has blogged specifically about the lies told by Ashley for almost a decade, material is definitely drying up.  That’s happened before too though, after relegation.  For over a year it seemed to be all about the football.

It only lasted until we were promoted again and there followed a series of clangers with a guarantee of “no capital outlay”, the Hughton dismissal, Wonga arriving and the stadium name being wiped off maps and match reports.

I was listening to a story on Radio Five the other day about that Ashley Madison hack, that revealed millions of cheats to their spouses.

Someone was making the case that all the people in these marriages it’s supposed to ruin, are now actually better off as there’s no more need for lies, couples can choose to split up and get on with their lives separately, or they can choose to move on together without any more skeletons in their cupboards.

If the marriage between Mike Ashley and Newcastle is to go on successfully then it’s a an apposite moment for Ashley to look at the similarities with August 2008 and avoid the subsequent mistakes he made, there can’t be any more skeletons in his cupboard.

Thanks to Chris Holt for another excellent piece and you can visit his blog HERE, plus you can follow him on Twitter @MikeAshleyLies


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