Whether or not Newcastle buy or sell notable players before the imminent deadline, Mike Ashley, in my opinion, has delivered on his promise to ‘continue to invest’.
A lot of fans thought this meant a continued policy of not investing very much at all, but it always seemed to me that his television appearance in which he spoke of the importance of trophies, was a declaration he could not wriggle out of.
There has been no wriggling. He has not sought to raise cash before spending, we disposed of Northampton in efficient and optimistic style, and fifty million quid is a decent enough net spend.
My thesis today is that an early departure for our bargain basement owner is getting more and more likely, regardless of his statements about needing to win something before he goes.
Mike Ashley likes to do things his way, on the cheap whenever possible, and to cut the corners others disdain to cut. In this way the retailing genius makes more money than his competitors. This is what he has done in all his activities, and is what he has tried to do in football club ownership too.
In his learning phase he trusted his football staff to choose players that he would buy if he could afford them. And so we bought a right load of duds…
…then he got in his director of football, Dennis Wise, to choose players. We bought an even bigger load of duds and got right up the fans’ noses.
Then it was the geographical phase – he bought players from France where there was a depressed sales market and hoped to sell them on for a profit. This is also the point at which Ashley was giving up on television income and prize money making the club profitable.
Then came the seasonal phase, during which he assured us January was a bad window to get bargains. This didn’t last long, as it was followed seamlessly by a long phase of not buying players in any window. This was Ashley testing the judgement of his football staff
– – he was prepared to flirt with relegation in order that he could satisfy himself that new players were really really necessary.
And now he has spent fifty million pounds on players who look, on the face of it, rather promising. We still have a creaky defence, and our creative players (de Jong, Thauvin, Aarons hopefully) have still to work out how to serve our strikers, who I think will prove better than they look just now.
He has spent all this money, which he will not have enjoyed, for two reasons.
First, he is convinced we needed to spend some real money to avoid relegation.
Second, he realised he was repelling fans who were beginning to vote with their feet (I’d love to know how many season tickets were sold this year on a cut price basis).
So why do I think he is going to sell up, given his first serious demonstration of investment since he bought our club?
The reason is, I suggest, that Ashley has found he is unable to reinvent the football club ownership wheel. He can’t do it cheaply and simultaneously succeed in the terms he has publicly enunciated on telly. There is no iconoclastic football model waiting to be discovered.
Ashley has discovered, to his complete satisfaction, that he has to spend money to win anything in football. And he probably also knows that to alienate fans and demoralise players by not investing for long periods is unwise.
What he may not yet know – and I am happy to point this out to him – is that a football club is an organism that cannot be pounded to its last gasp and then be given the kiss of life just before it is ready to expire.
Fifty million quid might have had more of an effect in a club that was optimistic, ambitious, healthy, and cleverly run. Like Swansea or Southampton.
Mike Ashley knows he needs to invest a lot, and invest often. And there is no other way to run a good football club.
He wants a good football club, but he doesn’t want to invest often.
And that means he will sell – my guess is within a year.
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