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Mike Ashley’s puppet show has left no room for backbone on or off the pitch

6 years ago

The Mike Ashley puppet show isn’t doing too well at the moment, in fact we have seen years of struggle ever since the Newcastle United owner sacked Chris Hughton five years ago, with the exception of that one season when all of Ashley’s (and Pardew’s) lottery numbers came up and fifth place was achieved via every scrap of luck going.

I had thought about giving this article a different title – ‘The law of unintended consequences’.

Basically, we are talking about Mike Ashley having unintentionally created his own downfall, that is where Newcastle United are concerned anyway, if not his main business.

The current cry is where are the leaders at Newcastle, why are the team so feeble when they go a goal down, why do they never fight back after falling behind, where is the reaction from the players to a bad result?

The answer is quite clear but first of all you have to take into consideration that this isn’t a new and recent development, instead it has been going on every season. Near relegations in both 2012/13 and 2014/15, dramatic second half of the season collapse in 2013/14, all three of these seasons seeing long long runs without a win.

Once in a slump, nobody capable of rousing the troops to put it right.

Go back to the infamous players committee who went up against Mike Ashley as he tried to impose a new bonus system on them, the likes of Steve Harper, Joey Barton, Alan Smith and Kevin Nolan not sitting and taking it.

Ashley made it his business to clear them out of the club and go with a different kind of ‘leadership’ in the dressing room.

Whatever you thought of these four above as players and later with Jonas Gutierrez, they were all big characters who would stand up for what they thought should happen.

Mike Ashley got rid of Chris Hughton who reportedly had refused to accept the selling of star players such as Andy Carroll, even though Hughton had led Newcastle to promotion with zero fuss and established the team in mid-table.

Having been sacked by Southampton who were in the third tier of English football, a very grateful Alan Pardew was amazingly given the job as Newcastle boss.

The end of the season saw Captain Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton kicked out, with no doubt orders passed down from Ashley to give the captain’s job to Fabricio Coloccini, with the defender getting the job in July 2011.

That set the trend for everything that has followed, a grateful puppet as manager, with Pardew, Carver and then McClaren (sacked from a Championship club), with a captain in Coloccini who doesn’t possess a single quality for the job.

I think that once the right amount was offered for Yohan Cabaye, Mike Ashley was more than happy to see the back of him, as Cabaye had had plenty to say for himself and become a bit of a rallying point in the dressing room. In fact Cabaye was in reality the captain in everything but name.

So the Mike Ashley model is securely in place.

A manager/head coach (Pardew/Carver/McClaren) who has been so desperate for the job that he is willing to have no say on transfers in and out and makes sure he says all the right things in interviews, plus is happy to have emails sent out in his name by the Newcastle United/Sports Direct PR department.

As for Captain Coloccini, never (well two in English in seven and a half years) does TV interviews so little chance of him saying anything out of turn there. Quiet as a mouse on and off the pitch seemingly, also happy for the PR people to send out emails ‘from’ him.

Into the mix you can also add Lee Charnley who is the club ‘figurehead’ and somebody else who is clearly very grateful for a job that must have been the equivalent of getting six numbers up on the lottery . He clearly has no real say on anything major at the club apart from how many paperclips to order, also happy to have emails sent out in his name, plus never does interviews – the Chronicle’s Mark Douglas recently revealing that they had been politely told ‘no’ when asking to meet Charnley, meaning it will soon be a year since they were granted an audience with the Managing Director.

Those few people who are nominally in charge of running the club on and off the pitch are all desperate people, so grateful to have jobs that in normal circumstances wouldn’t have come their way.

Mike Ashley pulls all their strings and everything merrily goes on its way…or doesn’t as the case may be.

This is the rub with the Newcastle owner, he’s gone down this route of having yes men throughout the club but hasn’t realised it could all come around and bit him on his ample backside.

Putting puppets in charge means that when things get tough you don’t have the strong characters to lead the way out of it, instead they all walk around telling each other that it is all just bad luck, everybody is doing a great job and things will (magically) improve.

Just when you need backbone the most, maybe even Mike Ashley is belatedly realising that you can’t have it all ways. Strong characters might cause problems from time to time because they will demand a say and for their views to be taken into consideration but when you are up against it, they will be there to fight your corner.

To add to this toxic mix you then keep adding young foreign players to the mix; new to the club, the country, the language and the Premier League and thrown straight into the team. What could possibly go wrong?

So, we are where we are.

In the summer, instead of adding some strong experienced characters, including a captain, Mike Ashley simply added more of the same.

Forget about their price tags, bringing in two 20 year olds from Belgium, a 22 year old from France and 24 year old Gini Wijnaldum, who can they turn to when the going gets tough?

When it comes to character, backbone, leadership – I can’t see a single Premier League club in as weak a position as Newcastle United are.

The sight of our tough guy centre forward wearing gloves, throwing himself theatrically to the ground (again!) and sprinting off the pitch when subbed on Saturday, just about closed the case for me.

We are in dire straits with only the natural ability of our players to dig us out of this current mess…

One statistic that is worth revisiting to bring this to a close, is the fact that Newcastle United have lost the last six derbies to a patently hopeless Sunderland team.

I rest my case.

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