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It is 1984 all over again

5 years ago

We are, in my opinion, wasting our time waiting for Mike Ashley to do the right thing.

That right thing can be several things at once or several things spread over a period of time.

The right thing to do immediately, would be to sack Steve McClaren and bring in someone on a short-term basis that will actually motivate the players and put some basic organisational changes into effect on the pitch.

The right thing to do in the mid to long-term would be to sell the club at a fair and reasonable price to an individual or consortium that actually wanted to employ a coaching staff capable of developing talent at every level of the club.

How Ashley chooses to take his ‘interest free’ loan out of the club is also a consideration. The right thing to do would perhaps be to agree an annual payment giving him a steady income stream over the next 10 years or so and perhaps even a bonus for winning trophies (yes, I know, he doesn’t deserve it but a business man needs an incentive to sell).

Of course, as I said in the first sentence, we are likely to be wasting our time waiting for this to happen but why is it so?

Well, I believe that one thing has to happen before any of this can even be considered. Mike Ashley has to look in the mirror and accept that he’s got it all wrong. That, on its own would mean very little. Indeed, it could have already happened in the privacy of his home, office or in trap 2 of the executive toilets at SJP!

The most difficult part for Mike Ashley would be to open up to the fans and admit that he’s made errors of judgement. We are in effect relying on this most stubborn of men to have an epiphany, to decide on a revolutionary new way of thinking and acting and as a result, a new found ability to say to us publicly;

  • He should not have appointed Denis Wise or Joe Kinnear
  • He should not have handled the Kevin Keegan situation so badly
  • He should not have appointed Steve McClaren
  • He should not have put Lee Charnley ‘in charge’ of the club

You will be reading this and no doubt adding numerous other dreadful decisions to the list. Nobody, in any field or with even the highest level of decision making ability, or however much luck, could make the right decision every single time they were faced with a choice or dilemma. Mike Ashley is no different to any one of us in that respect.

The difference is, that as a self-made billionaire* (*almost entirely dependent on the current share price of Sports Direct), Mike Ashley has demonstrated to many people in the past that he can make good decisions.

Growing a business like SD does not come from luck but judgement. I suppose that it even comes from a fair degree of single-mindedness (stubbornness in reality). But surely, when a tried and tested plan starts to unravel, you re-evaluate your methods. This is the point where we can draw parallels between Ashley and McClaren.

A single-minded person would probably say “I’m sticking with it, I know this works” and to an extent I would not blame them for feeling that way. They know a lot more about their own situation, ability and track record than anyone else ever will. However, when the ‘stick with it’ mind-set is failing to turn things round, week after week, month after month and in Ashley’s case, year after year, then wouldn’t an astute business man, that started with a high street shop and ended up on the FTSE100, think to himself ‘Perhaps I could try something different?’

It is not only with our beloved Newcastle United that Ashley’s methods are failing. Look at the mountain of bad press his company have had piled against them in the last couple of years. He built an empire reliant on cheap labour and duping the public into believing they were buying superior goods at ultra-low prices.

Neon labels declare everything is somewhere between 30% and 80% off, even though these labels are at times proven to be applied to the goods at the manufacturer and not at the retailer. The bully boy tactics have left SD shareholders distinctly unimpressed as the value of their investment falls. Declarations are made about paying a living wage to the thousands of agency workers whose every movement is monitored in a ‘Big Brother’ way.

Yet a few years ago, the media were regaled with stories of how SD workers received life changing bonuses as the business grew from nowhere and obliterated the competition. The fact that the bonuses applied to a very small percentage of the workforce was not made common knowledge back then.

Mike Ashley has built his business empire on spin and keeping a very tight control of cost. He has applied the same style to NUFC and in some areas, he has declared success; the elimination of external debt is a notable one, but leaving us seriously in hock to the man himself, with a palpable but unspoken threat of ‘f*** with me and I’ll send us to the wall’ is the reality for me.

Club communications are controlled to a point that would make North Korea green with envy. Playing with customer perception, controlling communication, monitoring employee movements (including their time spent on bowel movements). It’s all very Orwellian, it’s 1984.

If the man himself or one of his minions reads this, I half expect a knock on the door from the thought police. Heaven forbid I should be disparaging about the club leadership.

So, if it is not already obvious, I do not think that Mike Ashley is the type of bloke that can admit when he is wrong. I think he is not the type of bloke that empathises with the fans in any way.

I do not believe for one second that his tenure will end well. There will be no trophy or 4th placed PL finish before he rides off into the sunset (with imaginary fans’ voices in his head calling for him to stay).

If McClaren stays until May we absolutely will be relegated. Even then, there will be no admission of an error. I expect there’ll be a huge cut in the playing squad and a core of journeymen will be left to take us up first time, just as the immensely honourable and likeable Chris Hughton managed.

Sadly, I don’t expect anyone outside the boardroom would believe that it will work like that. I personally feel we’d be lucky to make the play-offs.

So, to quote George Orwell himself;

“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

And so it would be for Mike Ashley, which I fear, means it isn’t going to happen.

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