Mike Ashley surprisingly turned up for the FA Cup at Birmingham last weekend, then followed that up by watching Saturday’s hard fought victory over Brentford.
The Chronicle reporting this as a positive, the cub’s owner taking a keen interest in what’s happening at the club under Rafa Benitez’ guidance.
However, later on Saturday evening, the club’s media partner The Mirror (part of the same newspaper group as The Chronicle) have given a different interpretation to Mike Ashley’s sudden appearances after being absent for most of the season.
The Mirror claim that:
‘Mike Ashley has reinstated Newcastle United’s controversial transfer policy after a series of no-holds-barred meetings with the Magpies’ hierarchy this week.
The owner has put his foot down midway through the transfer window and taken measures to have a greater say over the comings and goings at St James’ Park.
Ashley made a surprise appearance before the FA Cup tie at Birmingham City last weekend, and made it clear he wanted to sign youngsters who would have sell-on value in the future.
Newcastle recruited 10 players, with Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle the most high-profile, as boss Rafa Benitez was given free rein.
Benitez had a £30million transfer surplus after selling Moussa Sissoko to Spurs and Georginio Wijnaldum, but Ashley wants to return to the policy of buying young players with promise.
He has left managing director Lee Charnley in no doubt as to his wishes and former recruitment guru Graham Carr is set for a direct role in all future purchases.
Benitez himself wanted just one new face during this window – he was looking for cover for Christian Atsu, who has departed on Africa Cup of Nations duty.’
Most Newcastle fans probably felt that one day there would be some kind of conflict due to Mike Ashley finding it impossible not to interfere in Rafa Benitez’ handling of the club – but not many expected/hoped it would be quite so soon. Whether the owner has put his oar in remains to be seen.
Many Newcastle fans reacted to the claims by saying that Rafa Benitez would never put up with any such interference and would be bound to walk away.
However, after the disastrous takeover of Liverpool by Tom Hicks and George Gillett in February 2007, Rafa put up with almost three and a half years of their chaotic running of the Merseyside club, eventually leaving in June 2010. The main area of discontent was consistently said to be Liverpool’s owners interfering in the transfer policy and not backing Rafa Benitez sufficiently in the transfer market.
It is a little worrying when The Mirror can’t even get the number of last summer’s signings correct, they say 10 but it was actually 12 players Rafa brought in, 11 permanent signings and Christian Atsu on a year’s loan with option to buy.
These are the 12 signings and their ages when the season kicked off on 5 August 2016:
33 Daryl Murphy
31 Jesus Gamez
29 Mohamed Diame
26 Matt Ritchie, Ciaran Clark
25 Dwight Gayle
24 Grant Hanley, Achraf Lazaar, Christian Atsu, Matz Sels
23 DeAndre Yedlin
21 Isaac Hayden
The oldest three clearly would have very little, if any, potential resale value in the future.
At the other end of the spectrum, only really Hayden and Yedlin, plus maybe Lazaar & Sels, would fit the previous Mike Ashley model.
In the main, Rafa Benitez brought in players at their peak playing age, or approaching it, who could do an instant job and potentially carry that into the Premier League if promoted – the likes of Clark, Ritchie and Gayle.
The previous summer we had seen two 20 year olds in Mitrovic and Mbemba, 22 year old Thauvin and 24 year old Wijnaldum, all with the added risk and extra increase in value, of arriving from weaker leagues abroad and unproven in England.
It looks a case of hoping for the best whilst fearing the worst, based on Ashley’s past behaviour.
We are only really going to find out the truth, probably, when Rafa makes further signings.