Mike Ashley is saying nowt, but in so doing, is being rather eloquent.
Instead of letting it be known that he had told the Chinese consortium reputed to be interested in buying Newcastle United to buy a box for five years to show sincerity, he has just said nowt.
Of course he has told us several times that he might be putting the club on the market, if not before the end of the 2015/6 season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ashley has decided now is the time.
Last close season would not have been a good time – he would have had to sell at a knock-down price when we were heading into the Championship.
And he went the extra mile to keep Rafa on board at a time when a lot of people had told us he would be off.
He gave Rafa assurances that have never been made public but, given that Rafa spoke to Alan Shearer about the kind of boss Ashley was, would have had to be written in blood.
Rafa committed to Newcastle in a way that Ashley never has. That is why we took Rafa to our hearts, and that is why, even after Ashley apparently changed his approach to football club stewardship, three-quarters of us still want him to sell up.
The assurances that Ashley gave Rafa at the end of the relegation season included, we have been led to believe, guarantees about the choice of football personnel, both buying and selling, but also investment in the event promotion back to the Premier League was achieved.
It would be completely typical if Ashley, having had some kind of contact with the Chinese, can see the chance of maximising his return while minimising his investment once again.
Every asset has to sweat for Ashley.
He trashed our stadium with slogans advertising his core business but paid nothing for it.
Bought young players who might have a sell-on value rather than the players we needed,
Wongified our image.
Offended and then humiliated the press we depend upon.
Employed dreadful failures as managers.
Gave dud players massive contracts who had been recommended by a scout of inconsistent judgement who had been given an eight-year contract himself.
Transferred from the club’s ownership to his own personal control, possibly useful land around the Strawberry, and dumped a hundred million of debt on the club for tax reasons.
So now, when he is coming up to a summer of major expenditure, that he knows is a summer of major expenditure, that he knows is a summer of major expenditure that is of crucial importance to our manager, Ashley has pondered the nature of this new investment.
And he doesn’t like the look of it.
There is absolutely nothing in his record that would suggest he would like to stay and invest and wait excitedly for the new season, like someone interested in football, having trusted in the judgement of his world-class manager.
His world-class manager has done his job – he has got us back up into the Premier League. Now is the time to cash in, if you’re Mike Ashley.
It’s not just the money he would need to spend to compete, in order to satisfy Rafa that we have a genuine chance of finishing in the top half in our first season back. That on its own, we already know, would require the replacement of seven or eight players. And, quite frankly, I would trust and expect Ashley to fulfil this aspect of his understanding with Rafa.
It’s the further, very expensive, players we would have to buy in subsequent seasons so we can build a team with a chance of competing in the Champions League. Because I bet Rafa has got that factored in.
If you think about it, it is entirely typical that Ashley would prey upon Rafa’s belief and affection and trust and love, lead him down the garden path with the prospect of a truly historic shift in gear at Newcastle, and then let him down.
I can say that without hesitation, because it is what he has done to Toon fans for ten years.
If the Chinese consortium is made of Scotch mist, if they never turn up, if they are insincere, Ashley might stay as owner for next season. If he does I have no doubt he will skimp on investment, and annoy Rafa and the fans.
These rumours, and his reaction to them, are eloquent about what his true intentions are at Newcastle. Because I have no doubt he will sell before he needs to invest heavily, and compete for truly top players of the kind that Manchester City want to buy. And he will not want to hang around long enough to risk relegation a third time. If he doesn’t sell now, he’ll be selling soon.
In a way, Ashley is not the same football club owner that he was ten years ago.
In a way he is better than he was.
He has learned and he has improved, slightly. To the extent that he knows he can’t run a football club like a shop, that he has to trust people he doesn’t really understand, I think he has really changed.
And I would even go as far as to claim that he is a better owner than a lot of people. He might even turn out to be better than a Chinese consortium.
The Chinese economy is built on debt and its financial institutions are a mystery. It is full of stuff that is valued in billions for no obvious reason. The whole of China could implode. Ashley might seem a decent memory if that were to happen.
But I have come to the conclusion that, with Mike Ashley, we will always be suspecting that we are being lied to and taken for a ride. Ashley will always be getting the better of us, one way or another. The club will never return our love while he is the owner. He is, in sum, a pain in the backside.
I shouldn’t think it would be a romantic experience if a Chinese consortium were the owner, either. But Rafa might be able to believe the assurances of a Chinese consortium.
He will know by now that he can’t believe a word Mike Ashley has ever said to him.
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