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De-coding that Mike Ashley interview

3 years ago

You will have all seen/heard/read the Mike Ashley ‘interview’ with David Craig, broadcast on Sky Sports last Sunday night and we will all have our own opinions on what he actually meant. We can all look at his record at Newcastle and call it scatty and haphazard at best, incompetent and negligent at worst.

There are people out there in business who are hard-nosed and snappy, nasty and vindictive, but I have never believed that anyone in life has ever deliberately meant to go out and annoy people, however then you hear the rubbish and drivel that comes out of the mouth of Mike Ashley….and I’m not talking about the stuff he has previously ejected into a pub fireplace.

I am led to believe (I’m not a successful billionaire) that you don’t get anywhere in business if you’re an idiot, then you look at the record of Mike Ashley since buying Newcastle United. Never has a businessman done more to stifle success and annoy his public than Mike Ashley.

From bringing in and then seeing off his customers’ favourite people, to openly ridiculing them in public and then on top of that, shamelessly attempting to re-write history later on. Right from the start, his ownership has been one that was as badly prepared for as it was continuously mis-managed in the intervening years.

On the subject of the club being available to buy, Mike recounted –

“We’ll make a phone call, see if it’s true . . I deposited the money, spoke to Sir John Hall, and the deal was done very quickly.”

Well if that isn’t bad business, I don’t know what is. Who goes out and drops hundreds of millions of pounds on something that you haven’t a clue how to run and haven’t even checked the financial history of? I know the basics of how a restaurant should be run, but if you asked me to pay half a million to buy one and make a go of it, I’d politely decline. Ashley didn’t even know the basics.

On what he thought was the best way to go about running the club –

“In my case, it was to think in a different time frame, maybe if we didn’t live for every Saturday and for that game, maybe if we had a three-year plan, a five-year plan, a seven-year plan, we could actually build on something at Newcastle United.”

With that sort of attitude, there is no wonder we have battled relegations consistently over the last ten years. You can’t run a football club with any sort of drawn out time frame in mind. Once you start taking your eye off ‘every Saturday’ and keep looking to the future, you get entrenched in problems and before you know it, you’re relegated and the ‘three, five or seven year plan’ is obsolete. You have to buy when you’re doing well, otherwise you’re sunk. This was evident when nobody was signed (bar Vernon Anita) after we finished 5th in 2012. What was the idea behind the ‘plan’ then?

I don’t put too much blame at the door of Sir John Hall, he simply took the money and ran. He knew the club had vastly overspent on players and that the means to pay the deals off were fantasy money that hadn’t been received by the club yet. The notion that the bloke he sold the club to didn’t want to look at the accounts, was probably a huge blessing.

“I think you always have the ambition to turn something into more than it was.”

Not too sure where to start with that one. How can the club at any point over the last 10 years be ‘more than it was’ in 2007? Numerous relegation battles (two failed ones), revenue starved beyond belief, stadium expansion restricted, stadium renamed, open hostility to the owner/chairman for 80% of ten years, open hostility to whoever the manager has been for 80% of the same period. Club legends bashed and made fools of etc, etc.

On a similar track, he goes on –

“I thought the difference would be to get the academy right, the training ground, the fans’ prices, the new generation of fans coming through, and building the football club from the ground up.”

Well, we sell our upcoming young stars of the future, the academy doesn’t have a product regularly in the first team, the cost to see a match is by the by if the entertainment on offer isn’t up to the mark and the ground can’t be expanded because of the owner’s plans for behind the Gallowgate End of St James Park. Quite clearly, if the interviewer (Craig) had any facts at his fingertips, he may have been able to challenge these false ideas from Ashley (ED: If Craig actually had any interest in challenging, or the real truth).

Advice to himself 10 years ago –

“Let me think of an analogy; let’s say football was a bicycle back then, it’s now a Formula 1 car going along in the outside lane. It’s so different from when I bought the club.”

The club itself would still be a bicycle, it’s just the bicycle requires more expensive tyres and the cost of repairing the framework and changing the brakes has gone up from ten years ago. Plus I would hardly say we are currently ‘going along in the outside lane’ as opposed to when we were. Tootling along at 40 in 2007 presumably.

Upon being asked how his tenure has gone –

“Very naïve in the beginning. In the middle I thought I was just about beginning to get my arms around it a little bit, we had a manager on an eight-year contract, had the finance right, we were talking about investing in the training ground and the academy, we had a strategy, buying the better young talent that’s available and developing. That was around 2013, 2014, I thought we were going along quite well, and then within 18 months the wheels have come off”

Well, put simply, if you continue with poor investment in the first team and have the WRONG manager on an eight year contract, you are always likely to see the wheels coming off at some stage. Also, having yes men and people in the boardroom that don’t know what they are doing doesn’t help either.

It was awfully nice of him to reach out to legends of the club and offer olive branches, no matter how insincere it came across –

“I think Kevin Keegan is an outstanding individual, and also did his best at the club. It wasn’t always easy for Kevin at the football club, we didn’t have that structure around that we should have had to support him, with the signings and everything else, and I will take responsibility for that. So Kevin, I apologise for that.”

I bet that was said through gritted teeth, bearing in mind the £2m that was paid to Kevin and the fact that he was made out to be a liar during court proceedings. However, the apparent offer to Alan Shearer that he may be tempted back into the hot-seat at St James’ must rank as one the most tongue in cheek things Ashley has ever done/said, “Never say never Alan”, certainly not while he’s the owner he won’t.

He goes on –

“I don’t have that ability to write a cheque for £200m”

Once again Mike isn’t grasping the situation. I don’t think Rafa would be asking for anywhere near £200m, just simply a decent budget and a competent Managing Director in place to conclude deals would be sufficient.

With Lee Charnley’s help, and Lee answers to Rafa by the way, not the other way around, let’s be crystal clear, Rafa makes all the final decisions on players out, players in, but he has to do it with the money the club have.”

You know what, I’m inclined to agree, although less so on the bit about the help of Lee Charnley, but this whole manager being in charge malarkey could catch on, it’s a shame that you didn’t afford Kevin Keegan the same luxury in 2008. Sadly, the people who have been put in charge at the club were in no fit state to do the jobs they were brought in to do. The problem we had in 2008 was Dennis Wise, in 2013/14 it was Derek Llambias and now it’s Lee Charnley. Throughout that period, allowing the likes of Joe Kinnear, Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren to run the football side of things was negligent in the extreme, at least now we have a top quality manager. Unfortunately, the guy in charge of doing the deals is still not up to scratch.

In some comments Mike does actually show signs of learning from his mistakes –

“Football is a momentum game, and if that momentum starts to go against you, it actually feeds on itself.”

I’m sure we’d all agree, however refusing to spend in 2012/13 when qualifying for Europe, was the first step towards relegation and a massive mistake – if the owner actually believes this glaringly obvious statement then he should take a look at the current ‘momentum’ at the club…

The side had been promoted on a wave of optimism, fans were happy before the summer, certainly after the positive statement from Rafa in May, and this was cautiously received as after ten years we know that Mike Ashley can (intentionally or otherwise) put a spanner in the works. To not back up this momentum he so speaks about would be foolish in the extreme, something which he has been guilty of on numerous occasions before.

Maybe Mike likes to tell that fans what they want to hear, maybe he believes they will believe he is telling the truth and not a pack of lies…

“Maybe this year we could look for mid-table this season, and maybe make the cups a priority this season. Get ourselves safe and then go for a cup. Either cup. And the dream would always be qualifying for the Champions League, that’s what it is for me, simple.”

Ok, 10/10 for ambition, but if he looks back at his comments, there isn’t half a big contradiction going on. If he can’t/won’t ‘write a cheque for £200m’ then how on earth can he hope to qualify for the Champions League? To get this club anywhere near that level would take £200m to start with and then an almighty slice of luck to go with it. If the interviewer had any journalistic credibility and wasn’t just there to sycophantically blow smoke up the interviewee’s backside, that would’ve been jumped on and scrutinised the second it was uttered.

Unfortunately, that’s where the problem remains, vetted questions and ‘exclusive’ interviews are meaningless unless someone actually probes the answers during the interview, which I’m sure Mike Ashley wouldn’t even dream of sanctioning. Baseless so called facts and throw away remarks are a waste of airtime. We are no more sure about what Ashley thinks or intends to do than we were before the interview was aired, such is the outlandish content in it. From making statements that seem genuine about building on momentum and relative truth about how much money he is going to give Rafa to spend, ‘Not enough’ was the blunt and rather honest reply.

How can certain statements be made and then be backed up with nothing from someone who has a history of lying? There we have the answer; lies, lies and more lies. The only shock I would have, is if Ashley himself didn’t have a snigger as he made his way out of the interview. I said at the start that his tenure as owner has been haphazard and mis-managed and that is exactly how the interview came across. A clever man can’t come out with the stuff like Mike Ashley said and not realise he’s going to come across as a liar and an idiot.

Unfortunately, until someone comes up with, lets say £300m+, we are stuck with him. Anyone willing to buy him out feel free, hopefully they will buy the club in as quick a fashion as Ashley did, hopefully with a few financial checks, the first one being glaringly obvious, that fortunes can be made out of football if relative fortunes are spent, something that isn’t going to happen on Mike’s watch.

In the meantime, I suggest we continue to back Rafa and whoever he manages to sign given the financial constraints. No slagging off of players simply because they haven’t been bought for £30m each or haven’t played in the Premier League before, the bottom half of this league is much of a muchness and with some investment we should hold our own this season and despite how hollow the owner’s words are, we could have a crack at one or both of the cups and see what happens after Christmas if we are indeed looking good for mid-table.

That is where we are and until the owner ships out, that is where we are likely to stay and no amount of money is going to guarantee a crack at breaking the top four. I’m not overly pessimistic or optimistic about this season, just realistic about seeing a side try their hardest to finish as high as possible.

Rafa will ensure that. Howay the lads.

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