The biggest mistake Mike Ashley has made at Newcastle United?
With Mike Ashley putting the club up for sale, for the umpteenth time, it has put me in a rather reflective mood.
If you look back at the past 10 years of Mike Ashley’s regime there is a lot to be negative about. The general poor performance of his tenure, turning us into a ‘selling club’, followed by the misuse of these transfer funds (if any use, as it felt at times), treating the club as a springboard for his own business like changing the name of the ground, with many more errors made along the way.
For me though, the greatest mistake Mike Ashley made, was the sacking of Chris Hughton.
It’s funny when you look back at the list of magpie managers in the Ashley era. Ten different personnel over 10 years, an amazing statistic when Pardew lasted for four.
There are two managers with a win ratio far above any other. Unsurprisingly, those two are Benitez and Hughton, with 57.14% and 59.38% win ratios respectively.
It is true that these two had a year each in a lower division, which as difficult as that can be, is against teams of a lower standard. But it also meant our team had been weakened, having sold premier league quality players both times we have been relegated. However, both managers’ records in the Premier League still make for positive reading. Benitez with a PL win ratio of 40.5% and Hughton at 37.5%
Permanent Newcastle Manager Win Ratios over the Ashley era, shown as a percentage:
Both of those records are particularly interesting to me. I think that most fans would accept a top ten finish in the premier league. I know I would, especially when transfer budgets have been as low as they have been and with players having been sold whenever momentum seemed to be growing.
Over the last four years in the premier league a win ratio of 40% would get you a finishing position between 8th and 10th. Therefore, I feel we should be looking at this as par. That means as the chart above shows, we have only had two managers in the time frame of Ashley who have achieved this. Pardew just short of the mark and the likes of Shteeve McClaren and John Carver falling way below the level of expectation.
In fact, over the years at Newcastle it would be fair to say we are used to falling short of the line. Rather like Joey Tribbiani says in friends, we have moved so far from the line it is now a dot to us.
When Hughton permanently took charge of the team, we were in chaos. Relegated from the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history. Watching previous Premier League clubs slide down the football league such as Leeds, Forest and Portsmouth. All clubs who suffered for having too heavy a financial infrastructure in place to survive relegation.
One thing Ashley deserves credit for is knowing how to keep the club going in this situation. It must be the businessman in him to have succeeded here where clubs like Leeds and Portsmouth failed. Stuck with often disinterested players and huge wage bills you simply aren’t able to compete lower down by bringing in the resources to deal with a different style of football.
Big stars, the likes of Owen, Duff, Martins and Bassong were released/sold to reduce the heavy wage bill. The club in total let go or sold 10 players that window with the club generating a reported £23 million in transfer revenue. Which at the time was a very good amount of money. Little of this was made available to Hughton.
In fact, it’s estimated that Hughton spent just under £3 million during that season over two transfer windows. So it was amazing how resourceful he was to succeed in the way that he did. The strategy was simple. The club couldn’t afford ego statement signings like they had done with Owen and Viduka, but needed desire and hunger from the team, something which had been sorely lacking the season before. The club signed Lovenkrands, a real workhouse, who for what he lacked in quality made up for in work rate. This epitomised the real change in the mentality of the Newcastle Squad. Having players who wanted to play for the badge, not just for the wage in their wallets.
Hughton’s calm and pragmatic approach paid dividends. He installed Alan Smith as club captain, who like Lascelles today, had that fighting determination and no-nonsense approach to give the squad the kick up the backside it truly needed. Finally, the club had big characters who weren’t afraid to hide in matches: Barton, Smith, Nolan and Carroll to name but a few.
As important as it was, it would be foolish to claim that it was the spirit alone that got Newcastle through what could have been a disastrous period in their history. Hughton was, and still is, a manager who is often tactically underrated. Maybe because he is more unassuming than your average football manager? I don’t really know…but the stats don’t lie.
We were rampant in the 2009-10 championship season, only losing four league games, clocking the third highest number of points ever at that level. Eight more than Benitez and co managed last year.
Even in the Premier League under Hughton we played good football. We demolished Aston Villa 6-0 with Carroll bagging a hat-trick, knocked Chelsea out of the cup ( an epic 4-3 away from home with Shola scoring an injury time winner), beating Arsenal at the Emirates, and the signings of Tiote and Ben Arfa.
Yet this proved not to be not enough for the club. With the club a very stable 11th in the table Hughton was sacked in December of 2010, the club stating that they needed someone to lead the club who had more “experience”. Up stepped Alain Depardieu and we all know what happened from there.
We are lucky now that we have the talented and experienced manager we thought we might land after Hughton’s undeserved sacking, but I do wonder what could have happened, if Hughton had been given the time he deserved. He had formed a real team spirit which was to be lost over the following years, and had the powerful support of us the fans behind him, as well as the players. As well as the tactical nous he instilled in the team, which had been lacking since the days of Robson.
He has worked wonders at Brighton, turning them from a club who finished 20th in the Championship to almost champions, and now solidifying them as Premier League quality.
They are 12th in the premier league at the moment, can you imagine Brighton’s owners sacking him now? I thought not…!
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