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Opinion

Down the Rabbit Hole – The serious problem with a third Mike Ashley relegation

1 year ago
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Of the near 11 years in which Mike Ashley has owned the club, Newcastle United have flirted with relegation three times, been relegated twice, and spent two seasons plying our trade in the Championship. The net outcome being that we have had only had four seasons of relative “comfort” in over a decade.

The current season is looking like another one where relegation will very much be a possibility and a topic of debate, but if the previously unthinkable were allowed to happen for a third time, it really could be the beginning of the wilderness years for the club.

Before anyone pipes up with “haven’t we heard this before?”, allow me to explain…..

The first relegation was undoubtedly caused by the, frankly, idiotic way in which the club was organised. We had blokes with strange job titles, signing players from YouTube videos without the consent of the manager, followed by the appointment, stepping down and re-appointment of a man who is to football management what a leech farm owner would be to modern medicine. Along with a final panic appointment of the club’s greatest ever player into his first ever management position, with virtually no time to save the sinking ship.

However, we had players of some world fame, players of true ability and proven international calibre, players such as Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka, Habib Beye, Sebastien Bassong and Damien Duff, to name just a few.

We were relegated, they were sold or left, and a big fat transfer surplus was gained. The following season we found our new Geordie number 9, he helped to fire us out of the second tier of English football with some comfort.

The second relegation was a real freefall shambles, presided over in the dugout mainly by a man who had the cunning talent of never questioning his place in the food chain. Once again we had players of international renown such as Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Janmaat and Cisse who were once again sold to provide a substantial transfer surplus when the inevitable happened, despite (once again) appointing a manager far too late to save us from the trapdoor into the second tier.

The commonalities of the two recent relegations are that we have had players to sell of a value which allowed us to spend above our relative means and to keep the club more than solvent, and able to compete at the very top end of the Championship.

If a third relegation was to occur this season, how much money could we raise from our current saleable assets, whilst still keeping the nucleus of a team to gain promotion, and keeping the books in the black?

Obviously our Captain, Lascelles, would command a decent fee but beyond him who else is there? The top calibre of player in our squad, aside from Lascelles, is arguably Shelvey, Ritchie and Merino, who would all struggle to command £10m a piece on current form from a relegated side, having only shown glimpses of being good top level performers.

If that was the case then there would be no transfer surplus, no major squad overhaul apart from lessening the quality further, and a real struggle to come back would ensue.

The first relegation comeback was a cakewalk, the second was much tighter but never really in doubt from the halfway point of the season, a third might be a stretch too far.

The sad fact is that with every season spent either fighting relegation, or playing at a lower level, the quality of our squad gets ever worse and we are slowly becoming a Championship club in more ways than just the playing squad, the mentality and outlook of the club gets cheapened also.

Everything about the club is becoming a bit bargain basement, a bit pound shop, a bit (dare I say it) Sports Direct. My firm belief is that now more than ever we need to avoid this relegation, whether Ashley sells up or not he certainly seems much less inclined to invest in the club these days, to the point that I would take any major investment in January as the biggest green light so far that the takeover will happen.

Obviously investment in January, if the takeover is moving forwards, will be an issue of contention as to who supplies the funds, and what recompense can be expected from any agreed sale price or relegation. To use a house sale metaphor, it’s like selling your house but being asked by the buyer to carry out some much-needed construction work prior to sale. If you want to sell “as is”  then the price should reflect that, if the buyer is insisting on having important structural work done before they buy then the price should reflect that, and these should be a “guarantee to buy” if you are being asked to spend your money on something you don’t want to.

It seems plainly obvious to me that the future of the club now has two distinct paths ahead of it, the first of which being that we carry on with the current owner and see the club get smaller and weaker every season, until it drops into the relative obscurity now being endured by “them down the road”.

Or the buyout goes through and we roll the dice with new ownership. We can’t carry on as we have been, so given the choice I’ll gladly take my chances with a new regime.
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