There is widespread incredulity at the (lack of) activity from Newcastle United this transfer window.
However, there is clear logic in the approach which can be observed in the lessons Mike Ashley has learned over 10 years at the club.
In 2008/2009 Newcastle were relegated as a club making big annual losses, Mike Ashley had to loan a further £29m to the club in 2009/2010 to cover the expense of his mistakes.
In 2015/2016 Newcastle were relegated again. This time the club was profitable, but had spent all the income it had, trying to retain Premier League status. A belated £29m+ January investment on Townsend, Shelvey and Saivet followed by the costly sacking of Steve McClaren and appointment of Rafa Benitez failed to arrest the slide that had been started by McClaren.
After years of cutting costs and turning the finances around from a loss to a profit, Mike Ashley still had to loan £15m more to the club in 2016/2017 to cover the expense of his mistakes again.
Here we are in another relegation battle. As in 15/16, the club does have some cash reserves. Turnover this season will be the highest in the club’s history by a big margin and only a limited proportion of the profits due this season were spent in the summer. So what should Mike Ashley do?
Every Newcastle supporter would tell him he has to spend the money the club has, it’s the only chance there is of staying up, which is of paramount importance. They wouldn’t believe any other option could even be contemplated.
But he did this two years ago and had to pay the cost personally. For Ashley, now, the priority is his personal bank balance, not the status of Newcastle United. If the club spends all it has on a push for survival, and fails, as in 15/16, who will pay for the losses that will follow in 18/19? Mike Ashley.
If Newcastle United spend nothing, and are relegated, who will pay for the losses that will follow in 18/19? Newcastle United will, the fans, the Premier League parachute payment, the cash still in the bank.
If Newcastle united spend nothing, and survive, all well and good.
It’s not even a gamble for Mike Ashley, not spending in January ensures he has no personal liability from relegation.
On 22 March 2016 (following Rafa’s first two games – defeat to Leicester and a draw with Sunderland, and relegation looking all but certain) after spending all the club had whilst McClaren was at the club, in an attempt to retain Premier League status, Ashley said in an interview:
“All I can say is, there is a bank account. When you have emptied it, it’s empty. Don’t come crying to me for more money.”
Almost two years later we have hit a new low, rather than allowing the club to spend what it earns to survive, the club is being forced to hold in reserve enough to finance a season in the championship. Only funds available after that can be invested in the squad.
The positive aspect of this is that there will be more funds to spend in the Summer, if we stay up, and if Rafa Benitez has the patience to keep working for Ashley.
You can follow the author on Twitter @bigchrisholt