Most Newcastle fans believe Mike Ashley is poison for Newcastle United.
A small handful actually buy the line that he is doing his best in very difficult circumstances, battling against nation states, having been duped into buying the club that had supposedly unknown hidden debts (which were all plain as day in the annual accounts and which he then paid and loaded onto the club as a debt to him, pretending they weren’t part of the asking price to buy the club).
There are then some people kind of in the middle, or to the side, of those two positions, who are willing to think that Mike Ashley just blunders along making accidental mistakes in the running of NUFC, which have then led to two relegations, a couple of near misses, and general disastrous running of Newcastle United.
The clear truth is though, Mike Ashley does nothing by accident when it comes to NUFC, everything is calculated to putting him personally in the best position and usually the club suffering because of it.
It is 12 days ago since the season finished, a superb win over Chelsea rounding off a very good season, where both Rafa Benitez and his players achieved points and league position that was above the squad’s intrinsic talents. The league position a slightly freakish one, as 44 points was the lowest any club had had in the Premier League era to finish top half.
Rather than attending in person and thanking Rafa Benitez, or putting in a personal call, instead Mike Ashley put out a statement minutes after the final whistle. It did the basics of congratulating everybody but the main message was plain to see. Ashley promising to back Rafa with ‘every penny’, the same statement that had led to the manager repeatedly saying promises had been broken when it came to transfers in summer 2017 and January 2018. The use of the words was no accident, it was calculated to put Rafa Benitez back in his place, saying nothing had changed and he was the one in charge doing it his way.
Five days after that last match, we had another Mike Ashley statement of sorts.
The headline figures of the Championship (2016/17) season put out by the club, seemingly designed to try and make that promotion season look the worst possible in financial terms.
It was always going to be a step back but the club pushed out a figure of £90m ‘lost’ that season, which then when the full account went public, financial experts have shown that £90m figure mainly due to ‘accountancy tools’, with the ‘real’ loss in terms of money being actually under £20m. The message as always, that we should be grateful to Mike Ashley, rather than him being the reason for relegating NUFC twice in seven PL seasons.
Now we have the latest calculated PR stunt, a handful of journalists invited to meet Lee Charnley.
Whilst he (on Ashley’s behalf of course) did do the basics of praising Rafa Benitez and the team, it was once again bigging up Mike Ashley time.
‘It would have been a catastrophe, a bloodbath (if Newcastle had not got promoted at the first attempt)…A one season gamble….It would have taken years to get out of the Championship…A decision to “put all the chips on the table”.’
It is very difficult not to see these three separate statements over a period of 11 days, as anything other than a coordinated PR campaign, by Mike Ashley and his minions, to try and massively build up the owners’s credibility.
All of this of course going one, at the same time as there is the big stand-off with Rafa Benitez refusing to sign a contract extension until he is satisfied there is ambition at the club and full support for him as manager.
To think that it is coincidence, for example, that Lee Charnley suddenly does his first interview in years with journalists.
I really fear for Rafa Benitez, that little attempt is being made to keep him at the club, that instead Mike Ashley has set out on this PR campaign of preparing the ground for the Spaniard’s departure.
Naturally I hope I’m wrong. I just hope that Rafa will plough on and that this PR campaign simply proves to have been a message to fans to be grateful to Mike Ashley, rather than getting in the work well in advance to prepare for the media fallout that would follow if Rafa Benitez walked away.