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Some thoughts on Mike Ashley – A talented chef stumbled into my lap…

9 months ago
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Going in to an offseason with momentum generated on the back of an excellent season, can bring its own set of pitfalls. Such a case study can be exclusively filed and boxed in the name of Newcastle United under the ownership of Mike Ashley.

One would have thought that last summer was a one-off where Rafa was forced to shop for 5-7 million pound players, which in this day and age at best can get you championship grade players or damaged goods.

Gone are the days where you could discover and acquire gems like Cabaye, Cisse, Tiote for single digits(millions). Selling clubs/Agents nowadays are quick to use the media to launch its own PR machine to create a bidding war or just alert teams to its players, whom they didn’t scout in the first place.

Therefore, recent times have seen Newcastle United’s good scouting efforts go to waste while losing out to clubs such as Spurs and Everton who stepped in with competitive offers. Getting a targeted player like Lejeune, despite the long protracted discussions, was an exception, as the player had his mind set on playing for Rafa and Newcastle as no other team was prepared to take the gamble on him at the time.

If this summer is any indication, Ashley has pretty much enforced the same operating parameters where Rafa has been given just about the same budget. It appears the club will use funds to write off the bad contracts it has budgeted for in the last set of accounts. One can only hope that Rafa is not compelled again into taking on the so-called damaged goods such as Joselu or Manquillo in the hope that he can revive them into useful assets. ‘dI rather he just left that money in the bank or use most of it on a real good talent, even if that means using his 40 million budget on just two players if he has to, Kenedy being one such example. To make the most of that restricted budget, free agents and/or loans are crucial given the circumstances.

The Merino saga bought in an undesired outcome. I would rather be thankful that he came in and did a job during in the initial stages of the season playing an important part in victories over Palace, Stoke, Swansea and West Ham. If there is a tinge of disappointment it is that the club wasn’t street smart while setting up his contract, having agreed to a low release clause, the club should have protected itself by countering what were to happen if the player were to be an instant success and another club picked him off. The Club will need to look at this in the future. Charnley had in fact gone on record stating that the club would never ever put itself in a position like they did with Townsend but Rafa on this occasion was forced to accept that in Merino’s case, as he was desperate to sign decent talent on the budget he was afforded. No guesses on whose doorstep the blame gets placed on.

While set to lose Merino, the club somehow put a decent positive spin on it by moving in quickly to sign Ki Sung-Yueng. The reaction to it has been somewhat understandably mixed but I like the signing. He’s got tons of experience in the PL, was an integral part of a good Swansea team that played the game in the right way and  it’s a free transfer so taking away his signing bonus / agent’s fees; a substantial amount of the Merino money still stays in the bank. Rafa’s budget after signing both Dubravka and Ki allows him to make a play for two seriously good talents. He could still play smart in taking a chance at a former French Prodigy Clement Grenier who at 3 mill euro tag comes as a low risk high reward option and would slot in perfectly as a #10. Grenier has a fantastic delivery, can thread through a defence with a pass and a nose for goal. I can easily see him playing that false #10 role, where Pardew used Cabaye in 2013-14.

The Stefano Sturaro link is a bit of an odd one but has to be given attention as it seems to have a lot of credence to it. One would ask why bring on a defensive (left sided) midfielder when we already have Diame who slotted in and adjusted to that role seamlessly. But trying to see it from Rafa’s perspective, I can understand why. Sturaro would bring in a Champions mentality being part of the winning culture at Juventus. He is a physical, fast and tenacious player that as a Coach you would use on the opposition’s star player in order to suffocate the life out of him. Stefano would amp up the competitiveness in the team and spice up training sessions. He is a mix of a Tiote on the tackle and Sissoko on the lung bursting attacking runs. Worth keeping an eye on this one as it develops.

If Stefano gets taken at 15 mill then I would hope that Rafa throw the balance of his budget at Kenedy. For what he achieved during loan with us, I would still consider it as a scratch of what his actual potential is. It was obvious what he brings to the team when he is put in the right positions. The goals /assists against Southampton and Leicester came from central positions. Maybe Rafa won’t consider him for #10 role just yet but ultimately that would and should be his position as someone who can play in a free role behind the main striker who can run at defences and create chaos. Reports suggest that Chelsea are asking for 25 mill, it’s time for Charnley to study up how contracts proposals are done.

As much as I have got some love for Mitro, I have to admit his conversion, tactical and work rate doesn’t fit into the Rafa playbook, not to mention the disciplinary record. Another factor to weigh in, whether he sees it any different when he wants the team managing or closing the game better in the closing stages. As in Mitro is a player that thrives a lot off good crosses. He doesn’t make those off ball runs or drop off wide in the box to link up with the wingers. As often you see nowadays, in the last ten minutes or so teams trying to protect a lead more often refrain from crossing the ball and prefer to keep possession which in turn requires more leg work from its forward(s). Having said that, I would like Rafa to give Mitro a final chance if he cannot be sold for an amount to fund the purchase of a good forward.

And for the ending, some thoughts on the owner Mike Ashley.

Over the last 10 years, I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, whether it’s a byproduct of bad timing or trusting the wrong people. I even convinced myself that as an entrepreneur I could see it from your perspective as to why you wanted the club to be self-sustainable and be run as a responsible business that didn’t spend beyond its means. As for trusting the wrong people, that’s on you.

There is no justifying trusting a steward who worked at Chelsea over a club legend as Kevin Keegan. As for not backing a World Class Manager like Rafa by giving him the extra money to spend?

Here’s a small example from my own experience as an entrepreneur….ten years ago after working for a while, I decided to open a business around something I loved – that’s food and drink. I was passionate about it but reality is I knew nothing about the restaurant business, therefore I made mistakes and to cover for them I rightly so had to put in my own money to keep it running until I got tired and fed up saying that’s it, let it run the way it is. Until a talented chef looking for a new challenge stumbled into my lap. He told me to close the restaurant down, change the concept and launch a new menu using a unique attraction at the time called Steak cooked on a Volcanic Stone. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, I had maxed on out my investments and bank funding but I believed in my Chef and his plan. I took the risk with a mortgage on my house knowing it would sink me deeper if it didn’t work out and placed an order for the stones. The place opened up and the stones turned out to be a money spinner. We ultimately got well known as a steakhouse and after some years I opened a second restaurant. I could have just let the business run the way it was and the talented chef would have left, saying there was nothing worth for him striving to achieve.

When you could have spent 15 million on Lacazette you spent 5m on Riviere and when the time came to be ambitious, you trusted McClaren with the job. And now you have thrown the burden to bear on Rafa whom you feel will stay on due to the love and adoration of the Newcastle Utd Fan base.

The lack of investment in the Academy and staff, whether commercial or administrative, just goes to show why you bought the club in the first place. Have a bit of fun in the stands while you were at it, run the club on the cheap and sell it for a profit like you have always done. But be Careful Ashley, you don’t want to imagine what will hit you when Rafa walks away, this will be the end of your reign and unfortunately of the very existence of the club, if you so choose to take your next and most dangerous gamble yet.

You can follow the author on Twitter @BobbyGoa
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