Transfer deadline day today and of course, it is the usual circus at Newcastle United.
Quite rightly, much attention is being paid to the lack of money being spent on transfers. However, it is important to stress that this is nothing new at Newcastle United. Generally speaking, it is quite surprising that this is the summer in which more fans have decided to ‘rebel’ and take part in greater collective action towards the ownership.
It could have been any summer under Mike Ashley, so the idea that things have all of a sudden got really bad under Rafa Benitez is not something that I would be on board with. The truth is that it has always been really bad. This summer is no different to most previous transfer windows, or Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United as a whole.
The point being that, there is more to the problems at Newcastle United than Rafa Benitez not being given a certain amount of money to spend on players. There are few clubs that have been so badly mismanaged over a sustained period of time. It is a club that is rotten to its very core at the present moment, I hope to paint a picture that goes beyond just transfers.
Transfers – a joke
The most obvious problem with the club at the moment.
Only signing players on the cheap is a strategy that has come to the fore this summer and received much wider media scrutiny than usual. The club has no intention of breaking the transfer record. It has been mentioned that the club have previously made bids above the transfer record, for instance the likes of Berahino, Lacazette and Jorgensen; with Newcastle evidently bidding below the asking price, knowing full-well that it would be turned down, but giving the impression they are ‘doing something’. So the suggestion that the club are willing to break the transfer record because they have made bids in that region before is simply not true.
At the moment, Newcastle will likely line up on the opening day with this starting 11 (Dubravka; 4 million, Dummett; Academy, Clark; 4 million, Lascelles; 3.5 million, Yedlin;4 million, Shelvey; 12 million, Diame; 4 million, Kenedy; Loan, Perez; 1.5 million, Ritchie; 11 million, Rondon; Loan… a grand total of £43m. I would hazard a guess to say that will probably be the lowest in the Premier League come the opening weekend.
There is that saying that spending money doesn’t guarantee you success, or doesn’t mean you are buying a good player… we know all too well about that down the years at Newcastle United. But one thing that is a fact of football is that not spending any money at all, guarantees failure.
It is not just the money from transfers that seems to be the problem though, where is the money from Puma? Fun88? Ticket Sales? 10th place? TV? Advertising boards? Or from Sports Direct?
Players – one of the weakest squads in the division
In regards to the players action this week involving media duties, I think it is very clear that Mike Ashley wanted to end this dispute as soon as it affected his relationship with the TV companies that provide him with the golden opportunity to advertise Sports Direct to the world.
I am not going to personally knock any of the players because they’re a good bunch of lads that as a fan you would rather turn up and get behind them, than the likes of Cabaye, Sissoko, Thauvin. The standard or level of ability in the playing squad has taken such a dive under Mike Ashley. Even this pre-season Newcastle started most games in pre-season with Joselu upfront.
Looking past the specific names in the squad this is a team I worry about going forward, we are weak in terms of depth at full back, weak at centre back after Lejeune’s injury, weak in the middle of the park, weak at number 10, and the jury is obviously out on the centre-forwards who I hope will come good.
Manager – Position is unstable and although he is one of the best around, that is arguably his biggest problem
Certainly the ability of the manager can’t be questioned. I am sure come tomorrow Rafa will be fully focused on getting the best out of his squad. The position of the manager remains another matter that the club have mismanaged and got wrong. I don’t think there is another manager in the league whose position is as unstable as that of Benitez.
His contract expires next summer, meaning Newcastle are entering into a season knowing that the likelihood is that their manager won’t be with them after the end of the upcoming season.
I have made this point before, some agree with me while and some don’t, but the manager’s position is so farcical that he is probably one of the reasons why he isn’t getting any money to spend on transfers by not signing a new contract (I’m not saying he should give in and sign one) and by being so good a manager that Ashley believes Rafa can keep them up without spending any money. Rafa’s position at the club is the only thing stopping fans from taking real action i.e. not turning up to games.
It doesn’t really matter who the manager is, as long as Mike Ashley is the owner of this football club, and it is ran in the interests of Sports Direct, then Rafa or No Rafa, nothing will ever change.
Training Ground – More lies, and a fine example of how Newcastle have fallen behind the rest
You only have to look and compare it with other clubs such as Tottenham and Everton to see how far we have fallen.
According to the club, the current training ground should have been knocked down in 2015 and a new one set up in 2016. This never happened and will go down as another Mike Ashley lie. In his letter to the Culture Secretary, Mike Ashley stated the training ground was fit for purpose because we finished tenth. Although this is the same training ground when Newcastle were relegated twice. What it goes to show, as if we didn’t already know, is that Mike Ashley doesn’t have a clue about how football works, and he isn’t willing to listen to those that do.
Nobby Solano was shown around the training ground earlier this week, and I suspect it looked at very much the same level as from his playing days, when in reality it should be completely unrecognisable from the standard when he was playing for NUFC.
Academy – Newcastle United’s greatest failure
Lets not pretend that before Mike Ashley, Newcastle had a fine state of the art training academy and were churning out Premier League players left, right and centre. However, the situation regarding the youth set up has only got worse during his tenure.
This is the area where I know most about and can give my experiences, having experienced all of the academies in the North East in one way or another. Specifically, in relation to Newcastle, growing up in the same age group as Adam Campbell and Remie Streete, and just above Adam Armstrong, Rolando Aarons etc, I know the amount of talent that there is in the North East.
Believe me, at the ages of 16/17, the talent in the North East compared to the rest of the UK is just as good, if not better, it is a crying shame that none of those players have come through the system and ‘made it’. I also grew up with players at other clubs: Jordan Jones now at Kilmarnock, and playing for Northern Ireland, and Lynden Gooch of the USA at Sunderland amongst others, who at the same age were nowhere near as good as some of these guys coming through at Newcastle. So you have to beg the question, what is going on at Newcastle?
Of course, the facilities have always been below bar. Middlesbrough and Sunderland’s youth academies have always had better facilities, and out of all the youth academies I have spent time at, in the UK and abroad, the majority of them have put Newcastle’s to shame.
Do we even have an U23s at the moment? Do they have a manager? The whole Peter Beardsley saga is another gross mismanagement on behalf of the club. You could list players all day but given the fact our two most ‘brightest’ youngsters, Longstaff and especially Woodman, could now look set to spend the first half of the season rotting in the U23s, it goes to show the ineptitude that is seeping right through the academy.
Prices – Taking fans for mugs
Season ticket prices have gone up, some by as much as 20% compared to last season. The club also failed to get their act together in sufficient time to hand out renewal dates which meant for many of us, we were only given 2-3 weeks notice of the chance to renew. If given the option now, with the benefit of hindsight, I would not have renewed my ticket. I should have know better but I feel very much mugged off.
Club shirts prices have increased exponentially under Mike Ashley, with the Newcastle shirt being the joint most expensive in the country. Compared to other clubs from over 5 years ago, Newcastle’s has increased by a higher price than anyone else (£20). The prices for friendlies and early-round cup games are often £20 or £25 on the day of the game… throw in the fact that the NUFC box office remains nothing short of a joke and the fact there have been multiple problems with the new online ticketing system, it frequently equals an all round bad experience trying to do anything related to Newcastle United.
The beauty of it all is that none of this would really matter if the club used the money to re-invest in the playing squad. I have said for ages that these problems exist but nobody really cares when the team is doing well. It now looks as though more fans, including myself, are waking up to the fact that on the face of it our money isn’t going to try and bring success to Newcastle United, it would appear it is going straight to benefit of Sports Direct.
Communication – a symbol of gross incompetence in the Mike Ashley era
Social media is of course the main avenue for communication nowadays. Yet the club’s ability to communicate with the fans is in my opinion the biggest failure of the Mike Ashley era.
The ineptitude of the club’s social media channels was recently summed up with the latest signing of Solomon Rondon positioned facing the Gallowgate End with Sports Direct emblazoned across the centre of the picture. It suggests that those in charge of any decision making at the club remain out of touch… for the most part, those in the media teams aren’t fans of Newcastle so I wouldn’t expect them to understand.
Additionally, the club has tried to put on live streams for games which ended up being a disaster, with the streams not working properly in three of the four games, and on other occasions being shown for free by the host team’s stream!
Perhaps these ten areas can be used as the questions raised at the next fan forum, which as everyone else knows, remains a bit of a laughing stock every time the minutes are published. Still we have a non-representative fans forum in which the club decide who sits on it, and can get rid of whoever they want, which actually happened to the NUST representative at one point.
In the recent fans forum, a substantial amount of time was devoted to issues related to roads and parking, where ball boys and girls are positioned on the pitch (yes really), the problem that some fans in the east stand won’t be able to see the big screen if VAR is introduced, and where always fans would be sitting at SJP, before you get to any of what could be deemed “nit and gritty”. Quite frankly it is a joke.
Stadium- putting a cap on ambition
The redevelopment of Strawberry Place by Maricco Asset Management (commissioned by Mike Ashley) puts an end any hope to the expansion of the stadium and places a cap on the level that the club can reach in terms of ticket revenue.
The lease on the land was bought by Mike Ashley under the umbrella of “Newcastle United” when he bought the club, now it is being used to personally benefit Mike Ashley and not the club, the owner paying a fee to buy the lease from NUFC so that Newcastle United will receive no big bucks when the development is complete.
Even inside the stadium, there has been no positive change or improvement during his time as owner. Granted, it was a top stadium when he took over, but the only areas that have seen change is related to the corporate side of matter.
As an example, now the family paddock is just your regular concourse, 15 years ago it was a warm suite with carpet, and games, and many things going on. A great example that highlights his attitude towards fans. A once great stadium is slowly rotting away under the shadow of multiple Sports Direct signs.
Boardroom – A club ran by two men who don’t work for the club
The club doesn’t even have a board! That board under Steve McClaren doesn’t exist anymore and only Lee Charnley survives.
Instead the club is driven by Keith Bishop and Justin Barnes who have no official role and are free to work in the interests of Mike Ashley, rather than Newcastle United.
Lee Charnley remains on one of the cheapest contracts in the league for a man in his position, which probably goes to show just how little power and influence he has at the club compared with Bishop and Barnes.
A now absentee owner, a proven liar who has resided over; two relegations, Dennis Wise, Alan Pardew, Joe Kinnear, John Carver, Sports Direct Arena, Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, Jonas Gutierrez… the list goes on and on and on and on.
Of course, these 10 points are just my overview, a comprehensive piece could be written on just about all of them.
The club is a mess, and it is not all to do with transfer activity. I stress again, nothing will ever change while Mike Ashley is the owner of Newcastle United. It doesn’t matter if Rafa Benitez is the manager, and it wouldn’t matter if Newcastle had signed a £30m striker in the last moments of the window tonight (obviously that was never going to happen).
Rotten to the core.
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn