There’s always a bit in Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares when Gordon, incredulous about how bad things are, drags the unsuspecting owner of the establishment into the kitchen and shows them the state of the place. The owner, inevitably a complete shambles who should never have got into the restaurant game in the first place, feigns ignorance and blames the chef before committing to rolling their sleeves up to do something about it.
Mike Ashley’s basically one of them.
A parliamentary inquiry described his shop as “a business whose working practices are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable high street retailer”, one that treats workers “without dignity or respect.” Ashley went on TV to say he was appalled to hear of what he called “odd isolated incidents” despite working in the location himself.
If Channel 4 commissioned Football Nightmares then they could find no better club to have in the first episode than Newcastle United.
This week, once again Mike Ashley would have reminded us of those dunce restaurant owners, passing the buck when his ailing businesses is under the spotlight. If you believe his PR it’s not that he’s failed to invest in the training ground or the team but that Rafa Benitez hasn’t invited him to training, or a game where he could see for himself how things are going. Why on earth didn’t Rafa let him know how bad things had got?
Oh, that’s right, he did. Not once, not twice, but three times Mike Ashley has stated that Benitez could have every penny the club generated.4
In May 2017, after a meeting between Ashley, Benitez and Charnley following promotion, an official club statement carried the quote from Ashley: “I’ve confirmed to Rafa and Lee that they can have every last penny that the club generates through promotion, player sales and other means in order to build for next season.”
Three days later, Ashley wanted to reiterate the point, and again, the club website carried new quotes – “Rafa, as always, has my full support, and contrary to some media reports that portray me as a pantomime villain, I will continue to ensure that every penny generated by the club is available to him.”
Then three months later, during the transfer window, when asked how much money he’d give Benitez, Ashley responded “Not enough, it’s not a secret. Every penny the club generates he can have, but it doesn’t generate enough.”
So how much does it generate?
Media income last season was £123m. Average matchday income in the last three Premier League seasons has been £26m and average commercial income £25m. So that’s roughly £174m a season that the club generates these days.
In 17/18 and 18/19 the total combined net transfer spend at Newcastle is £1m. In a period when the club has generated roughly £348m of income. There are costs to pay of course, wages are always growing but haven’t exceeded £100m in a season, even with performance bonuses included. Running costs average £25m a year too, so that’s £250m of the £348m gone.
But what about the other £98m? Can someone tell Rio (buy my gear exclusively at Mike Ashley’s shop) Ferdinand that the club has this money sitting in the bank without asking Ashley for another penny?
If Newcastle United was a restaurant, Benitez would be a Michelin star chef working in an ill stocked kitchen with half the gas rings out, oven doors that don’t shut, blunt knives and meat past it’s sell by date. Ferdinand, Souness, Bellamy, Keys, Gray, Wise and co would complain that Benitez should do more with salt.
Ramsay would come in and condemn the whole place as the owner clearly isn’t interested.