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Opinion

Is Mike Ashley now finally selling Newcastle United?

3 weeks ago
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After the initial hope and excitement sparked by a self-made English billionaire buying Newcastle United, the fans have now spent every day for more than a decade dreaming of the news that Mike Ashley has moved on.

Could that day have actually arrived?

We have all pretty much agreed that when it does happen, it will just be announced one day.

There won’t be any long drawn out media story, with blow by blow coverage of the discussions/negotiations.

Instead, we will have it all delivered in one soundbite.

Logic tells me that the news would be delivered via Sky Sports, along with very likely an appearance from Mike Ashley himself, defending/celebrating his dozen years of neglect and mismanagement.

I think we can now look back and say for sure that the Peter Kenyon and Amanda Staveley fiascos were not serious attempts at buying Newcastle United, if indeed they were actual ‘attempts’ at all.

Both embarrassing episodes carried out fully in the media with Mike Ashley and his people appearing to be driving most of it. The only question for me is whether or not they were set-ups from Ashley himself, trying to make fans, neutrals and media think he was serious about trying to sell the club.

Mike Ashley is quite happy to see himself portrayed as a bit of a naive individual where owning a football club is concerned BUT the reality is that whilst not every business deal works out for him in his retail empire, it just doesn’t make sense what went on with the supposed attempts to buy the club.

For Mike Ashley and his people to supposedly spend months and months actively engaging with these people to try and get a sale done, just doesn’t look real. In any potential deal, in whatever part of his business, Ashley would be saying let me see the money.

If you do still believe they were part of something that was truly trying to buy Newcastle United, the fact remains that Staveley and Kenyon were only ever middle men/women, connecting Ashley with the potential buyer(s). There is no way the club’s owner would have persevered with them for months on a totally ignorant basis of whose money was actually going to buy NUFC, if a deal was possible. Instead, within days Mike Ashley would have been saying to Amanda Staveley and Peter Kenyon, we need to see who we are dealing with and will be putting the money down.

Anyway, back to the present day and I don’t claim to have insider knowledge. However, I do see just maybe the stars aligning for a potential sale of Newcastle United to be announced.

For starters, the timing of the Staveley/Kenyon ‘interest’ was a massive red flag. Business people supposedly willing to buy a football club in the middle of a season where that club was fighting a relegation battle, a relegation battle that they could only marginally influence if they bought the club, with a real risk of their investment being halved in value in only months. How on earth was that believable.

If any sale was/is ever going to happen, it will not be during the season. If it was/is ever going to happen, Mike Ashley would be putting the word out quietly to interested parties as soon as Premier League safety is looking assured.

A run of five wins and a draw in an eight game spell, saw Newcastle on 34 points after beating Everton on 9 March. Not mathematically certain at that point but realistically NUFC were safe, indeed Cardiff only managed a final tally of 34 points over nine weeks later.

A deal takes time anyway, so nothing to stop Mike Ashley putting the word out then to see what came back.

Today (23 May 2019) is exactly 12 years to the day since out of the blue, Mike Ashley bought Sir John Hall’s shares and effectively bought Newcastle United.

There are also many indications that would suggest the club has been readied in preparation for a sale.

The Championship season accounts were made to look as bad as possible with future wages for unwanted players included, which meant that when the latest (2017/18) accounts were made public last month, the NUFC wage bill actually falling despite now being in the Premier League, something unheard of! The net result is that the club’s wage bill on these latest accounts is only 52% of the turnover, something that will look very very attractive to a potential buyer.

Another important factor for a buyer would be the length of contracts still outstanding, having a host of high paid but unwanted layers stuck at the club would be seen as a massive liability. However, Newcastle United are exactly the opposite, with almost the entire squad having only one or two years left on their deals.

The only exceptions are Lascelles and Almiron who each have five years, whilst on three years you have Longstaff, Dubravka, Lejeune, Muto and Dummett.

All of those are first team regulars and indeed represent most of the club’s best assets, with the exception of Muto.

Now we come to the leap of faith.

Mike Ashley met Rafa Benitez last Thursday for the much anticipated meeting regarding the manager’s new contract. Everybody baffled as to why this had been delayed for so long, then even more baffled as to why we are now a whole week later and absolutely nothing.

No word from either side, no leaks. It is inexplicable really as I think the vast majority of fans and neutrals saw this as a case of the two coming together and either shaking hands on a deal that had all but been prepared already, or going their separate ways.

I really feel that if there had been real sticking points on the important issues, budgets and freedom of Rafa Benitez to wheel and deal, then one or both of the sides would have quickly been pushing their PR out in the newspapers, attacking the other side for being unreasonable. The issues are obvious and everybody has known what they are for years. Mike Ashley even asked Rafa for his exact conditions back in March, which just happened to be when safety was in reality achieved…

This ridiculous delay with nothing happening or being said, just makes zero sense.

It only makes sense if the silence is part of something bigger.

Back in the days of Shepherd and Hall, for all their faults (especially in the later years) they did love a sense of theatre, so if they were in charge now, you could imagine that things were being delayed so buying Rondon could be announced at the same time as Rafa’s new deal. That isn’t Mike Ashley though.

Could the only thing that makes sense, be Mike Ashley meeting Rafa Benitez last week to update him on a sale of Newcastle United going through and to keep the manager onboard, with him (Rafa) being a crucial asset in the sale.

I have often thought of just how happy fans would be if last season’s status quo was announced as being maintained, Rafa and Rondon stopping.

However, just think of the reaction if my dream scenario above is played out…

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