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Opinion

Deal or no deal?

2 years ago
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Given the Mike Ashley way of running Newcastle United, did anyone expect this to end up any other way?

A man who bought a football club in order to promote his main retail business, with no intention of improving the club or its ability to compete, the sole purpose is to survive in the Premier League for little or no outlay providing free adverts for Sports Direct.

Along comes Rafa Benitez, one of the most successful managers in the game and the best manager we have had since Sir Bobby Robson in my opinion and offers his services, which were gleefully received.

Imagine Ashley’s joy at the prospect, having a world class manager drop into his lap, who could get the best out of a squad who would probably struggle under any of the previous managers he had employed. Utopia!

What Ashley didn’t expect was that Rafa saw the potential of the club and wanted to fulfil that potential, he was always going to be knocking on Ashley’s door asking for more.

An owner who didn’t want to maintain, invest or improve the club, and a manager who saw a project by which in time he could pursue his dream to challenge the top Premier League teams and compete in the Champions League once again. It was never about money, it was about ambition.

For the next three years Rafa tried to improve things on and off the field with Mike Ashley promising investment and change that never materialised.

I just think it all finally wore him down and the last contact from Rafa was that he couldn’t “move forward with the terms on offer”…

Now to me that meant he was still open to Ashley revising the terms on offer but I think Ashley just realised this was a manager whose ambitions were too big for him, so used that email as the opportunity to pull the plug. Once he became a free agent he could do what he wanted.

I don’t have a problem with Rafa’s choice, good luck to him. He may have gone to China for the money but he left Newcastle because of the owner’s lack of ambition.

Reports say that Rafa was upset by the way things happened and wasn’t told by the club before the statement was published – for me that is unforgivable but believable. In my opinion he was willing to talk further but Ashley realised Rafa would not work to his ‘blueprint’ so decided to get rid.

Suggestions that Ashley let Rafa go because the prospective buyer BZG didn’t want him, baffles me. He has dismissed previous groups like the Amanda Staveley bid as time wasters and tyre kickers because they have not provided proof of funds, so why would he be willing to agree to the demands of BZG who I seem to remember his people  have claimed through the media have not even provided proof of funds?

The BZG say they agreed heads of terms with Ashley some time ago, if that’s the case,why was Mike Ashley working hard “to extend Rafa’s contract over a significant period of time” leading up to their last reported contact in late June, if he knew BZG didn’t want the manager?

I doubt they will be too happy as being put forward as his excuse for letting the manager go, I seem to remember reading that he upset a Dubai consortium once before and we all know how that turned out.

In his time here, Rafa has succeeded in wrestling a bit of control from Ashley over recruitment, but eventually he failed with his ‘project’ and left us, because Ashley showed time and time again that he didn’t share the same vision and probably lost any trust Rafa had in him.

I fully expect players will now be sold over the next month because Rafa is not there to prevent it.

At times he reminded me of that boy who plugged a dike with his finger trying to prevent the flood. I remember when we were spanking teams like Leicester 7-1 but now players like Perez are going to them because they have ambition that we do not. We’ve now lost Perez and Rondon (we won’t buy him) who scored over half our goals last season and I doubt they will be replaced. If Ashley still owns the club and gets to run it the way he wants, there is a danger of this season being the one where we finally go into freefall.

I’ve read some fans say the fit and proper persons test should hold Ashley accountable for the way he runs the club but that’s misleading. It only checks to ensure a potential buyer has no criminal convictions before they buy a club, it does nothing to police how they run a club once they’ve bought it.

Where club owners should be held accountable is how they use the TV and central payments money the Premier League hand out to them. The PL hand out £2.4 billion on the basis that it is used to support the clubs in their efforts to “develop and acquire talented players as well as build and improve stadiums”.

The problem is they do not police how each club uses the money. Clubs should be made to provide totally transparent accounts of what they have spent it on and the PL should place financial sanctions on any club who doesn’t spend it the way they intend them to.

In other words, show us you’ve spent it on the club and players or we won’t give you any next year! Wouldn’t that solve the questions of where the TV money goes?

“The process to appoint a successor will now begin…”

If a new ‘manager’ is appointed, are we to assume there is no truth in the takeover? I just don’t see the logic in giving out a big contract if new owners would have to pay it off once they buy the club. I understand the need to have a manager in place but surely a caretaker manager would be put in if there was any truth in the takeover rumours?

And if BZG are serious and binding agreements are in place, does this mean the club will not be allowed to sell off players? That would be like agreeing the fixtures of a house you are going to buy then discovering the owner has sold them all before you complete. It just doesn’t make sense. Time will tell.

Under Ashley’s ownership I almost don’t care who Rafa’s replacement will be as he will probably be a head coach with no influence over who the club signs, with an objective to keep the club in the premiership, nothing more.

The old flawed process will return with Head of recruitment Steve Nickson told to scout players under the age of 26 with the potential of selling them on for a profit once they have shown they have talent, with no consideration given to whether they will improve the first team.

This is Ashley’s Newcastle, but there will still be crowds of 45 – 50,000 turning up next season. Even when Keegan walked out the fans were in uproar yet we still got averages of over 47,000 for the next 4 seasons. There will be protests at the matches post-Rafa but it won’t last for long. The problem is the Newcastle fans love the club too much to stay away regardless of what he does and I doubt he is too concerned by their reaction or feelings.

So what happens next?

I see one of two things happening.

The club will be sold but that depends on there actually being a deal in process and Ashley being a willing seller, I just don’t know if this is the case but as usual we live in hope. The latest statement from BZG says they have “completed every aspect required in a takeover process, if a deal is not forthcoming it will not be due to lack of effort from both parties.” Now that is confusing and doesn’t fill me with confidence.

Or the usual scenario will play out, the deal will collapse and we will get statements along the lines of how he will now move forward and run the club in the absence of a buyer willing to match his price. In the meantime the proposed sale is distracting us from the fact that we have no manager and no players coming in (saving on wages) but have sold players for profit. Ring a bell?

I finally gave up my season ticket in 2013 because I refused to pay over £600 a year to help fund Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United. Given everything that has happened since, I think I made the right decision.

Hopefully soon a sale will go through but if this latest takeover falls through and Mike Ashley continues to run the club, what will you do?

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