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Opinion

Mike Ashley returns to first choice strategy after 4 year gap but is it just proof of insanity?

1 year ago
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Mike Ashley has got his way once again, as he always does.

As we all know, it is his football club and he can do whatever he wants.

Forced into a corner in March 2015, the Newcastle United owner had no choice but to temporarily change tack in the face of impending disaster.

Eventually even Ashley had to accept that Steve McClaren had been a disastrous decision (amongst many others…) and with near certain relegation approaching, he sacked him in early March 2016.

The retail supremo saw the worldwide free Sports Direct advertising disappearing as well as Premier League revenues.

When Rafa Benitez approached them after McClaren’s sacking, even he had to grab the chance with both hands.

Sure enough relegation still happened, the change left far too late, but even Mike Ashley new that Rafa was a dream appointment to get back onto the gravy train.

Ashley agreed a three year deal with Rafa and told the Spaniard whatever he needed to hear to convince him to stay, promotion was everything and the following two years of the three year contract could be dealt with later.

Sure enough, the first transfer window saw a win/win situation, Rafa got £50m+ to rebuild the squad which was essential due to loads of dross to clear out and many players insisting on leaving, whilst Ashley still made a £40m profit on transfer deals in and out that summer of 2016.

Less than five months later Rafa Benitez discovered that Mike Ashley’s promises had only extended to one transfer windows, as the NUFC owner refused to even sanction any loan deals in January 2017, with Rafa wanting to make sure of promotion and start preparing for the Premier League.

The foundations of relegation had been set in place by Mike Ashley in summer 2015.

Strict rules on transfers meaning only young players from overseas leagues were allowed to be bought, offering value in terms of lower transfer fees and wages than if recruiting Premier League players, as well as the hoped for higher resale value.

11 July 2015 – 24 year old Gini Wijnaldum comes in for £15m

21 July 2015 – 20 year old Aleksandar Mitrovic comes in for £14m

23 July 2015 – 20 year old Chancel Mbemba comes in for £10m

19 August 2015 – 22 year old Florian Thauvin comes in for £14m

Never had so much been spent in an NUFC transfer window but the Newcastle fans weren’t totally convinced, the first home game to sell out that season came seven months in, McClaren’s final game when losing to Bournemouth in early March 2016.

As for Steve McClaren, Newcastle fans couldn’t believe when he was appointed but all became clear. Given the title of Head Coach not Manager, McClaren was so desperate for the job that he took it without any say on transfers, only there to train and pick the team.

Back in the Premier League, Rafa refused to go along with the Mike Ashley preferred plan.

The net result was no net spend and no proper backing, as the world class manager refused to go along with the Ashley rigid plan of only spending PL size money on young overseas players.

Rafa was blocked from spending more than £10m on any player after promotion, until the very final day of the January 2019 transfer window, as Miguel Almiron arrived. Whilst Benitez welcomed some very belated help in trying to avoid relegation and appeared to rate Almiron, I think by that point (January 2019) he knew for sure that he was wasting his time with the NUFC owner.

Media friendly to Mike Ashley have stated during Rafa’s last couple of years, that if he had agreed to accept these imposed young overseas signings, then a significant amount of more transfer cash would have been allowed.

What kind of way is that to run a football club?

A top class manager but unknown/unseen people picking signings and Rafa Benitez only have a chance of saying yes or no.

Then in his infamous PR Statement released via The Mail eight days ago, Mike Ashley said (as well as plenty of other things!):

“Manchester City can afford to have an ageing team; they can afford to just write players off. How can we do that? It’s not possible. Therefore you have to go for the best young players and hope they develop that little bit and become world-beaters.

‘That is our principle and it hasn’t changed for many years.”

This is a strategy that means Rafa Benitez agreed to sell Mitro for £22m (rising to £27m) but wasn’t allowed to make any offer to buy Rondon, eventually allowed a very late loan for the Venezuelan but only because he (Rafa) agreed on Gayle going out on loan in return.

Then after Rondon is player of the year and most productive in the team with 11 goals and seven assists, Rafa/Newcastle still aren’t even allowed to make any offer to buy him.

Albert Einstein isn’t in charge of deciding who Newcastle buy, at least as far as I’m aware anyway, but he was the one who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome.

Mike Ashley has appointed a head coach that no other Premier League club would have considered, a desperate Steve Bruce happy to take the job with no say on recruitment.

Only two players bought so far but we have 22 year olds Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin (ASM) brought in from overseas leagues, set to cost Newcastle United an alleged £60m between them.

ASM has 12 goals in 111 Ligue 1 appearances and Joelinton has had one season in the Bundesliga scoring seven goals last season, other than that just playing in the weak Brazilian and Austrian leagues.

There is no guarantee this season will be a disaster but relying solely on young overseas recruits arriving late in the window, with a head coach who should never have been considered…

It is Mike Ashley’s plan and he isn’t going to easily give it up.

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