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Steve Bruce comments further discredit Mike Ashley transfer strategy imposed on Newcastle United

2 months ago
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Last week I wrote about Mike Ashley and his interference at Newcastle United when it comes to the transfer market.

Obviously a club owner should have overall say/control but only in terms of deciding budgets etc.

However, after that, it should then be handed over to the professionals. especially the manager (and Director of Football if you have one (who isn’t Joe Kinnear)), to decide what your transfer strategy should be.

In my piece last week though (read below), I made the point that Mike Ashley is a ‘bit’ of a control freak, in my opinion.

I even said that I could see how this could maybe even be of benefit in the rest of his business empire but that when it comes to football, which he knows nothing about, he should stay well away from interfering.

Too often down the years of his rule, Mike Ashley has blundered and cost the club badly, in terms of money and especially progress.

Decision constantly made for all the wrong reasons.

We have seen relying on only tried and tested older Premier League players when Sam Allardyce was here, then veering all the way to the other extreme were the club isn’t allowed to buy players over a certain age. We have seen the overwhelming French policy, then only very young players who might increase in value from weak overseas leagues which brought about the 2015/16 relegation.

With the interference from Mike Ashley, it has repeatedly meant that players are signed not predominantly for football reasons but due to the fact they are a ‘bargain’ and/or may have higher future price tag.

This means that often the right players are not brought in to fill the positions that are most in need of strengthening.

In the past I have likened it to the wife sending me to the shop for some milk and instead I spend it on two loaves of bread because they are on special offer. When I get back, the wife not very impressed because she wanted a cup of tea, not a sandwich.

Which brings us to this summer.

Discussing Joelinton (yet again) and his lack of goals and indeed never really looking like a centre-forward/goalscorer, the NUFC Head Coach has had this to say ahead of the game at Sheffield United:

“We speak with Joe(linton) all the time, to try and help him.

“There is no disputing that he is finding it tough at the minute, because of what goes with being Newcastle’s centre forward, and a big price tag.

“He has just got to keep working away and let us hope we can try and keep encouraging him, if we can.

“He has to get into the box more often.

“In that respect, you can see why half of his career was played to a side in a 4-3-3.

“When I saw him play live, he played on the left-hand side against Man City in the Champions League.

“You can understand it because half of his career he hasn’t been a natural centre-forward.

“So that might give me a bit of food for thought later, to play him on the left if we have got a problem.”

It was Mike Ashley of course who insisted on this Joelinton transfer and indeed in July in his infamous interview, Ashley ridiculed Rafa Benitez for not agreeing that the striker was worth £40m (£41m according to Mike Ashley) and for wanting to focus on other targets, especially Salomon Rondon who had been player of the year and Newcastle’s most productive player, with 11 Premier League goals and seven assists.

As I said last week, I can’t imagine even Steve Bruce would have chosen himself to spend £40m on a player such as Joelinton, especially when Newcastle were losing their only two goalscorers (Rondon and Perez).

To hear Steve Bruce already admitting that Joelinton might end up be better playing as a support player rather than main striker/goalscorer, says it all.

To actually admit that Joelinton ‘has to get into the box more’ sounds so so basic and worrying,

What exactly do they work on in training?

Well on a match day it is very difficult to see what the plan is to try and score a goal, apart from Almiron and Saint-Maximin running the length of the pitch and getting us near to the other goal, where something might happen, most likely from a set-piece.

Actually, with Steve Bruce playing such negative tactics, Joelinton is so isolated already and has to come so deep to get involved. So unless Bruce adopts more attacking tactics, then the Brazilian going to wait in the box for service that will never come, is just pointless.

Newcastle were desperate for at least one, in reality two, goalscorers this summer and instead have simply added more players (Joelinton and ASM) who like Almiron, want to play almost all of their football away from the penalty area.

Andy Carroll is another signing that made no sense. Newcastle desperate for reliable goalscorers and bringing in such a high risk signing who has next to no chance of getting fit enough to start matches and who at best will be an impact sub. Not what NUFC needed, they needed reliable strikers who could definitely be involved.

Actually, if Newcastle had retained last season’s players and had Almiron, Perez and Rondon, then Andy Carroll may have made some sense. Two relatively reliable goalscorers so Carroll could be a bonus in terms of being an impact sub on top of their goals. Instead of what we have now, a really bad situation of Joelinton struggling week after week and Carroll not capable of starting matches as an alternative.

Steve Bruce may talk a good game in terms of influence on transfers but that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case and when/if signings are made in January (and beyond), he will have little or no say as Mike Ashley imposes signings on him and the team.

This is no way to run a football club.

My article on The Mag – 27 November 2019:

Mike Ashley built up Sports Direct from nothing.

He has then bought business after business, brand after brand, to add to his ever growing business empire.

Little surprise that after becoming a billionaire from nowhere, Mike Ashley is a ‘little’ bit of a control freak.

Instead of relying on a typical hierarchy to make decisions on a delegated basis down the food chain, he insists on micro managing.

Any decision of any consequence goes through him and he relies on a group of close long-term associates to help make these decisions, rather than a more normal clear and obvious chain of command.

Whilst he has suffered a fair few defeats/losses in his business dealings, including some fairly recent high profile/high loss ones, he is still well ahead of the game.

However, his control freak nature has been a disaster for Newcastle United.

Mike Ashley has refused to (willingly) allow anybody have any power at St James Park for well over a decade.

Most rich owners of Premier League clubs employ a highly paid MD/CEO, who with the help of a board of directors, are given the freedom and budgets to steer the club how they see fit, along with the help of the highly paid professional(s) on the football side of things – namely the manager and/or director of football.

Newcastle United have no proper board of directors or highly paid MD given the freedom to make decisions and the budgets to use as they see fit. Instead they have Lee Charnley, his role more akin to office manager/caretaker/keyholder, as compared to those highly paid headhunted MDs in charge at other top clubs.

On the football side, apart from Rafa Benitez in that summer 2016 transfer window when Mike Ashley was so terrified of staying in the Championship he briefly allowed a manager to control the transfer policy/strategy, not one other manager (or head coach) has had the/any power in any transfer window to dictate what happens. Apart from Rafa who could say yes or no to signings in the remaining transfer windows after his very first one.

Fast forward to this summer gone, Mike Ashley forced Rafa Benitez out in order to return to his preferred model of directly dictating the transfer policy/strategy, along with close associates.

At times Ashley has claimed he has no involvement/input into what happens each season/transfer window at the club but we know that we can believe that about as much as anything else he says. Far too many times the mask has slipped on other occasions and it has been made clear that he does involve himself on a regular basis.

After getting rid of Rafa, Mike Ashley eventually got his latest desperate patsy, Steve Bruce no doubt astonished to be offered a Premier League job and couldn’t sign quick enough, regardless of the conditions imposed by the NUFC owner.

Steve Bruce was signed up on 17 July 2019.

Joelinton was signed six days later (23 July) and then Allan Saint-Maximin another 10 days later (2 August).

Even a fool can see that the two signings had nothing to do with Steve Bruce and indeed Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley later confirmed the transfers had been arranged long before Bruce got the job.

In one way, you can hardly blame Mike Ashley for wanting to directly dictate which transfers are made, after all he sees it as ‘his’ money, so why wouldn’t/shouldn’t he be making the choices.

After all, if you believe that it cost around £60m in transfer fees and then a commitment to probably at least £40m in wages for the pair over the six years of their contracts, you are looking at a £100m decision(s) to be made.

The big problem comes of course when unlike retail businesses, buying football players is something he has absolutely no clue about.

Why would you have a top level well paid professional in the shape of Rafa Benitez with a two decade career at top clubs and then not back his judgement on which players represent best value. The answer of course is that Mike Ashley is a control freak and he knows best.

Which brings us to where we are now.

Spending £40m (Ashley says it was £41m) on Joelinton defies belief.

He is not a terrible player but he is certainly not the out and out goalscorer that Newcastle desperately needed. Indeed he looks anything but a natural goalscorer, with his strengths seeming to lie in build up play and work outside the box.

Much as I don’t think Steve Bruce is up to the job, I don’t think there is any way that he would have bought Joelinton if he had been allowed to spend £40m/£41m on a striker(s). Newcastle had lost their only two goalscorers in Rondon and Perez, so bringing in Joelinton and Carroll who isn’t able to start games or stay fit for any length of time, would never have been his preferred option.

However, been handed Joelinton and told to get on with it is only one of his worries.

The truly daft decision that sums up Ashley’s crass and chaotic hands on approach to transfers is signing Allan Saint-Maximin.

It is not a case of writing off ASM as he does show promise even though we have seen no end product as yet BUT how was this decision made and why?

In January, Mike Ashley had finally agreed to allow Rafa Benitez to spend more than £10m on a player for the first time since promotion.

Miguel Almiron was brought in to play in his natural position on the left side of an attacking trio and allowed to cut in from the left to go more central if he fancies it. The Paraguayan was excellent late last season and transformed the team’s attacking threat, a lot more goals scored that his play massively helped and NUFC had the fifth best form in the Premier League over the final 16 games.

However, Mike Ashley then pushed the Saint-Maximin transfer through, a player who has to play on the left side as he likes that option of then cutting inside into central areas.

So £20m spent in January for a player to play that position, then another £20m in August on another player to play there.

Almiron pushed out instead to play right wing in a position he has never played before and which he clearly hates.

Rafa Benitez would never have signed all three of these players, even Steve Bruce wouldn’t, nor any other half-decent manager or coach.

I don’t think any of the trio are bad players but apart from buying either ASM or Almiron, were they what Newcastle United really needed?

Goals from defenders and a fair bit of luck have papered over a lot of cracks so far this season.

Newcastle’s results have been far better than their performances overall, that luck won’t carry us through a full season, only a step up on performances will avoid a desperate relegation battle.

Many people have wondered how Steve Bruce hasn’t made any changes up front so far and you do have to worry as to just how much freedom Steve Bruce actually has when it comes to team selection. Even if not direct orders from above, can you imagine Bruce putting £60m/£80m of Mike Ashley signings on the bench and instead playing the likes of Gayle and Atsu who were already on the books?

Just like Steve McClaren who had the wrong relatively expensive signings imposed on him, Steve Bruce will still deserve some of the blame if this ends up been a car crash season.

However, it is clearly Mike Ashley who will be the chief architect with his meddling in things he hasn’t got a clue about.

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