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Opinion

Warning – Mike Ashley isn’t finished with football after Newcastle United

2 months ago
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I write this under the assumption that Mike Ashley sells Newcastle United in the near future.

I am also writing it with the assumption that he will sell the club without any sponsorship, Sports Direct, or other ties with the club included in any sale.

I’m here to warn you, and fans of other clubs, that I do not think Mike Ashley will turn his back on football, and these are the reasons why.

Mike Ashley is about to sell Newcastle United for a fee believed to be somewhere between £300m and £340m. Due to his nature of wanting to be seen to be on the winning end of any deal, I don’t believe that he will sell at a fee closer to the £300m fee that has been reported within the last week or so, the deal will still be close to the £340m fee that he initially wanted.

With this said, I don’t think Mike Ashley will be simply banking this money.

Right now his Sports Direct company is valued lower now, then it has been for some time. Considering that he has come under increased pressure on how he manages Sports Direct in recent years, I think that there is a considerably good chance that he will be investing part of his newly gained spending money back on buying back some share in Sports Direct, which is really his first love and baby.

I also believe that some of this money will be spent on other retailers who will have dropped in value due to the lockdown. The most obvious case here will likely be Debenhams, where he’ll want to be seen as being right about managing the company after he was rejected by them not long ago. Though it is possible that any bailout he provides is only to get his hands on their stock at a low price, similar to a tactic that he used to buy HOF.

Alongside Ashley’s desire to be seen as being right in terms of business, he’s also going to want to be seen as being right in how to manage a football club.

Newcastle fans have never agreed with him that you can run a football club on a shoestring budget. However, Ashley’s ego, alongside backing from his associates like Simon Jordan, Richard Keys, and Rio Ferdinand will go some way to making him think he is right.

For this reason, I believe that he will likely spend some of his Newcastle United sale windfall on another club. A club that he could pick up on the cheap, a club that he could run on a lower budget than NUFC, and a club where he could pick up Premier League income, but also not miss it if they fell out of the Premier League.

For this reason I believe that Ashley will set his sights on a longstanding Championship club. The club who I think will be directly in the firing line would be Sheffield Wednesday.

Sheffield Wednesday have not been in the Premier League for 20 years now and it is highly unlikely that they will be promoted this season, once/if the league recommences.

They are located fairly closely to Shirebrook where Sports Direct’s HQ are located, meaning Ashley will be in the immediate area for midweek games to attend, and Sports Direct HQ staff will be on hand to assist in the running of the club.

Despite not being in the Premier League for 20 years, they are still regarded as a reasonably big name within English football, and have a loyal set of supporters. I actually believe their supporters, and supporters of many Championship clubs, would be fairly happy to be turned into a yo-yo club, at least for a while. This isn’t a knock on them as supporters but a realisation that they have went a long time without being in the top flight, something that their younger supporters would never have seen before. In Sheffield Wednesday’s case, the fact that their city rivals are loving life in the top flight will also manifest in the desire to get there somehow.

Their current owner, Chansiri, bought Sheffield Wednesday for £30m in 2015 and I believe he would likely sell if he was offered £60m. This being a figure that would allow him to sell the club who and have cost him money in outlays such as buying the stadium himself from the football club to balance the books. It would also allow him a way out after his attempts to get the club promoted have failed and the direction they have taken has often changed in the failed promotion attempts. For Ashley, this would represent a figure of only 20% of the sale of Newcastle United, allowing him plenty of money left aside for other acquisitions.

With Ashley leaving Newcastle United, owning another football club would mean that he would be able to replace his Sports Direct merchandise agreements that he had with Newcastle and Rangers, with another club, like Sheffield Wednesday. Sheffield Wednesday’s club store would in effect become another Sports Direct store.

In addition to this, supporters of Championship clubs would likely be happier with having full blown sponsorships. Putting Sports Direct signs on top the stands at these clubs would just be familiar to what they are already doing, due to the demand to maximise income not coming from TV companies. In contrast at Newcastle United, the Sports Direct advertising on top of the East and Gallowgate stands was seen as sacrilege by many supporters. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried his stadium sponsorship trick again, Sports Direct @ Hillsborough anyone?

Of course though we all know that there is no limit to the cost cutting Ashley will take. Matchday catering will be outsourced and the PR company used by Sheffield Wednesday will be replaced by an Ashley controlled one. A company who will likely have been discarded by the new Newcastle United owners and will need to replace that funding.

The cost cutting won’t stop there. All day to day management of the company will be undertaken by one person, similar to how Newcastle is run wholly by Lee Charnley. In this position it is my belief that Ashley will put in place Michael Murray, his future son-in-law. Currently, the inexperienced businessman is being handsomely paid by Ashley’s business empire for simply coming up with the idea to try and change their image to a more premium look. A great example of nepotism in action.

It has always been my belief that sooner or later Charnley would be replaced with Murray at Newcastle and I can certainly see Ashley putting him straight in charge at his next club.

When it comes to hiring a manager there is no doubt that Ashley will look to a cheap option who will be happy just being in charge and happy to spout whatever drivel they are asked to peddle. Sound familiar? I wouldn’t be all too surprised if Ashley went out to bring in Pardew, Allardyce, or even a certain Steve Bruce, who by this time could have been discarded by the new owners at Newcastle.

The saddest and most telling change though will be in the playing staff. Ashley will be wanting to buy cheap players, and because he’ll be running the club on an even smaller budget for the Championship, he’ll be looking at even cheaper options.

Mike Ashley will look at Brentford’s ability to bring in young hungry players who can improve with the rest of the squad as a vindication that his cheap approach can work. The trouble with that is just like at Newcastle, the scouts’ top targets will be overlooked for the cheaper not yet ready options. As a result, I believe this would more likely see Ashley’s Championship team being turned into a yo-yo club between the Championship and League one, rather than the Premier League.

Championship clubs, you have been warned.

*For what it is worth, I have a huge amount of respect for Sheffield Wednesday and their fans. I actually wish them well and hope to see them back in the Premier League soon, they are one of the last clubs who I would wish Mike Ashley ownership on. I have used them as an example because I believe that they would represent the ideal club Ashley would be looking to buy once he has finished with Newcastle United.

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