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Opinion

Why I hate Mike Ashley

5 months ago
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You might have missed this…but there’s chatter that there’s a takeover in the offing.

I understand many will remain sceptical, we’ve been burned more often than the gums of your typical steak bake enthusiast the past few years, but this is proper stuff.

Papers submitted, funds changing hands, names in the frame and submissions to the Premier League now made.

We have never been this far before and Clive from Twitter who loves Formula 1, his kids and Brexit doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about when he reckons it’s more of the same. All people are doing is trying to retain their right of “told you so” while suppressing the exact excitement everyone else is letting out, which is liable to cause some kind of haemorrhage if it continues through 2-4 weeks of Premier League checks.

So, the Ashley era is actually coming to a close after 13 years, countless examples of mismanagement and more false dawns than the annual French and Saunders lookalike contest (c. Billy Furious). The discussion about the suitability of the new investors is a whole different conversation but already I’ve heard examples of the Ashley crowd rewriting the history of his time at Newcastle. The line that NUFC finds itself financially better off than in 2007 is the lazy option here, and while it’s undoubtedly true in a basic way, this is the absolute finest example of the viewpoint of someone with a cursory, passing knowledge of a subject versus someone who is absolutely immersed in the detail of that subject.

People may be aware that occasionally I appear on TV/radio when the media come to The Mag for a supporters view. The editor has no hesitation in pointing them to the best looking contributor and I am always happy to help. My main reason for this is not shameless self promotion and media wh.remongery (contrary to some vile opinions by people that will be thoroughly shamed when I get my golden cleric award). The reason I effectively put myself forward is that I know I can hold a coherent argument, and I fear that when I say no, they might line up someone who could be torn apart by a media agenda set to believe that uppity Newcastle fans don’t deserve the saviour Mike Ashley and his frugal, club-saving generosity.

For the benefit of any press persons who may be thinking of dropping a message, or anyone reflecting positively on the Ashley years (so far?). I would like to offer a summary of why Mike Ashley has been a tw.t of an owner for NUFC.

First of all, let’s look at the debt question. When Ashley took over NUFC, £30 million was still outstanding in historic transfer repayments, much of it likely to be on busted flushes like Boumsong, Owen and Luque. There was also a mortgage of £50 million on the ground (that allegedly wasn’t identified in due diligence) with interest payments around £7 million a year that were being serviced, whilst sponsorship money was also claimed to have been taken up front, rather than over the duration of the contract/deal. Settling all this in addition to replacing Allardyce etc. added up to MA having to ‘loan’ the club £100 million after he assumed control. This has been interest free ever since and fluctuations have seen the amount move to its current status of £111 million (at last guess, given no sign of this year’s accounts).

Defenders point to this interest saving as an amazing gesture from Mike Ashley. I would counter this with the argument that he was protecting his own money, not the club’s interests, and that he is about to walk away with a £95 million profit on an investment he made prior to a worldwide financial slump. Show me an ISA with those returns.

The naysayers also like to say we would have gone to the wall had white knight Ashley not rode up on his Slazenger golf cart, such were the levels of debt. By this token I wonder how long Man Utd (£384 million in debt) have before the administrators get called in? I would argue there were enough assets to offset the amount owed, and the downside may have been a few frugal years to manage this repayment, which Ashley forced on us anyway. This was made worse though, by his biggest problem: mismanagement.

I often wonder if every issue between Ashley and NUFC could have been avoided were it not for his one biggest mistake: a fundamental failure to understand that the right people are needed to do the right jobs in football.

The decision to allow his wideboy mates to undermine Keegan was just the first sign that Ashley will hand control to people he likes a pint with, above those qualified to do the job. This persisted with Kinnear, Charnley and various yes men performing signings by committee and expecting a coach to be able to cobble a side together from those deemed potentially profitable enough to actually buy/loan.

If a proper manager such as KK or Rafa had been allowed to buy who he wanted to build a side that worked, we would have had better league positions and with it more income from the heightened interest and exposure bringing in advertising, commercial and merchandise revenue that has surely decreased massively through boycotts and a lack of wider appeal.

The most telling aspect of all this though, is the cost of relegation this incompetence created. In 2016/17, the lowest payout for a PL club was £94 million. In 09/10, it was a more modest £36 million. A bit of faith in the right bloke and a proper transfer policy and you could have wiped out that debt to Mike with that £130 million right there. And this is a good businessman yes?

The final factor for me is one that may emerge in the next month or so. Everything Ashley has done is legal and legitimate; he owns the club outright. However, there seems to be a rabbit off somewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if some element of the merchandising or outsourcing arrangements turn out to strongly favour MA companies to the cost of Newcastle United. This will all be entirely legal but possibly not within the best interests of the club or its profitability. How deep this runs is anyone’s guess. I’m even worried that some of it may be entrenched in a way that new ownership won’t quite free the club from certain restrictive contracts.

In addition to the above factors, there is of course the emotional side. The treatment of Keegan, Shearer and Gutierrez, the renaming of the ground, the stubborn refusal to allow Benitez to rescue the situation. All infuriating to fans, but I would hope the wider media consider the facts and figures above, as the drivers behind the building frustration.

Hopefully after 13 years, that frustration can all explode in one big, stay at home celebration. Good riddance Mike.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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