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Opinion

Mike Ashley takes Newcastle United into survival mode

1 week ago
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Even by Newcastle United standards under Mike Ashley, this final week of pre-season preparations has been pretty bizarre.

Not a penny spent on transfer fees in the opening six weeks of the transfer window, before then three first team players arrive only days ahead of the season kicking off, with around £35m spent on them, plus of course NUFC taking on the wages of three players who were playing Premier League football last season.

Of course, playing/player matters were predictably topped by Mike Ashley when he accused the Premier League of now blocking a takeover, with Richard Masters and the Premier League having not acted ‘appropriately’, according to the NUFC owner.

Adding that he was considering taking action against the Premier League, potentially of the legal kind, the Premier League were quick to publicly reply and declare that what Mr Ashley was claiming, was ‘incorrect’, not the first and won’t be the last time somebody accuses the retailer of that.

The signing of Fraser, Wilson and Lewis certainly raised spirits, with most fans appearing to believe now that Newcastle could / should be able to survive. However, the reality is that Callum Wilson has only scored three Premier League goals since September 2019 and Ryan Fraser only scoring one in the past 17 months. The 2018/19 season of course saw them score 21 goals between them, Wilson 14 and Fraser seven, for Bournemouth.

Can the new signings show their best form and how quickly can it be delivered? Fans have a bit more hope and expectation now but nobody will be taking anything for granted.

Wages

Maybe the biggest story of this transfer window for Newcastle United is wages.

Four of the five players signed so far were picking up Premier League wages last season and fair to take for granted that all will have had a pay rise when signing up. In fact, two of them particularly so as Hendrick and Fraser ran down their contracts, so that they could enhance their wage deals at Newcastle with no transfer fee to pay.

People have talked about the marked contrast to previous windows of Mike Ashley allowing players with a Premier League background to be signed.

Not making nearly as many headlines, if any, is the fact that Ashley has agreed to meet the wage demands of players who were already on Premier League level deals. The reality is that even if paying significantly more for signings, if they are from weaker leagues their wage demands will be far easier to satisfy than those who are already playing in the Premier League.

In total, Newcastle have committed to 18 years worth of wages for Lewis (five years), Fraser (five), Hendrick (four) and Wilson (four).

Of course, the vast majority of those 18 years worth of wages are to paid out after this upcoming season.

This shift naturally fits in with the belief that Mike Ashley is at last, genuine about trying to sell the club. That is, if he can get a price that is far more than the club is worth from the Saudi PIF, or somebody else (which is most unlikely).

Spending a net £30m+ in this window and making the commitment to wages is not a gamble, instead it was a necessity if Mike Ashley is thinking to try and survive for another season in the top tier and in that time finally get a takeover across the line.

In these strange times, to have fans wanting the same thing as Mike Ashley, is one of the more unexpected things to come out of it.

Watching brief

The Government have this week reined in the trials of fans attending sporting events, even in limited numbers. Hopes of some Premier League football fans to be allowed back into stadiums as from October, now declining.

Football fan culture revolves around the matchday routine for so many supporters, a return to capacity crowds and packed pubs before and after, all feels a bit of a distant dream as things stand.

However, we just have to look forward to the next step, whether it is October or whenever, for some fans to be allowed back into games, then build from there.

Predicting what exactly will happen over the course of this season, is a whole different ball game compared to the years that have gone before.

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