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Opinion

Less than 10 weeks to line-up the ducks ahead of Newcastle United takeover

4 weeks ago
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A strict order of events is essential for a Newcastle United takeover to proceed and the first step has to be for Mike Ashley to sack Steve Bruce.

Everything depends upon this dead duck taking his rightful place at the head of the duck line-up.

I think that we can probably all agree that Mike Ashley is actually attempting to sell the club to the PIF Consortium. The recent press release from the club concerning the arbitration proceedings should be enough to convince the most doubting Thomas that the wheels are still in motion.

We still have no idea of the time-frame for a sale.

The ongoing arbitration proceedings could take days or months. Thereafter, if there is still a green light, we need to go through the Owners and Directors Test and the other contractual steps. That could also take days or months and these ducks are not in Mike Ashley’s control.

It is probably the case that much of the due diligence has already taken place and draft sale contracts have already been approved. Doubtless there will be amendments that will need to be agreed and some of the diligence will need to be revisited. I don’t think that this little duck will cause any critical problems.

Unfortunately, the time it takes for the Newcastle United takeover ducks to line-up is completely irrelevant unless our Premier League safety is confirmed. That day may not dawn until 23rd May.

A takeover will not happen until our safety is mathematically certain. The Consortium are not going to complete the deal on a Monday in April only to have £100m wiped off their investment the following Saturday. They only need to wait nine and a half weeks or less for certainty, and as we know, a lot can happen in nine and a half weeks.

There is no prospect of the Newcastle United takeover happening if we get relegated. I am certain that Mike Ashley would not accept any reduced offer and he will hope for a quick promotion in 2021/2022 to restore the club’s value. The Consortium would likely take their business elsewhere.

There is no real urgency with the takeover process. If we are relegated it won’t happen. If we retain our Premier League status the fans would be satisfied so long as the takeover was complete by the start of the 2021/22 season. We can therefore leave the takeover ducks to waddle along at their own pace.

The fans, Mike Ashley and the Consortium all need the certainty of NUFC playing in the Premier League next season. The only ones that don’t want that certainty are Brighton, Fulham and the odd pundit.

It therefore remains inexplicable as to why Mike Ashley has not already acted and sacked Steve Bruce. He literally just has days left before it is probably too late.

We can do any amount of speculation as to what a safe number of points might be, and how we might accumulate those points, but this is just maths and wishful thinking. As we all know, it is not just about our own performance. Brighton and Fulham have their tails up.

The simple question that Mike Ashley needs to ask himself today is this: “What is the worst thing that could happen to Newcastle United and how much would that cost me?” The answer to that question is of course relegation and about £100m. He would also be stuck, perhaps for years, with a club that he now seems keen to sell.

The question then arises as to what action by Mike Ashley might stop that relegation from happening and how much will that cost him?

If the various media reports are to believed, Newcastle United paid £6.5m compensation to Sheffield Wednesday, and Steve Bruce would be entitled to a £2m plus pay-off if he is sacked. The club could never have recouped that £6.5M in cash, it’s not like buying and selling a player.

The rewards for that investment come in league position and the financial returns that follow. Given Steve Bruce’s performance to date I’m sure that the £6.5m investment is long forgotten and written off. We can remove that £6.5m duck from the line-up, I doubt that this it is a problem for Mike Ashley.

There then remains the £2m pay-off. Replacing Steve Bruce of course does not guarantee top flight status. No new manager, whatever their credentials, could give Mike Ashley that certainty. But if Ashley did invest £2m in sacking Steve Bruce, who would replace him?

If a new manager was to be given a contract that extended beyond May 23rd 2021 the Consortium would want input in that decision. It is likely that the Consortium already have a name, or at least a short-list in mind to replace Steve Bruce. If the replacement for Bruce wasn’t ‘their man’, the Consortium would need to see the route to getting rid of him, and the cost of doing so, once the sale was agreed. What manager would agree to a contract where the new owner could get rid of him on the cheap?

The less likely scenario is that we would need to find a manager that is not only available, but is approved by both MA and the Consortium. That manager would have to be prepared to agree to a contract that was full of financial caveats surrounding relegation and future ownership. The manager would also have to be prepared to take on a role where there was a high probability that despite his best efforts, his new team would be relegated a few weeks after he took over.

And it gets worse. That manager would also have to accept that if the Newcastle United takeover did not go ahead, he is stuck with Mike Ashley as his boss for the foreseeable future. Alternately, if his contract permits, he leaves with an unpleasant black mark on his career. I reckon all of these ducks are quacking hysterically and scampering away in different directions as quickly as possible. There is no chance of a decent permanent manger being appointed.

So we are then left with only two realistic choices to replace Steve Bruce.

Firstly, a journeyman manager on a short contract, with a stonking bonus for reaching safety this season. Who is available? Could a legend be tempted out of retirement?

Alternately, Mike Ashley could hand the baton to Graeme Jones. But would Graeme Jones turn out to be a Chris Hughton, or could he be a John Carver? If we were mid-season and mid-table I would favour giving Jones a go. However, we don’t have that comfort. We are already in freefall and this weekend could see our velocity increasing.

If Jones was still at Bournemouth a sensible owner would not recruit him now to take on the monumental task of saving NUFC from relegation. Jones wouldn’t even appear on the shortlist. Why give him the job just because his feet are already under the table?

Jones or journeyman? I favour the latter.

And what about our £2m dead duck. Would you pay £2m to considerably reduce your chances of losing £100m and the rest? Unless it was your last £2m in the bank, of course you would.

MikeAshley is a gambling man and he would be able to see an immediate positive impact if he sacked Steve Bruce. The bookies have us odds-on at 5/6 to get relegated. Given the fact that Steve Bruce is solely responsible for us being in the position that we are, the appointment of ‘anyone but Bruce’ would improve those odds.

The appointment of Graeme Jones would doubtless improve the odds just because he is not Steve Bruce. The appointment of an experienced journeyman with an impressive track record would improve the odds dramatically.

If I was Mike Ashley I would have had my journeyman duck lined-up a couple of weeks ago and I would be keeping him well fed. If Ashley leaves it another week before he sacks Steve Bruce, it is likely to be too late.

Mike Ashley’s line-up of ducks should look like this:

Sack Bruce. Employ journeyman. Don’t get relegated. Sell club. P.ss off.

We have less than ten weeks until the end of the season. Let’s hope we have a bit less f.cking about than there was in the movie.

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