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Opinion

Mike Ashley summer 2021 Newcastle United transfer strategy only taking club one way

2 weeks ago
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Mike Ashley will shortly be celebrating 14 years in control of Newcastle United.

For Newcastle fans, a frightening thought that so many years have gone by with no ambition other than for the club to try and stand still, whilst Mike Ashley looks to use NUFC to make himself and his wider business empire richer.

To greater or lesser degrees, all Newcastle United supporters still cling to the hope of a takeover happening.

Mike Ashley seemingly only willing to sell to the Saudis and nobody having a clue as to whether their desire is still there, even if a way around the ‘problems’ was now to be found.

The Saudi bid acceptable of course to Mike Ashley, simply because it was (is…?) offering far more than the club / business is actually worth.

The previous decade and more seeing Ashley pretending he was willing to sell the football club but in reality never ever up for accepting the market price from potential new owners.

With the odds very much on Mike Ashley being in control for a fifteenth season, worrying reports have been increasing in the media.

The local media in particular saying that they have been told that even if relegation is avoided, the Newcastle United transfer strategy will be anything but ambitious.

I always find it amusing how the journalists covering Newcastle United, make out that targeting Bosmans (free transfers) is some kind of unique carefully thought out strategy for Mike Ashley and his minions.

Of course, every single Premier League club will always be checking out players who could potentially be signed for zero transfer fee, only though as one small part of their ongoing transfer plan moving forward.

However, the noises we are hearing through the local media, point to Mike Ashley accelerating his increasing reliance on free transfers and loans to its highest level so far, come this next transfer window.

Long before the 2019/20 season ended, Steve Bruce started talking about the club concentrating on the ‘Bosman’ market last summer.

Indeed, moving forward to the present day, since Bruce arrived 20 months ago, nine of the fourteen senior players signed have been free transfers or loans.

Joelinton, ASM, Krafth, Wilson and Lewis arriving for a fee.

Willems, Lazaro, Bentaleb, Rose and Willock in loan deals.

Carroll, Gillespie, Hendrick and Fraser on free transfers.

Players end up being free transfers normally for one of these three reasons: they are hopeless, knackered, or of dubious character – having cynically ran down their contracts in order to get far bigger wages at their next club (due to no transfer fee to be paid).

You get the very occasional one where circumstances have conspired and / or a club rewards a great servant by letting them move on with no transfer fee to pay, enabling them to maximise their personal terms elsewhere.

Ryan Fraser didn’t have a great last season at Bournemouth as they were relegated and running down the final year of his contract clearly affected him, plus in the end Eddie Howe refused to play him, one goal and four assists as he made 21 PL starts. The previous season is now a distant memory, Fraser’s one standout season in the top tier with 35 PL starts in 2018/19 producing seven goals and fourteen assists.

This season Ryan Fraser has zero Premier League goals and two assists, indeed of the 20 times Fraser has been available for the Premier League matchday squad, Steve Bruce has only selected him nine times and only in two of them has he played the full 90 minutes.

I don’t know what to think of Ryan Fraser really, I’d like to imagine him recreating that one season when he really looked the part, but I just think that all of the ‘effort’ he put into running down his Bournemouth contract in order to leave for nothing and maximise his next bumper contract offer, has finished off his chances of ever recreating that golden season. The player we were all told Newcastle were signing (seven goal and fourteen assists in a season), in reality no longer existed.

As for Jeff Hendrick, we were told it was a no-brainer, getting a Premier League midfielder for nothing.

Hmmm, well getting a midfielder who in four Premier League seasons at Burnley had scored only nine goals and registered a feeble five assists. A midfielder who we have come to discover is about as easy to spot during matches as it is to see him creating goals at the top level. The reality is that Newcastle have been saddled with a player who is not Premier League level and who they gave a four year contract to on far more money than he should have got, due to him being a ‘bargain’ free transfer.

Mark Gillespie I have no problem with, a new third choice keeper, no real risk or drama there.

However, there is now talk of Andy Carroll getting a third contract! Another bargain free transfer, even though he has now scored only one PL goal in three years! It is an illusion with Carroll, people say stuff repeatedly about how if he gets back to the form he showed so many years ago…that is never happening!

Going back over the past decade, these are the free transfers that Newcastle United have brought in under Mike Ashley (2010-2020):

Dan Gosling, Sol Campbell, Shefki Kuqi, Sylvain Marveaux, Demba Ba, Mehdi Abeid, Jack Colback, Jesus Gamez, Ki Sung-yeung, Andy Carroll, Mark Gillespie, Jeff Hendrick, Ryan Fraser.

It makes a depressing read with not many success stories.

The only stand out success was Demba Ba, 29 goals in 51 Premier League starts. However, after arriving on a free due to a contract clause when West Ham were relegated, as he quickly started knocking in the goals and kept asking  for a pay rise after having proved himself, Mike Ashley kept saying no. Only 18 months later, he left to sit on Chelsea’s bench, the West London club willing to pay him market rate wages and Demba Ba triggering a release clause for a £7.5m transfer. Other than Ba, it is a sorry tale.

If NUFC do survive this season and Mike Ashley continues (accelerates!) down this free transfer and loan route this summer, then for sure it will mean Ashley’s third relegation was only temporarily delayed.

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