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Opinion

Only two possible outcomes at Newcastle United – Explains why in dire straits

6 days ago
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Newcastle United is a football club like no other.

That is of course what we would say as fans of this extraordinary club, when it comes to pride in NUFC, the beating heart of the city for almost 130 years.

However, when it comes to comparing the modern day Newcastle United to the other 19 Premier League clubs, then it is off the scale.

These 14 years (and counting) of Mike Ashley’s reign (already over 10% of the club’s entire history has been whilst in his ownership) have made certain things absolutely clear.

When in the Premier League under Ashley there are only two possible outcomes, either relegation or survival.

On a basic level you could of course say that about every PL club, that each season all 20 of them either survive or are relegated. However, what I’m getting at is something entirely different to that.

At other Premier League clubs they have an ever moving / changing target depending on the health of the club at that moment in time.

Take for example Leeds United. Coming up from the Championship last season, they had decent investment in the playing squad last summer, backing Bielsa’s vision. I’m guessing that mid-table was where they were aiming for, using the momentum of promotion, looking to get a foothold back in the top tier without any relegation scares. Sitting eleventh on 42 points with eight games remaining, it is pretty much job done, obviously trying to improve a few places if possible in these remaining games.

This summer, they will once again look at what their realistic hopes and aspirations are, BUT this time from a starting point of having a PL mid-table team / squad. I think they will bring in more players and the objective to aim for will be something like top eight, then just maybe if everything clicks…could top six be a possibility.

This is what a normal Premier League club does. Other promoted clubs in recent times have aimed for similar, the likes of Wolves and Aston Villa. Wolves came up and finished seventh in both of their first two seasons, this time they are going to fall below that and end up somewhere mid-table, but they’ve never been in any relegation trouble. In the summer they will look to go again, aim for top eight or whatever.

Villa ended up only surviving on the final day of last season but then redoubled their efforts last summer after survival, aiming for mid-table as a minimum and currently ninth, possibly going to exceed their hopes / expectations. Once again, this summer they will be looking at how to progress now as an upper mid-table club, not one that just cheated relegation on the last day of the season.

For Newcastle United, this is not how it works.

It is either survive in the Premier League, or be relegated.

If survival is ‘achieved’, then Mike Ashley’s aim doesn’t change, it is simply finish 17th or higher and he doesn’t really care where within that ‘plan’ the final position is.

The best illustration of what I’m getting at, is the summer of 2012.

Building on the basis of Chris Hughton’s team, Graham Carr made a couple of inspired signings in Demba Ba and Yoham Cabaye in summer 2011. This helped spark an out of the blue fifth place finish which at one point looked like it could even end up top four.

Mike Ashley’s reaction wasn’t normal, he didn’t build on this unexpected rapid shift up the table.

With everybody, including Alan Pardew, expecting significant investment in that fifth place team / squad, instead Ashley refused to allow any net spend in summer 2012. Only the very average squad player Vurnon Anita was signed, paid for by the sale of a number of fringe players including Fraser Forster.

It was like bursting a balloon, that fifth place team / squad never looked the same again, very few of the individual players ever showed the same level of form. Newcastle went from fifth in 2011/12 to only staying up when they won their final away game at QPR, even this was only achieved due to a relative Mike Ashley spending frenzy in January 2013 to save the situation (from relegation). This perfectly summed up the NUFC owner, will allow spending when really worried about relegation BUT not when it comes to spending on ambition.

Mike Ashley’s only thought after finishing fifth, was that this meant Premier League survival was guaranteed the next season without having to make any net spend on players. That is what happens when you have no plan / ambition, almost getting relegated only a year after finishing fifth.

The other big consequence of showing no ambition / long-term plan, apart from survival season to season, is that your best players think what is the point?

You look at Leicester, they have reaped the ongoing rewards of keeping Jamie Vardy, paying him the big money necessary to keep him. They also kept Mahrez for a further two years after winning the Premier League, giving him a new much improved contract in summer 2016, before finally selling him for a massive £60m to Man City. A club doing their best to think big and look beyond just the next season. You have other clubs doing the same, such as Villa giving Jack Grealish serious money to try and keep him long-term.

At Newcastle United, Mike Ashley and his media allies just wanted to go down the route of calling the likes of Demba Ba greedy and lacking loyalty. If back in summer 2012 Newcastle had shown ambition by adding more quality to the squad and rewarding their top players, especially Demba Ba, with improved contracts, there was every chance Newcastle could have established themselves as regulars in the top six, top eight at worst.

Instead we have this brinkmanship of it simply being about surviving, hopefully, the last 10 Premier League seasons under Mike Ashley have seen two relegations and at least two other near things, reaching safety when winning that final away game (QPR) in 2012/13, then reaching safety on the very final day in the 2014/15 season – the Jonas Gutierrez match against West Ham. Now we have yet another relegation fight in 2020/21, which means at least five of eleven PL seasons have been either relegations or close things, basically averaging every other season.

Demba Ba left in January 2013 and actually, by sheer luck, Mike Ashley fluked it again in 2013/14, not a single player bought in summer 2013 but the loan signing Loic Remy helping to give Newcastle another golden chance of proper progress. After Boxing Day 2013, Newcastle were sixth in the table on 33 points and only three points off fourth, six points off the top.

However, instead of showing ambition, building on the first half of the season, Mike Ashley sold Yohan Cabaye in January 2014 and bought nobody. After picking up 33 points in the opening 18 matches, Newcastle only got a further 16 points in the final 20 games, ending up tenth.

Only two possible outcomes at Newcastle United each season and this explains why NUFC are in such dire straits.

Each summer is just rewind back to the basics of hopeful survival and rolling the dice yet again. Clubs such as Leicester have built themselves to a level where a bad season now is dropping down towards mid-table if things go wrong, for Newcastle United, if things go wrong it is another guaranteed relegation fight with every chance of losing it.

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