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He has been the focus of the ire of Newcastle United supporters for much of the last three or four years, but Mark Brophy is wondering whether, with the team back in the Premier League and comfortable in mid-table, this summer might be a chance to re-evaluate the club’s owner, Mike Ashley.
The recent publication of Newcastle United’s financial results for last season made humbling reading for many fans. Not because they make plain the folly of the club’s previous spending, although they do. Nor because they have highlighted how far the club has fallen since the days of Champions League qualification almost a decade ago, although they have. No, the humbling part of the results is that they show exactly how dependent the club has become on Mike Ashley, the focus of many fans’ ire.
Supporters convinced of their dislike of Ashley almost from day one have pointed to his repeated transfer-window profits and his attempts to sell the club as further proof of his desire to claw back his money and ditch his failed experiment now it’s turned out to be less fun than he thought it would be. Such fans might also say that funding by Ashley only became necessary because of his chronic mismanagement, and that he therefore forfeits the credit for making up any shortfall in Newcastle’s finances.
What is indisputable is that the financial mess was already in place when he bought the club, and that even though transfer profits have been generated during Ashley’s tenure in charge, those profits haven’t covered the operating losses of the club. Mike Ashley has personally injected between £15m-£17m of funds in recent years to balance the books, on top of the cash generated by player sales. He’s currently owed roughly £140m by the club. It’s harsh to accuse someone of asset-stripping when they are paying a proportion of the wages out of their own pocket.
So does Mike Ashley deserve thanks for keeping the club afloat over the past few troubled seasons? Is he in fact bringing down costs to drive the club forward? Thanks to the wage bill being reduced by about a third since relegation and the football staff re-establishing the club in the top flight, this season the club will have made an operating profit before transfer dealings are taken account of. Money is beginning to be generated rather than swallowed up. Assuming there to be no catastrophes between now and August in the form of relegation, the manager leaving, or a summer-long attempt to sell up, for the first time under Ashley there will also be no excuse not to start building the side. Without finance or circumstances to fall back on as a reason not to spend, it’s make-or-break time for his claims to be in it for the good of the club.
Demonstrating a wish to help the club progress doesn’t need silly money to be spent on players. What is required is merely to continue within the club’s means as it has done for the last four years, the difference being that this summer Newcastle are in a financial position to spend an appreciable net amount, even if he starts to take back some of his loans, and still end up in the black. Adding more of the transfer surplus from the current season would mean most concerns about the first team could be addressed. The wisdom of his financial plan could be acknowledged without the constraint of worry over the direction the football side of the club was heading in, ever-present up to now.
Should that happen in the summer, Ashley’s entire time in charge may have to be re-evaluated, and though many fans might feel a little shamefaced about it, they may be delighted that his motives turned out to be laudable all along. The flip-side to all of this is that if a transfer profit is made again, or if the transfer window closes on another frustrating summer without appreciable recruitment, then all fans will know exactly where they and Ashley stand. Without past excuses there can be no more hiding behind future intentions. His desire only to run the club on a shoestring and sell on promising talent at a profit with the long-term aim of recouping his investment will be finally confirmed. Purely financial ends with no agenda of sporting improvement will not be acceptable to those patiently filing through the turnstiles, and they will no longer be able to ignore the evidence of it. In that case, let the battle lines be drawn.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
You must live in dreamland or are very financially naive.
Any money Ashley has put in to the club he will get back when he sells it.
Ambition is everythng if you are to keep good players and buy better ones
Once a player has proved his worth then he should reward them to keep them at the club.
Mike Ashley treat two of NUFC’s all time heroes KK and Shearer dispicably.
Ashley needs to deliver trophies under his ownership to win my respect
Also if hehad true ambition he would increase the capacity of St.James Park to 60,000 plus
Personally, I remain inclined to think that Shearer should never have been given that job at that time, and that decisions such as that (as well as the decision to sack Chris Hughton when he did) call his judgement into serious question.
Ashley has done well for Newcastle financially but as far as taking the team forward and winning things he is falling well short. Give him time though as he should have given to past managers and tehn we can judge him on the field aswell. My view for what it is worth, he will fail miserably when clubs come calling and offer stupid money for our better players and he accetps!!
To steal shamelessly from a popular NUFC fanzine (link above), do you thank the arsonist for ringing the fire brigade?
The reason he continues to prop up the club with financial support was because of two factors:
1) He failed to do any due diligence when spending the thick end of £150m to buy the club in the first place and so was not aware of the extent of the financial issues faced by NUFC after the stewardship of Freddy Shepherd and Douglas Hall.
2) A spectacular series of terrible decisions (starting with the appointment of Dennis Wise) led to NUFC getting relegated from the Premier League.
Yes he’s pumping cash in and yes he’s taking a step in the right direction in terms of costs and wages etc, but no Newcastle fans will ever shake his hand and buy him a pint for “rescuing” us from a situation which he instigated.
George – You say I am either living in dreamland or very financially naive – then you say Ashley should put another tier on the stand to make the capacity 60000. What for? We don’t fill the ground now. Your idea of financial wisdom seems very similar to Freddie Shepherd’s, and look where that ended up. I do agree that we are now at the stage where we need to hang onto our best players though. Rewarding them for good performances etc seems sensible.
Of course Ashley’s made horrendous errors, and his tendency to accept a tempting offer for a player after the start of the season (Milner, Given, Carroll) without replacing them and just write off the season still irritates. Imagine buying a set of tickets for say, the National Theatre’s autumn line-up with a series of performances by Sir Ian McKellen the big draw, and then receiving word that the production company had agreed to let him go and perform somewhere else after receiving financial compensation. They do have Ross Kemp to fulfil the performances however. The first thought in my head would be “Can I have a refund?” I agree his judgement is hugely questionable. If he learned from his mistakes that would be something, but there’s no sign of it so far.
Roger, to suggest that he is entirely to blame for the financial situation the club found itself in is unfair, and neither you nor I are doing that. Whether he did due diligence or not makes no difference, the club’s debt would have been the same, £80m to various financial institutions with instalments due on numerous transfers. The previous incumbents have a lot to answer for, as you say. I agree he didn’t help himself with decisions which got Newcastle relegated and made the situation worse. Maybe he is just trying to get back his money. We’ll find out for sure in the summer. That was the main point of the article.
I have severe doubts that all will come good in the summer. I was just pointing out that it’s a possibility, and if it does happen it casts new light on his time here retrospectively. Don’t hold your breath.
Fair point Mark. The Shepherds and Halls were the architects of our demise without question but Ashley really hit the accelerator with his shotgun thinking.
One of the main oddities of Mike Ashley is what he actually gets out of owning NUFC. Shirt and season ticket sales aren’t where the big money is, the corporate demand has slowed as a result of relegation and economic climate, and we’re probably not a big-ticket draw for the allegedly lucrative Asian / American markets until we actually win something.
Judging by the accounts all the money he pumps in is repayable at his discretion – something I have no arguments with as it’s his cash – so he could either sell up or pass the day-to-day running on to somebody competent yet still recoup his money at some point but avoid getting his helicopter from Berkshire to Newcastle every other Saturday to have 50,000 people shouting abuse at him whilst simultaneously being a nationwide laughing stock.
Indeed some of his efforts to reduce the wagebill and transfer spending have been potentially laudable, and I am all for some sort of policy of steadying the ship and consolidating our financial position for a few years. The “make it look easy” promotion season was wholly unexpected as was our decent start to the Premier League season under Hughton.
However Ashley’s incessant knack for shooting himself in the foot took over and he yet again decided to get rid of a popular manager (again), install one of his mates from the casino (again) the proceed to undermine him in public by selling Carroll – all conducted in a cack-handed fashion with that farrago over transfer requests submitted at 5pm with Ashley’s helicopter sat mysteriously waiting on the training ground (presumably it’s there every Monday afternoon…).
With Ashley it’s always one constant skin-of-the-teeth gamble whereas a morsel of structured thinking and communication of this with the fans would go a long way. What does he get out of it?
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