Saturday, December 11, 2010

Could someone please buy Newcastle United?

I have to admit, I have zero affinity for Newcastle United. I find them an entirely arrogant and inward looking bunch who insult every other passionate football fan in the World with their constant references to their self appointed status as the best fans in the World and all the blethering about the Geordie Nation. I know many people from South of the Watford Gap who have run the gauntlet as an away fan at St James' and I can assure you they are not the best fans in the World. Plenty of other fans are just as dedicated and as long suffering in the face of constant mediocrity yet they make much less reference to how they are a huge club, a sleeping giant, no one loves their team as much as they love theirs etc (repeat ad tedium). Newcastle United is not a special club to anyone who is not a Newcastle United supporter in just the same way that Swindon Town or Bradford City is not special to anyone who doesn't support them either. You are a mediocre club, live with it, get over it and move on.

Having said all that and alienated myself from everyone whos' grandfather worked in a shipyard or whos' favourite singer is Jimmy Nail, I do feel incredibly sorry for them at the current infliction of having Mike Ashley as an owner. Whilst I cannot claim to know much about Mr Ashleys' business or his business accumen, the utter incompotence he has shown as the Newcastle owner means I can only take one view on his prior success - right place at the right time. Never have I seen a person so completely out of touch with what is a pretty simple equation.

The start of Ashley's reign was marked by his donning an ill fitting black and white strip and downing pints with the fans before kick off. Matthew Harding did something similiar at Chelsea and whilst not wishing to talk ill of the dead, other than being a pretty good bloke with a bit of cash I don't think he really did that much good for Chelsea. Love him or hate him, it was Bates who built Chelsea from the ground up although he very nearly overshot before the Russian Rouble bailed him out. It is a cheap marketing trick, nothing more.

Anyone with one iota of business sense knows that the boss in whatever form he may take has to keep a professional distance from the troops. It is essential to retain respect from those around and under him. Ashley's was a poor and tacky attempt to ingratiate himself with the fans. Prior to his company going public and his purchase of 'The Toon', Ashley was barely seen in public and shyed away from all and any kind of publicity. He is clearly someone not comfortable in the public environment and the beer swelling nonsense that ensued was the result of a man clearly ill at ease and with no public relations experience.

Now we come to his dealings with managers. Ashley can possibly be excused for the departure of Allardyce. I am personally an Allardyce fan but he was not universally popular at Newcastle with the fans and nor was he Ashleys' appointment. Results were mixed but probably comparable with his predecessors. I feel he would have turned things around but once you've lost the crowd it's tough to find a way back. Allardyce duly left by 'mutual consent'.

Ashley then made his single biggest mistake by sensationally bringing back the Geordie Messiah, one Kevin Keegan. Now I have nothing against 'Wor Kev' but he is not a top class manager. He is a good Championship Manager (not the PC game) but a mediocre top class manager, tactically inept and an utter victim when it comes to the pyschological warfare employed by other managers and the press. Everyone could see he was emotionally ruined after his first stint at Newcastle. Bringing him back however gave the Geordie Nation incredible false hope whereas the reality of the situation was he was doomed to failure.

Ashley's bigger problem however was that he had hired someone seen literally as a Deity on the Tyne meaning it was impossible to remove him safely when the inevitable parting of the ways was required. The hiring of Dennis Wise at the same time was bizarre to say the least & I have no idea what little Dennis was doing upping sticks from Leeds to take what seemed a very odd position at St James' Park and one that clearly did not sit well with Keegan from the outset. Ashley had single handly engineered a position for himself where he could only alienate the entire Newcastle support - which he duly did. Results were poor, the management structure was disfunctional and Keegan left claiming impossible working conditions, the natives were up in arms with huge and increasingly nasty protests against Ashley and Wise.

Ashley at this point put the club up for sale, citing personally safety as an issue. He then almost comically appointed Joe Kinnear, an obnoxious dinosaur from a bygone era of English football with an archaic management style. This and the continued presence of Wise did not sit well with the Toon Army and a continued rising against the 'Cockney Mafia' ensued. Ashley continued to ask a vastly inflated price for the club - ignoring the financial meltdown around the entire world at the end of '08 and early '09. Newcastle were relieved of  Kinnear by his falling ill (we wish him no ill health on this blog by the way) and in yet another dramatic twist, another (but worthy) Newcastle hero returned to take the helm in the shape of Alan Shearer as caretaker manager. Whilst a managerial rookie, his understanding of the game and the club proved a popular choice. Unfortunately for Shearer, the situation at Newcastle United was beyond repair and they were duly relegated. One thing he did however achieve it would seem was the removal of Dennis Wise.

Ashley again put the club up for sale and whilst not wishing to commit to contracts which would interfere with that sale, Ashley again erred by not tying down Shearer as the permanent manager going forward - a situation that would have absolved him of much in the eyes of the long suffering fans. Shearer wanted the job and has always been seen as a Newcastle manager in waiting. Ashley's position might have been difficult had Shearer failed in the same way as Keegan and had he been required to remove him but football as a whole seemed united in the consensus that Shearer would have done a good job. It should have have been a sound appointment.

Ashley however did not offer Shearer the job and Chris Hughton was given his chance. Hughton until his ludicrous sacking this week had duly done a fine job. I felt Newcastle could have gone into meltdown smiliar to many other relegated clubs in previous years, possibly being relegated again. Instead Hughton won the Championship at a canter returning the club to the Premiership with the minimum of fuss. With little or no money available, Hughton had done a solid job again this season. Sure they have had several defeats, a couple heavy but they had also thrashed Sunderland, taken a point from Chelsea (doesn't everyone at the moment!?) and won at the Emirates. Newcastle look safe in mid table which is the most that they can genuinely expect.

Ashley however and with no good reason decided to sack a manager doing a good job and both popular with the players and fans. Surely this would have only made sense had he lined up a superior replacement. Jose Mourinho? Pep Guardiola? Arsene Wenger? No it's Alan Pardew.

Again, I have nothing against Pardew personally but he is a mediocre Premiership manager with a mediocre record and fans polls this week revealed less than ten percent of Newcastle fans want his appointment, it is almost as if Ashley is trying to deliberately upset the faithful. Hughton was still learning as a manager yet was able to get the job done well and it is within the realms of reason to premise that Hughton could (and hopefully still will) develop into a fine manager. Pardew we have all seen before and not one fan, expert or player has come out and said this is anything else than a debacle. Anyone who wants to the buy the club now also has to deal with the fact also that Pardew has a huge five and a half year contract whereas Hughton was the lowest paid manager in the league. Pardew is walking into a job with the fans outraged at Ashley's latest lack of judgement. He will have a tough job to win over the fans.

Whilst I have stated my indifference to all things Newcastle United, the fans and the city do not deserve the the cancer that is Mike Ashley which is destroying their already traumatised club from within. Surely even as a businessman with no love for football he would act in a manner that would protect his own investment? Football chairmen are a varied and often unpleasant bunch (with many exceptions to that second quality I might add). Most however with the exception of Peter Risdale seem to have either some business sense or at least their own self interest at heart. Ashley appears to have neither of those business qualities and his utter lack of understanding of the situation at Newcastle strikes of a man of little intellect, which for a self made billionaire beggars belief. Please turn off the lights on the way out Mike.