After a decent start to the season, reality is starting to bite. We are in a relegation battle and it will take all of Rafa’s skills as an elite coach and our support for the team to stay in the division. If anyone is looking for someone to pour bile onto, then that man is Mike Ashley. No-one else and certainly not Rafa Benitez or any of the players.
There are players at United who frankly should have been moved on in the summer with warm thanks for a job done. Unfortunately, Mike Ashley betrayed Rafa and put his own interests ahead of the club and we are where we are. Those players had to be retained because deals would not be sanctioned for upgrades.
Who really thinks Diame, Perez, Mitrovich are players Rafa seriously considers as players he can build a competitive PL team around? Who thinks Rafa got excited at the prospect of working with Manquillo, Joselu and others? These were what Rafa was left to pick from the unwanted bargain bin of football. His budget was set by Ashley. It was controlled by his man Justin Barnes who spent the summer blocking deals and carrying out the instructions of his boss – Mike Ashley.
We heard this last week Rafa set out clearly that Newcastle United could not compete on fees or wages offered by Huddersfield and Brighton as well as Burnley. Previously we scorned Alan Pardew for candidly admitting he could not compete with Southampton or Swansea. This is all the trajectory United has been on with Ashley. The man has degraded our club for his own purposes. This isn’t even an argument any more.
We are now in the midst of a take-over that may or may not proceed. Every bit of information I have had suggests Due Diligence has been completed. A light has been shone into every nook and cranny of United’s finances and offers have been made. An offer has been made which is fair for the current value of Newcastle United FC. The Ashley-side now claim there is other interest in United who are prepared to offer more for the club and are currently going through the books. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe deals of this type can be initiated without leaks about who is interested. I don’t believe in unknown parties offering a massive sum more than what the value of the club is worth. In my opinion it is a further example of Ashley’s tenuous relationship with the truth.
Teams of financiers and lawyers have to be employed and I’m pretty certain they will be from the UK. That information would leak from the financial sector in particular. I believe the Ashley side is lying and the purpose is to squeeze more out of Amanda Staveley’s side. I understand Ashley is a businessman and there is nothing that matters more to him than profit no matter how he gets it.
The current stalemate in the takeover deal reminds me strongly of how Ashley operates in the big money sales of players, namely Andy Carroll and Moussa Sissoko. In both cases fees were gained for those players (not that mattered to United of course) way out of expectation with what might have been regarded as their true value. Since both players left neither has suggested their buying clubs got value-for-money and the winner is seen as Ashley. That is where I believe we are with Ashley. Ashley must believe Staveley is desperate to buy but as we slip further down the table and the weaknesses of our playing staff is exposed, our potential new owners could be forgiven for thinking the better of it and waiting until the end of the season. There is a chance we might not be a PL team then of course and my expectation in that scenario is Rafa would walk out. After that, I’d be less optimistic of Ashley pulling off another instant return to the PL or of we supporters sticking around to bear witness to more of his abysmal stewardship of our club.
If Ashley feels he can get more for United, it can only be as a PL club. To remain as a PL club he will have to release significant funds in January to buy the players that should have been procured in the summer. There is no good-looking deal like Tammy Abrahams available so Ashley will be over a barrel. We need a quality goalie, full-backs and attacking talent. I can’t see that happening and I can guess at Ashley once again gambling again with the club’s future.
The question then is what do we do? The supporters who fill the place week after week and are the envy of the PL?
It’s difficult because we know so little about the funds behind Staveley. That remains the big mystery despite what is mere speculation in some parts of the media about money coming from Saudi, Dubai, India, the US and China (pretty much covering all of the options there). This isn’t like the late 80s when we all knew about John Hall and the ancient regime of Gordon McKeag he wanted to topple. Hall’s hyperbole captured our imagination and for better or worse (probably better) took the club over and with KK moved us into a different era (for a very, very short period). We know nothing about the people and money behind Staveley. We get delicious snippets of Man City levels of riches but nothing is confirmed. This could be more like Vincent Tan at Cardiff. We just don’t know.
But we do know all about Mike Ashley and I don’t think I can personally continue following his Zombie club should the takeover fail to materialise and/or Rafa walks at the end of the season or is so diminished and disheartened by the whole thing loses his mojo – always a possibility with Ashley’s death grip on the club.
We need to make Ashley aware of the consequences of believing he can gamble with the takeover, gamble with PL survival and Rafa as manager … and with our continued support.
I can’t see myself continuing to go to games if the worst happens. I won’t be alone but ideally there should be a concerted campaign of cancelled Direct Debits for season tickets and a ramping up of protests to make Ashley’s ownership untenable.
I have absolutely no confidence in our support behaving like that however. It is far too fractured and contrary a support for that to happen. There is no supporters’ group that has the groundswell of support and frankly as a group of supporters we lack the energy and vision that might make us a formidable force to be reckoned with. I accept as a support, we completely lack any form of leadership. We are lacking so much in being good watchmen of our club.
There might be some reading this who do not recognise this as any part of being a supporter. Who am I to lecture them? The likes of me grow ever more like an anachronism with every passing season.
Football for modern supporters appears to be less about being fully engaged with the clubs we support and more about a day on the beer and taking loads of selfies, on-phone betting, fantasy football and FIFA whateveritis. More people are watching football, supporting clubs than ever before but its transition from being the preserve of the zealot to a mainstream area of the entertainment industry with supporters hanging on the words of pundits and having their heads filled with pointless stats and SOCCER AM banter (yuk) is almost 100% complete. Insert your “Yer Da” moronic social media put-down here.
A lot fewer people followed Newcastle United (and all of our clubs) in the era pre-SKY and the PL but they did so with more intensity and commitment than the audiences at home and in stadiums. Newcastle United is absolutely no different.
I was chatting to a Mag of my acquaintance some weeks ago and we were reminiscing of the intensity of THAT Portsmouth game in 1992. There was a crowd of 25,989 at SJP that day and those present will fondly recall the explosion of joy that greeted Kelly’s famous goal. But there was something equally memorable about that game and it was the love for the club in the stands, the passion from every corner of the ground and the backing to every player in a Black & White shirt. That attendance is half of what we get now but it had a much better level of support than anything we’ve seen in recent years (with the exception of the love-in for Rafa at the end of the 15/16 season when we took Spurs apart after relegation).
Rafa talks constantly of the need for unity between players and supporters. Surely this is so obvious it should not need to be said but it does. We are entitled to our opinions and the digital world has super-charged our ability to give them. Some of the stuff I read on social media targeted to our own players is frankly shameful and embarrassing. I don’t want to share any kind of space with these people. I wonder if it will be those nuggets who drive me and many others away from Newcastle United before Ashley does. They are thick, crude and cowardly. Abuse is not an opinion and near is booing at the match. None of it serves any purpose and is the braying of morons.
So, I don’t expect any concerted effort to bring pressure to bear against Ashley and move him out of the club. We don’t have the heads or hearts for that – we’re no different to any club anywhere bar perhaps one or two exceptions in the UK.
That’s not to say a barren January transfer window and a failed takeover won’t leave a completely toxic atmosphere at United.
The club is at another one of many cross-roads. Deadline hour is fast approaching and these next few weeks could be the most pivotal in the club’s recent history. Supporters need hope. Ashley offers none of that. God knows where Newcastle United is going if the takeover doesn’t happen.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin – Follow Michael on @tfMichael1892
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