I didn’t hold out much hope for any kind of decent result down at Leicester but I didn’t think either the result or the performance would be quite so shockingly bad as I witnessed at lunchtime Saturday. Neither did I imagine John Carver would depart so dramatically from professional standards in his post-match comments about his players, one player in particular, as he did.
Let’s be honest, Carver will not have been alone in thinking Mike Williamson got himself deliberately sent off at Leicester. It is a wholly reasonable judgement to make given the circumstances of his utterly reckless “tackle” on Vardy. But it’s one thing Carver thinking that or accusing the player of the same in the dressing room or man to man in the privacy of the manager’s office at the training ground. It is quite another to go on national TV and slaughter Williamson in front of millions. Although Williamson is out for the next two games, it is not inconceivable he might be needed for the West Ham game but he now has a man, regardless of whether he is worth it or not, who is completely finished as a Newcastle United player.
Carver’s broadside at Williamson will also take the lid off a number of other incidents in the last month too. I firmly believe that if Williamson can be accused of deliberately inviting a red card, then the exact same accusations can be levelled at Coloccini, Sissoko and indeed Janmaat. This cynical partiality on behalf of Carver raises wider issues regarding his fitness to lead a professional sports club but also the judgement of the men who allowed that appointment to proceed, namely Charnley and Ashley.
Why either Charnley or Ashley or possibly both would judge that John Carver could lead a Premier League side for half a season or even dress it up as some kind of trial period for a full time appointment only they can explain. Even the most cursory of glances at Carver’s previous career shows him to be utterly ill equipped to manage a football club in the most unforgiving league in the world. What have Charnley or Ashley seen in John Carver in the four years preceding his ascension to manager at United that they felt equipped him to be the manager of the club? Only they can and should explain their reasoning. They won’t of course.
Of course I’m being disingenuous. We all know what the qualifications are to occupy a senior position at Newcastle United entail. It is unquestioning obedience to Mike Ashley and compliance with his credo of low cost, balance sheet management and it is that which has blinded those who have been over-promoted to behaving in the way they do. And it is that zeal to unquestionably bend the knee to Mike Ashley which have brought the inevitable catastrophe the club is now facing.
I can’t be the only one to have heard the nick-name Charnley is known by at St James’ Park amongst club employees – Mini-Mike, in recognition to his slavish kow-towing to Ashley. His desire to out-Mike, Mike.
Now don’t get me wrong, you can’t have people in senior positions at the club who are completely opposed to the owner and I do lay ultimate blame for all of this to Ashley himself but any organisation needs a degree of creativity, challenge, innovation and ideas from within to it as an institution. Do not mistake that for rancour.
People should be allowed to have a good row (within professional boundaries) with the boss, to put their cards on the table, slam a few doors and have the occasional shouting match. Unfortunately at United, Ashley has promoted people to positions of authority – the MD, Head of Media, Head Coach, Supporters Liaison Officer, whatever.. who are so far out of their depth but simultaneously grateful for the opportunity they have fluked and desperate to maintain it (in the full knowledge they would never secure a similar position elsewhere) that their way of dealing with the position they are in is to fall to their knees and take every word from Ashley as cast in stone. I can’t believe that in other parts of his business Ashley’s executives don’t go to him with ideas, suggestions about how they can improve the business, do things differently, tweaks here and there but at United it is blind, unthinking obedience where everyone tells Big Mike what he wants to here for fear of being the messenger that gets shot.
So, if Ashley asks Charnley f he believes there is enough at the club to get through a PL season, Charnley for fear of incurring the wrath of his boss will nod in the affirmative. When Carver is asked by Charnley if he believes he can get the squad to the end of the season, even lose a few first teamers, then because he wants the opportunity to manage United and he is unlikely to get an alternative offer on anything like the same scale, he will say yes because he knows that is the answer Charnley wants to hear.
None of it is real though and those of you who have worked in any kind of big organisation will recognise the lap-dog syndrome. There are few who have the bollocks to tell the boss there is insufficient resource to hit any corporate targets. And it is in that world that corners are cut, stats are fiddled and the whole enterprise descends into farce. I heard some wisdom a few years ago from a senior politician at a conference I happened to be at with my work: “you hit the target, but you miss the point”. Its one of those maxims I’ve managed to retain and its one I’ve quoted again and again.
If anything transfers more eloquently to Newcastle United right now then it is that quote – “hit the target, but miss the point”. For Newcastle United under Ashley, the target is profit, minimum outlay, maximum return. But the point is a football club worthy of the description and all of those corners that have been cut, the lack of investment in key positions and so on means that the club which mind-boggingly still has the seventh highest wage bill in the Premier League has completely missed the point of itself and that is to be a credible, competitive football club. Missing the point is likely to mean that Newcastle United could descend into ruination in the next month.
Who is to blame? Well, ultimately it is Mike Ashley for presiding over such a toxic and destructive culture at the football club he bought. But it is also the responsibility of those in key positions at the club who have placed their own careers ahead of the greater good of Newcastle United. People have an awareness of their limitations and those people have choices. I don’t have any empathy whatsoever with their selfish aspirations when it comes to the destruction of Newcastle United FC.
As I have said many times before, you cannot develop a sporting integrity, a pride in the shirt, if players are simply brought to the club to use it as a stepping stone so they can move onto better things and United can pocket the transfer fee. That is no way to build pride in the shirt. That is no way to attract and retain supporters to the club. This cold, corporate mean-ness will convince the mean bean counting logic of Ashley but it will ultimately form the parasite upon the body it feeds from and it will destroy it. As it is now doing.
But I also blame the players. I accuse the vast majority of players on that massive payroll of utter cowardice – that means the notional captain, Coloccini, a player who I have admired but now who is utterly spent as a professional and as a leader. Add Williamson, Goufrann, Cabella, Riviere, Ameobi, Obertan, Anita to that list. It’s not exhaustive.
We don’t need pundits to rage against them on live TV as several have done in recent weeks to understand that there are players coming off that pitch who have cheated tens of thousands of pounds from Newcastle United every week. All are complicit. All of them are shamed by their complete lack of professional integrity. They are taking the piss out of Newcastle United, these sullen, spoilt, self-absorbed over-rewarded popinjays whose names, if the indignity of relegation befalls us will be forever reviled within the history of our club.
How is it resolved? It will never begin to be resolved whilst Ashley is in control of Newcastle United. The club is broken from top to toe. It is populated by lickspittles – Moncur, Carver, W. Taylor, Charnley, Beardsley – none of them bring anything positive to the club other than subservience to their pay-master. People have choices. They have chosen to be the human shields around Mike Ashley. These are the people who enable Ashley to destroy our club and whilst they could be replaced by a similar ilk that does not excuse them of their culpability. They have made their choices, they have chosen their sides.
Obviously, it is unlikely Ashley is going to exit United between now and the end of the season and even if he did, it would not lift us from our current malaise.
Newcastle United has three games left between now and the end of the 2014/15 season. It desperately needs points to avoid taking a relegation spot that is drawing it like a magnet.
There are those who believe a relegation might provide the cleansing the club requires. That without global exposure for his company and a reduced value for United, Ashley will cut his losses and sell up. No-one can say with any authority if that is right or wrong.
Conversely, there are those who believe if the club remains in the PL we will be a more attractive proposition to sell and buy. Again, it’s supposition. What I can say with every confidence however is that whichever scenario befalls us, if Mike Ashley’s control over our club continues then the club will continue to rot from within. Lifelong supporters will walk away and the club will cease to be anything like the institution we have all loved for so long. On that score, it may already be too late.
No-one can say with any authority what any future owner’s intentions might be but that reminds me of someone staying with a partner they no longer love or respect because they are afraid they may never meet anyone better in future. I can say though that the club needs to be fumigated. It needs to be loved by the people who own it and who work for it as well as the people who support it. The club desperately needs to be reconnected with its community and the support – whether that is in the Premier League or the Championship, League One or whatever.
Ashley has to go.
But ahead of Saturday’s game and I can honestly say I genuinely fear for the immediate future of Newcastle United. The bloke calling the shots has no commitment beyond the balance sheet and he has surrounded himself with mealy-mouthed, knee-bending drones who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.
The players look like they have bailed out. The modern footballer plays for himself and I imagine many of them have already checked out of the club ahead of summer moves.
I don’t know of one player on the club’s books who can rally the troops and lead us to a win on Saturday.
Our club has been in these spots before. Some of us can recall testing times in ’92 and after relegation in ’09 – but we were saved by heroic performances and something of a unity between the players and those supporting them. We had grafters, leaders, characters on and off the park but as things stand right now we have none of that.
This is desperate.
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