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To be a good chairman you need to:

  • Understand buying a football club is not a business investment.
  • Not worry about being liked
  • Have a long term plan
  • Appoint the right people
  • Know how to handle your money

Buying a football club is not like buying stock that when the time is right you can sell and make a nice profit, nor is it like a retailer where you buy stock cheap and sell it with profit margin. All credit goes to Mike Ashley for his successes, he has amassed a formidable portfolio and that is down to being a shrewd businessman, but the world of football and business is not one that always can always co-exist peacefully – Lord Sugar can attest to that. Now is this a problem with businessmen in football or is it the other way round, where football clubs don’t want to act like a business, even though they generate millions of pounds each year.

Football has always been a sport, but now more than ever it is a business and clubs need to understand that. Arsenal, Newcastle and a few English clubs understand that just like many clubs in Germany, but when you have clubs like Portsmouth and Glasgow Rangers seemingly with no understanding on how to run a football club you have to question what some owners and chairmen are doing with their clubs. Mike Ashley now understands that if he is going to sell the club, and wants to make a profit, then he needs to develop the club into an attractive venture to all potential buyers.

The fans do particularly care if their club gets sold or if the person selling makes or doesn’t make a profit, all they want is their club to be in the best possible hands. Manchester United fans may have quietened their discontent towards the Glazers, and Liverpool fans seem to be happy with the American they now have owning the club compared to the two they had before so it doesn’t matter where they come from, but more importantly how they can better their club.

At the moment it seems Mike Ashley is doing his best to make Newcastle as desirable as possible, although some of the steps he has taken have still upset the fans, mainly the renaming of St. James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena. I can fully understand a new stadium having its name branded for an investment boost but a club that has such rich history as Newcastle United has with St. James’ Park, where the club is like a religion and the stadium a place of worship, changing its name was slightly insensitive to say the least.

A Newcastle supporter, that happens to be a friend of mine, said “We want a Chairman that is going to run the club and not worry about being liked by the fans having a beer in the crowd, it’s a joke!”

It’s hard to believe that Mike Ashley was regarded as a secretive and personal man because when he took control of the club he was in the crowd donning a Newcastle shirt with a beer in hand, something you don’t see most chairmen doing and it came across something of a stunt that later into a plea to be liked, which when it didn’t work, seemed to turn him bitter towards fans.

Not only did he try to assimilate himself as “one of the fans” having a drink wearing the shirt, but when the fans wanted Allardyce out he appeased them by firing Big Sam, something I don’t think this was right as he had not been given enough time to put his tactics in place. He was a success at Bolton where he had 8 years, not 8 months to change the club. Allardyce’s appointment was not one that Ashley made but did he have a plan for where he wanted to take the club or who he wanted to manage the club after he fired Sam Allardyce, because it didn’t seem like he did.

Newcastle fans want their team to play their exciting football of old so when they hired Kevin Keegan, who had been out of work for 3 years, as manager, needless to say the fans were ecstatic and even when they were losing it was almost like they couldn’t blame Keegan for it, because lets face it he is a demigod that can do no wrong up there. For me Ashley didn’t hire Keegan for his managerial skills, but rather to keep the fans happy. Relations between the club hierarchy and the fans though begun to fray and when Dennis Wise was appointed as Executive Director of Football things got a lot worse – Strangely the way the club is set up now is really no different to how it was set up then, the difference being the people in charge and the results they are bringing.

The fans are always going to show their displeasure when their club is not performing well and a good chairman will acknowledge that, but will not let it affect his decision making. With Keegan growing increasingly unhappy with how the club was set up the last straw came when players were bring bought and sold without his permission – the sale of James Milner and signing of Xisco in particular  – and again walked away from the club and would later take Ashley to court and win.

During this time there was a lot of bad press was surrounding Mike Ashley and his running of the club with Dennis Wise, Tony Jimenez, Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley being branded the “Cockney Mafia” and then things were made worse when Joe Kinnear was made manager. Neither appointment of Keegan or Kinnear seemed to be made with the best interests of the club but rather a person note to the fans. Obviously the appointment of Kevin Keegan was a this is for you gesture, while hiring Joe Kinner was a up yours, I’m doing what I want to the fans.

Things with Joe Kinnear were not working out and “Cockney Mafia” was still very much an oppressor that the fans wanted out of their beloved club so when Kinnear had his heart troubles it seemed that yet again Ashley took the chance to win the fans over with another big gesture rather than making a sensible decision and appointed another living legend Alan Shearer.

Those three appointments seemed to underline the lack of understanding on how to run a football club. It is not gladiatorial times where you sit up on high with your thumb poised and where winning the crowd was all important. Football fans want success, they want exciting football and they want stability. If you give that to them those three things then you will ultimately win them over, but more than likely they are going to praise the manager and the team and not the chairman. If Mike Ashley had the idea that he was going to be a loved figure by becoming an owner of a football club by scrubbing the clubs debt, spending money on players and appointing club legends then he was kidding himself. Being an owner of a football club is a thankless job, if he wants to be liked then he should become a comedian, not a comedic Football Club owner!

Now when he bought Newcastle United did he have an end goal? I’m sure he did and I am sure it was to make a profit. When things have looked bad at Newcastle Ashley has put the club up for sale but has never been able to reach a deal and it is not because they couldn’t find a buyer or because the buyers were not good for the club but only because they didn’t meet his valuation of the club. He doesn’t just want to recoup the money he spent buying the club and clearing the debt but also on the money spent bettering the club and still make a profit, which just wasn’t going to happen, and when they were relegated his valuation of the club was way off. When he took the club of the market for the second time when they were in the Championship it seemed to be the start of a new beginning. Chris Hughton was in charge and the football was in good hands and then when Graham Carr was appointed it seemed that the club had a much clearer vision on who to buy and where to take the club.

If you speak to any knowledgeable Newcastle fan, and there are many of them, they will tell you what an impact Graham Carr has had at the club. Since his appointment there have been a string of great signings; Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabeye, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, and most recently Papiss Cissé. These signings have helped propel Newcastle up the league to a position where now they are again knocking on Europe’s door. Carr credentials match his many years in service and with years of experience his decisions are not made after watching a player once or twice or off of DVD’s, YouTube and especially not off Fifa, Pro Evo or Football Manager where some transfers seem like that is how they have been scouted cough-Xisco-cough. If Ashley continues to have faith in Pardew and Carr and can resist cashing in on their best players, much like when they did when they sold Andy Carroll, then the future is really their oyster and I for one would be very happy for them. Though they sold Carroll and now have Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé.

Now this is something that has already been touched on twice so far, but will now do so in a little more detail. I believe if the right people were appointed in the first place that 1. Newcastle wouldn’t have been relegated and would have reached this point by now if not surpassed it and 2. Mike Ashley would not be so maligned.

To begin with Ashley had inherited Sam Allardyce and so can not be held accountable by the fans for that, but when the club needed stability, firing him I felt was a mistake whether the fans do or not is another matter, he should have made a decision based on fact rather than opinion, and if he had always wanted to have someone else in charge I find it hard to believe that it was always going to be Kevin Keegan. I also can not believe anybody in their right mind could have though that either Joe Kinnear or Alan Shearer were going to be the people to lead Newcastle out of the dark place they were in. If you are in charge of a multi-million pound company then he should be used to making tough decisions, some that may not be favourable to all, but ones that are going to progress them forward and Keegan, Kinner and Shearer were never going to do that.

I was dubious of whether Chris Hughton was able to lead Newcastle back into the Premiership but soon it was clear that he was the right man for the job and so when they were in the Premiership and doing well things looked to be promising. Everyone felt that under the circumstances, dealing with the off field pressures, that Hughton was managing them into a good future, so when Mike Ashley sacked him everybody was left a little dumbfounded as well as confused and some angry. No one could see the logic in firing a manager that was doing a good job and was finally bringing back pride to the club and the fans. People from across English football, from past and present, came out and voiced their discontent and disappointment in the way he had been treated.

“Regrettably the board now feels that an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward” read the statement Newcastle United had released, so when they appointed Londoner Alan Pardew, who also happens to have a close relationship with Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley, alarms bells started to ring and the term “Cockney Mafia” was rearing its ugly head again. Personally I couldn’t see the logic in firing Hughton and replacing him with Alan Pardew, as I didn’t believe that he had the credentials to lead Newcastle forward, but, again like with the appointment of Chris Hughton, I was wrong. Pardew has gone on to lead Newcastle valiantly to a place where fans are pinching themselves. If Newcastle can add a few good players, lose some dead weight and keep their best players then Newcastle will have finally reached similar heights they saw under Kevin Keegan in the nineties as when they were the Entertainers

As the owner you have to know how to spend your money, you have to trust the people who work for you that they are giving you the best information so that you can make the right choices and make the best decisions and as I have highlighted already, Mike Ashley now has that. Having had various Managers at the club a host of players have come and gone, some players have come in that have been great for the club, while others have been nothing more than useless. In some respects relegation was a blessing in disguise, as it showed who was at the club for the club and who was there for the money. Under Mike Ashley’s reign the players to have come in, not including loans, are; Mark Viduka, Joey Barton, David Rozehnal, Geremi, Alan Smith, Cacapa, Jose Enrique, Habib Beye, Abdoulaye Faye, Tamas Kadar, Jonas Gutierrez, Danny Guthrie, Sébastien Bassong, Fabricio Coloccini, Xisco, Kevin Nolan, Ryan Taylor, Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Leon Best, Cheik Tioté, Sol Campbell, Dan Gosling, James Perch, Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon, Demba Ba and most recently Papiss Cissé for a combined total (roughly) of £103 million.

And leaving Newcastle; Scott Parker, Titus Bramble, Antoine Sibierski, Olivier Bernard, Kieron Dyer, Paul Huntington, Nolberto Solano, Peter Ramage, Stephen Carr, David Rozehnal, Abdoulaye Faye, James Milner, Shay Given, Charles N’Zogbia, David Edgar, Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Sebastian Bassong, Claudio Cacapa, Mark Viduka, Habib Beye, Damien Duff, Fabio Zamblera, Andy Carroll, Wayne Routledge, Jose Enrique and Joey Barton for a total (roughly) of £122 million.

Some good players have come in and some good players have gone but in the end they have recouped more money than they has spent. Mike Ashley looks to be spending wisely now, thanks to Graham Carr and the scouts at Newcastle, with my point being there is still money that can be invested in new players which doesn’t require selling any of their good players. Losing the wages of the likes of Michael Owen have no doubt helped balance the clubs books no end, with the same being said for Sibierski and Bramble, but they have lost good players such as Enrique and Barton, Nolan and Andy Carroll but remarkably they haven’t missed them. Well if you ask any fan they will say they haven’t but honestly they have missed Jose Enrique at left back, but that is beside the point as Mike Ashley is the scapegoat for any money spent poorly. If Papiss Cissé hadn’t scored the goals he has, people would bemoan Ashley for spending £9million on him, whereas in fact Cissé has, so far, been a success and everyone is cheering Pardew and Carr’s name and that is something Ashley is going to have to get used to.

In regards to changing the name of St. James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena, I understand that in modern day football, a club has to bring in money as many was as they can and so when Arsenal built their new stadium and took the opportunity to re-name it, much like what Manchester City have done, to raise more money or fund the building costs, it made sense but would Arsenal or City fans gone along with renaming Maine Road or Highbury, I don’t think they would have. Newcastle released the statement that the change was a temporary measure to “showcase” the sponsorship opportunity to “interested parties” with Derek Llambias stating that “Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income.”

Although it was said to be a temporary measure only, surely it has been long enough that if no interested parties have come forward by now that maybe they should change it back and it doesn’t help when Derek Llambias comes out and says “Do you think me and Mike call it the Sports Direct Arena? We call it St James’ Park, because it is St James’ Park.” Yes it may be St. James’ Park to the fans and always be St. James’ Park, but it has Sports Direct Arena posted all around the stadium, the same company that Ashley owns – a nice bit of advertising there! That is also a huge part of that fans annoyance. If McDonalds paid £100 million to call it the McDonalds Arena Newcastle fan would be distraught, at least the Emirates or Etihad Stadium has some ring to it, some sounding of class to it. If it was names something like that I am sure, in time, they would get used to it, but at the moment if no one is paying for the rights for it they should keep it St. James’ Park.

Honestly, no, not in my opinion. There is so much attention on what he does and doesn’t do right that it is hard to be impartial but there are other owners around the premiership and at other clubs around the world that are doing a worse job than him. Newcastle do not have millions of pounds worth of debt or mind boggling refinancing ventures nor are they on the brink of liquidation. In fact now they are spending money wisely and not signing players to crazy contracts. Yes Ashley has been insensitive at times and has made mistakes, but now he understands where he has gone wrong and is trying to make amends for that, so if he can stay out of the news and Newcastle continue progress in the league, sign some good players while keeping their best, then people will soon sign his praises, okay they may not sign them, but he won’t be such a vilified figure any more, that’s for sure.

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4 thoughts on “Is Mike Ashley finally learning?

  1. I think this is an excellent article! The only qualm I have is that I don’t think we have missed Enrique. Santon (for the most part) has been a very suitable replacement. Again though, great read and you raised some very good points!

    • Santon has done well, and i think it was a great piece of business buying him, Inter are going to rue letting him go, but I think he could have played RB while Jose stayed LB

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