Date:Sunday February 20 2011
This has been a good week on the field for Newcastle United`s owner. An away win at Birmingham sees Premier League safety within reach, but did a former player`s comments reveal the darker side?
The Ashley era started positively. The signings flowed inwards, experienced players in the shape of international defenders from across the globe, seasoned England midfielders and more. The man in the Chair was Chris Mort, a lawyer on sabbatical, looking after our interests.
Mort might not have been a football man, but he has undoubtedly been successful in his own field, and now back with his internationally renowned firm. When in the hot seat at St James`, he always had time to answer questions. His routine press briefings were always measured.
Kevin Keegan was brought in as manager under the Ashley/Mort regime, the supporters reacting positively to an appointment that harked back to some of the most scintillating football produced for the Geordie people.
Things changed in the summer. Mort`s year away from law came to an end, to be replaced with Derek Llambias in June 2008. Llambias has a background in casino management, a recreation clearly enjoyed by Mike Ashley, and reputedly by the latest manager too.
It may be coincidence that things blew up while the owner was away pursuing business interests in the United States. Llambias was left in charge as signings were made without the approval of the manager. Keegan walked, later effectively judged to be in the right. The statement at the time was that Keegan had resigned, but that the club were "sad and disappointed" to lose his services.
What followed was a series of managerial appointments, some appearing bizarre. Relegation came at the end of the seaso, with a number of contracts expired and not renewed. Some players were sold, among them Obafemi Martins who this week said that he did not want to leave, echoing press reports at the end of the relegation season. He happened to be the most saleable asset at the time.
Promotion ensued from the Championship, the man in charge of team affairs now former coach Chris Hughton. His media interviews were always dignified, perhaps even cautious in not building up hopes too much, but the team delivered on the pitch. Supporters criticised sometimes, but supporters do.
Following promotion, communication came in the form of club statements, the most significant was 9th May 2010. Media contact was regulated, the club would comment on some things but not others. The manager would be restricted to team affairs. The "statement" contained ambiguities, one of which was clarified with another unclear statement a mere two days later.
So as the team made a stable start, with some excessively high points, Hughton was dispensed with the "club" perceiving the need for a "more experienced" manager. The man with more experience proved to be casino frequentee Pardew, whose Premier League experience consisted of a relegation with Charlton and a 9th place with West Ham, before being sacked whilst in a relegation position. The Hammers survived with 7 wins in 9 games under Alan Curbishley.
The "club" left Pardew to his own devices after his appointment. For the first time in living memory, a new manager was introduced without any of the club`s officials in support. Pardew called the city a town, and mispronounced the name of his predecessor, Chris Houghton, under who as a coach, Pardew played his career total of 4 games in UEFA competition.
Newcastle United has a new dawn of communication. From day 1, Pardew announced that he has received assurances before signing his contract that Andy Carroll would not be sold. He professed his ability to persuade owners to invest in the squad, in later interviews suggesting the low points of his managerial career were down to a lack of investment in players.
Even at the start of the transfer window in January, his assurances were flowing that Carroll would not be sold, he was going nowhere, not at any price, not under any circumstances. In early January there was going to be a signing, maybe two before the next game.
The transfer window saw one injured loan signing arrive, Carroll sold, the only recognised left back cover go on loan and the only recognised right winger heading in the same direction. Oh yes, the injured loan signing was confirmed as permanent.
A manager as principled as Keegan might have resigned, but not the man seen in Aspers casino with Ashley and Llambias as the owner dropped almost £1m.
Like Martins, Carroll said he did not want to leave. The club had "reluctantly" accepted young Andy`s transfer request. Pardew defended the "club" line, saying that Andy did not have to put in his transfer request that he did not have to get on the helicopter and that he was no longer here. There was no mention that it was Ashley`s helicopter, primed and ready to fly to Liverpool. Does a Geordie really not want to wear the number 9 at his own club?
Former Fulham manager and club captain under Keegan, Chris Coleman later pointed out that, as with Charlie Adams at Blackpool, the club did not have to accede to the request, and if they had no intention of dealing, could have done as the Blackpool Chairman did, turn off his mobile so as not to receive calls from Liverpool.
A pattern has been established, Keegan resigned, Carroll did not want to leave but handed in a transfer request, Martins did not want to leave but money talked. Other players` contract negotiations are also in the public domain, Steve Taylor having also been transfer listed after not agreeing to a new contract.
The club is positively portayed through journalists who need to fill column inches. According to Pardew he has received assurances that the Carroll money will be invested in the squad. Presumably those assurances are more concrete than the assurances that Carroll would not be sold, not at any price, not under any circumstances. Those journalists who do not spout the "club" line are banned.
The positive stories will no doubt generate cash for the club, through regurgitating a potentially false optimism that the club has a plan, not least for reinvestment. Players and managers who leave will continue to be held up as transfer seekers, as turning their backs on the club.
A body of supporters has right to be sceptical. Will the funds be reinvested? Will players who want to stay be allowed to stay? Does the club have ambition?
There was speculation that Ashley was mugged., a man who was prepared to play Spoof to settle fee disputes, a man who seems to enjoy a gamble and gambled hundreds of millions of Pounds through not doing due diligence on his Subutteo kit. Is he trying to mug supporters in return, as he offers a 10 year season ticket deal, or is there genuine ambition for what now looks like a selling club?
Communication is welcome, accurate communication is more welcome. The future of Newcastle United remains to be seen. Despite the lapdogs in the traditional media happily rolling over to have their tummies rubbed, the genuine supporter is still prepared to bite. Club spin will not see us chasing our tails.
Date:Sunday February 20 2011
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