What really IS our transfer policy?
There was always bound to be intense speculation surrounding the Magpies` summer transfer activity, particularly since the sale of Andy Carroll in the dying moments of the January transfer window.
Information coming out of the club has been limited, particularly since the infamous "club statement" of May 2010 which came shortly after Newcastle United returned to the top flight. However, current manager, Alan Pardew was reported as saying that the club would reinvest the Carroll cash.
At the time, newspaper and TV headlines indicated that the cash would be spent in the summer. The key part of those headlines "in the summer" does not seem to be backed up with any reliable quotes, the closest being these words from Pardew on 1st February 2011: 'I told Mike Ashley that the money has to be reinvested in the team and he agreed that all the money will be used." The key words "in the summer" seem to be a media creation, the timescale being indeterminate.
It will also be noted that the Keegan tribunal report highlighted that the Ashley regime, "repeatedly and intentionally misled the press, public and the fans of Newcastle".
Going back to the summer of 2010, the "club statement" also sparked a flurry of interest. Key to this was the phrase "There is no plan for new capital outlay on players". Capital outlay can be interpreted in a number of ways, from the funding of transfers purely from cash, i.e. no instalment plans, to being no significant investment.
Bizarrely, at the time, different models were suggested to the Geordie public of maintaining a place in the Premier League. Key among those were Birmingham City, now relegated, and Wolves who escaped relegation last time around by a mere point. Both of these had invested £10-15m in strengthening their squads.
The bargain basement signings from summer 2010 for Newcastle were Chiek Tiote, who has shown his potential. Ben Arfa was signed on loan, breaking his leg early in the season and signing a permanent contract in January. James Perch has established a Premier League record of his own, albeit a disciplinary one, whilst Sol Campbell rarely figured as has now gone, Dan Gosling also being a free signing and also yet to make his mark.
Following on from Carrol`s departure, the only person to score more goals than him for Newcastle last term, Kevin Nolan has also been sold. Rumours persist that Barton, Enrique and perhaps several others are also up for grabs.
There have of course already been incoming players this summer. The first of these was Yohan Cabaye, a midfielder whose fee is reported to be similar to the one received for Nolan from West Ham. Demba Ba has made the return journey from the Hammers, having first established himself in the German 2nd division, another player with an injury history and who cost nothing, as did Sylvain Marveaux, who had an injury plagued last season with Rennes.
The first signing of July is teenager Mehdi Abeid, highly rated by Peter Beardsley after training with the reserves at the end of last season and who impressed while playing for the Lens B team.
On the finance front, yes it is clear from the accounts that Newcastle United has made a loss since Ashley took over the club. A large part of the reason was the club being relegated 2 years ago. Arguably, this could have been the fault of Ashley himself, who apparently disregarded supporters` pleas for investment in the squad during the January window of 2009.
If media estimates and reports of transfer fees are correct, despite the overall losses, the club has achieved a transfer surplus of close to £50m over the last 5 years.
It is interesting to note that the club`s financial year ended on 30th June. Of the Carrol money, a relative pittance has been spent, the amount being the difference between the fees for Nolan and Cabaye. However, through the accounting process of amortisation, that difference will have negligible effect on profit.
Looking at the finances of the club for the year just closed, estimates are that a profit will have been made in excess of £50m. Premier League income is up compared with the last top flight season, in part due to extra overseas TV deals. Costs have been cut, not least players` wages by over £30m. Operating income, before transfers, should have been in excess of £100m, augmented by the sale of Carrol, who having come through the ranks, represents clear profit on the transfer account.
In addition, season ticket sales for 2011-12 provide a solid start for revenue generation in the new season. There is plenty of cash available if it is to be believed that Ashley is not seeking to have his loan to the club repaid.
It is distinctly possible that the focus of the owner has changed since the infamous club statement. On the finances, the statement suggested that Ashley opted to "state clearly that every effort will be made by the Board to achieve a 'break even' financial situation by 2015." Breaking even does not tally with a £50m profit.
The squad clearly needs investment, not least in the striking department. The leading scorer still at the club, Shola Ameobi, has yet to reach double figures during a top flight season, despite his admirable strike rate of better than a goal in every 3 starts. His career has largely been spent as a back up despite being 30 next October.
Leon Best, despite his Hammers hat trick has yet to play a full 90 minutes in the Premier League with Lovenkrands surely approaching the end of his career without being considered a regular scorer. Nile Ranger has also been made available. Cover at left back has been a long term issue.
The first season back in the Premier League started reasonably well, with Hughton leading the squad to away wins at west Ham, Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea in the Carling Cup on top of the home demolitions of Villa and Sunderland. Pardew`s last 18 games have yielded a mere 3 wins, 2 of them against our former models for survival, Birmingham, the other against Wolves. He surely needs impetus to avoid the sackings he experienced at West Ham and Charlton.
Supporters are mindful that actions speak louder than words. The end of the financial year has raised questions as to whether the Carrol money really will be spent. The Carrol sale itself suggests that Newcastle under Ashley is a feeder club with a view to profit. It remains to be seen if any more are sold. It also remains to be seen whether past injury records are indicators of future reliability.
Pardew has got his excuses in early, with the notion of "second season syndrome". He regularly points to his record of "success" in the transfer market whilst using funding levels as excuses for his poor performance at Charlton.
Despite optimism in some circles about the French revolution on Tyneside, it remains to be seen whether a lack of investment will lead to a storming of Bastille de St James by the downtrodden supporters.
Will Llambias XVI and his consort, Antoinette Pardew end up being guillotined by Ashley, or will his new republic survive? Many of us still hope for our own Duke of Wellington to arrive and ultimately give Napoleon Ashley the boot.