Date:Thursday October 20 2011
In the depth of a weekend, the club has released a "mission statement". Was there any need for it to be secretive?
The previous club statement had been released in May 2010 after promotion. The message was austere. The club had been making losses, but the club would "break even" within 5 years after astronomic losses.
Much of the statement related to how the media would be dealt with, agents had restricted terms on which to operate. The manager, Chris Hughton, had a limited remit on which he could talk. On the flip side, every Geordie would have a chance to play for his home club.
A lot has changed since then. Hughton was dumped, looking forward to the contract negotiations that had been promised. Carroll was shunted on, having had a chance to play, and make a profit for, his home club. Players that the new manager wanted to keep, ostensibly, have also been sold or given away.
Against that backdrop is a bolt from the blue. The new Mission Statement carries a totally different tone. It is worth a second look.
It would be easy to be critical. The club is to be self-sufficient, as compared to the owner once being prepared to put in £10-20m per season. The financial mess has been cleared up, by an owner who by all accounts did not do due diligence when buying the club.
The club is anticipated to have made an operating loss before transfers last season, the £35m for Carroll being totally ignored. If 12th last term was an achievement, it was no better than the state Chris Hughton, minus support from the board with a replacement for Calderwood, left us.
On the plus side, the language used appears much less dogmatic than the one in May 2010. It seems more conciliatory in tone. There is a focus on the positive and a focus on the supporter, or "fan" as the Southern bunch in charge seem to prefer to call us at times.
It probably helps that a benign fixture list has given a good start. The "fans" are happy, although long term "supporters" have every right to be suspicious. Last season`s survival is put forward as an achievement. We even have a transparent objective of a top ten finish this time round.
The introduction recognises "the passionate support in the stands". We even have our own section, with thanks going to those who made the club among the best supported in the country, with recognition through the pricing scheme. There may have been ulterior motives but at least an effort has been made.
The improved financial situation is heralded. This might be a reduction in losses, the club`s estimate being a loss of £4.7m from last season. This differs from ToTT estimates. Perhaps the extra TV revenue gained from overseas was overstated. It might be that the management of the club has driven down commercial income more than expected. We shall have a better idea when the annual report is finally submitted. Has the club modified its accounting principles?
Although the transfer surplus is not mentioned, the financial situation is presented positively. Newcastle United is well placed to meet the Platini proposals on financial fair play. The financial stringency is not put forward in gloating terms. Neither is the provocative language of "no capital outlay" used. The moderate tone is recognised.
A clue to Ashley`s approach comes in the signing of players. It seems that we now pay up front, with some incoming fees being paid in instalments. For those of us who were shareholders, we are given the opportunity to understand cash flows through the club and how the debt to Ashley might be reduced.
Unsurprisingly, transfer activity focuses, not on departures or transfer profits, but on the signings. 7 new players were signed. Yes, supporters will be aware of the marginalisation of Steve Harper, Rob Elliott taking the place on the bench and in the Carling Cup. We are also aware of the failure to land a replacement for Carroll and look forward to seeing that these conciliatory gestures will be matched by genuine action in January.
With progress coming from the club, there still seems to be a grey area. The Mission Statement suggests that wages have risen by 7% compared with last year. With high earners Campbell, Barton, Nolan and Enrique gone and other players out on loan or with contracts terminated, perhaps the club should seek to clarify exactly how the wage bill has gone up. Mr Llambias has once again failed to be open to challenge.
The club has also sought to bring our attention to 3 other positive areas. The irony of stability, after sacking a record breaking manager in Chris Hughton, has been couched in positive language once again. One may be left wondering how Hughton may have performed with the backing of a coach devoted to the Newcastle United cause (John Carver). However, there are promises to be lived up to.
Youth development has been highlighted, reflecting the nature of the Carling Cup squad. There has been investment in training facilities. Time will tell whether this strategy is merely to add value for transfer profits or whether this is a genuine commitment to developing the club.
The conclusion brings us back to supporters. Yes, we are supporters not whimsical "fans" this time. The board, in words at least, recognise the importance of the club to the region and those of us with strong links back to home. Whether meant or not, there is recognition that as custodians of the club, their tenure is secondary to the place of Newcastle United in our city and our lives.
There are still efforts to be made. Llambias has yet to face public challenge over the direction of the club and the validity of statements. Ashley himself has been reclusive when it comes to communication. The biggest mistakes that have been made under this regime have not been apologised for.
Nevertheless, the Mission Statement is a huge advance from the pungent status quo that had settled over the club. A positive attitude to the supporters who rebelled over Keegan, relegation, lack of reinvestment, Hughton and other key players could mark a sea change in relationships between the club and support if appropriately followed up.
How the transfer surplus and the number 9 shirt will be handled will ultimately be evidence that this statement is more than just words. Actions always speak louder than words.
The Mission Statement can be seen in full on the club web site: http://www.nufc.co.uk/articles/20111016/newcastle-united-fc-mission-statement_2281670_2483862
Feel free to discuss on the message board
Date:Thursday October 20 2011
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