Mark Brophy

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NUFC Spin Campaign Attempts to get Fans Back Onside

Derek Llambias suggested in his answers to the Chronicle’s fan questions that Newcastle fans need to stop the ‘abuse’ of Mike Ashley as it will affect how he runs the club. That could create a dangerous precedent.

Is he suggesting Ashley would deliberately run the club badly to spite fans? If he means that it may affect the amount of money he’s prepared to put into the club then he’s talking nonsense. What money Ashley has put into the club up to now hasn’t been some kind of gift to fans he wishes to impress. It’s driven by the bottom line. He’s had choices since the moment he bought the club and the losses began to roll in. He could have sold and cut his losses. He could have refused to put money into the club, and watched it fold. His other option, the one he took, was to cover the company’s losses in the belief that he could turn the business around and move it into making an operating profit, at which point he could begin to have his loans paid back. The option he chose is the one which allows him over time to recoup every penny he’s put into the club. It certainly isn’t altruism, a favour which could be withdrawn at any time. It is the route which makes the most financial sense for the owner. To do anything different as a result of some singing and shouting he disapproves of would be to affect his ability to make a profit.

The danger arises in the possibility that Ashley and Llambias don’t see their current policy as having cut spending down to the bone. Maybe they think they can curtail recruitment entirely, continue with sales of the highest-paid players, and replace them only with youth academy graduates stepping up into the first-team squad, while maintaining the income of the club. That would mean aiming at bare survival in the Premier League. The club hierarchy have seen first-hand the damage that relegation does to the club balance sheet, and they wouldn’t want to repeat that deliberately. Even so, a policy of no recruitment while selling, aiming at surviving and nothing else would be a difficult one to pull off, indeed it would almost certainly fail eventually. I think they can see that too.

As an aside, Llambias also equated selling Andy Carroll to selling his house. You can have no intention of doing so, but if an unexpectedly attractive offer is made you have to take it. I don’t disagree with that part. What I disagree with is his subsequent decision to put the money in the bank and go and live on a park bench because houses are so expensive.

It’s the first time Mike Ashley has even hinted at the possibility that abuse from the stands might sway his decision-making. “It’s human nature” says Llambias. “I think most of us would feel exactly the same.” In the day or two leading up to this, Alan Pardew broke his post-window media silence and gently criticised the hierarchy for not pulling off the signings he would have liked. In addition, he mentioned that Ashley’s relationship with the fans made his job more difficult. Now, we either believe that the two sides of the club management released entirely unrelated statements without telling each other at roughly the same time, or we assume that there is a common purpose to them both. What could they be trying to get across to the public? Pardew gets across that he’s on the side of the fans, he wants a new striker, and that was what was agreed with the Chairman. The board get across that they were trying, perhaps incompetently, to sign the striker that everyone thought the club needed to improve the playing staff, but also that such a policy might well change, and that the abuse doesn’t help anyone, least of all fans champion Alan Pardew. They are very probably right, but the idea that Ashley will deliberately damage his existing investment because of it just doesn’t ring true.

This has the appearance of a spin offensive meant to get the fans off their backs, both through fear of the consequences of continuing and by simultaneously promoting an image of wanting to do the best they can for the club. Continuing abuse of Ashley no doubt is getting under his skin, but more likely the main driver is visible evidence of attendances starting to reduce.

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