Mark Brophy

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Taking Stock


So Deadline Day has come and gone again. The end of January tends to be a twitchy time for people of the footballing persuasion, wondering if their club will make a signing which will change their fortunes for the better, but also whether they’ll lose key performers. Will they sell to buy, speculate to accumulate, cash in or sit tight? For Newcastle fans it means something different to supporters of most other clubs. After seven years of Mike Ashley, we know that there isn’t going to be a sudden change of emphasis, a push to succeed. It’s a better than evens bet in fact that in some way our season will be abandoned, either by the loss of key players or a manager without replacement.

The deadline day I speak of isn’t February 2nd 2015, when our transfer window was less slammed shut than had its frame painted over. No, it’s January 31st, the annual last opportunity for the many with ten-year season tickets to cancel, this time for the 2015/16 season. Every year without fail come agonies of indecision as people aware they are being taken for a ride eventually decide they quite like talking to their friends and drinking beer while they are being taken advantage of. I know, I’m one of them. It’s interesting I think that as the seven years have gone by there has been less and less rumour released each time to persuade us to hang on.  This year the club’s reported activities were almost completely without artifice. They publicly stated they wouldn’t be making a permanent head coach appointment before the summer. The only recruitment rumours involved a host of teenagers, many without a first-team appearance to their name. None of it designed to change the minds of potential recusants anyway. It’s almost as if they’ve realised they don’t have to bother peddling us bullshit about superstar signings that might happen just after our last opportunity to cancel our renewal. More than likely we’ll choose not to cancel for another year anyway.

The final day or two of the transfer window did provide some interest however. After the window shuts is a time to take stock. This time Newcastle had 6 loanees going out and no-one coming in. In terms of squad depth none have made much impact on the first team recently, though Davide Santon has been unavailable through injury for a fair period. Our defensive roster looks scarily thin but it would take a very unusual set of events to bring the absence of the loanees into play. Remie Streete is out of contract at the end of the season and is unlikely to return and Santon supposedly has a buy clause in his loan, but the loans should if anything help the other loanees come back to the club as better players. Barring Santon, the other five are all on loan at Glasgow Rangers of course. Playing under pressure there will hopefully bring them all on, just as Mehdi Abeid’s spell at Panathinaikos did last season, so the loans should benefit Newcastle in a playing sense. I expect them to benefit Rangers as well. Shane Ferguson, Vuckic and Bigirimana have all made appearances in the English Championship and Premier League and have enough pedigree to make an impact in the Scottish Championship. I’ve not seen Streete play but Mbabu is an athletic full back who might well play a part too.

Inevitably bearing in mind Mike Ashley’s interest in Rangers, the deal itself has come in for some scrutiny. I believe it tells us a lot about Ashley’s intentions for both clubs. Ashley has essentially moved assets from one part of his empire to another. That would be fine in most fields of business, he has to coin a phrase taken stock from one outlet and sent it to another. If Newcastle fans don’t like the money they pay into the club subsidising Ashley’s aspirations for another part of his business, this is only the most visible manifestation so far of something that’s been going on for ages when you consider the free advertising for and murky merchandising deal with Sports Direct. In football however there are concerns about the integrity of competition. It’d also be interesting to know if this multiple loan deal was part of the conditions of the financial loan provided by Ashley to Rangers a week or so ago. In sending fringe players to Rangers Ashley has been careful not to jeopardise the on-field ability of Newcastle, all the while greatly improving the chances of Rangers getting back into the SPL if not automatically then via the playoffs. The quicker they can get back there, the quicker they have an opportunity to qualify for European competition. So Ashley is making an effort to get Rangers back to success as soon as he can without affecting Newcastle’s ability to compete in their own league.

The clear implication is that he wishes to hold onto his interest in both clubs. The English Premier League TV deal provides seemingly ever-increasing riches year-on-year to a middling club like Newcastle which can’t be matched even by the most successful Scottish clubs. The untapped potential in Newcastle’s position is in Champions League prize money, and it’s likely to stay untapped. Once Rangers get back to that top division it will be a lot easier and take a lot less financial outlay to get them into the Champions League than it would Newcastle.  It makes a lot of sense from Ashley’s point of view to keep Newcastle ticking over in mid table as an undemanding cash cow, and push for Rangers to reach the Champions League. That way he gets the big money from both major sources available, as well as the advertising exposure from Premier League and Champions League TV for his sporting goods business, with the minimum spending to achieve it. Far be it from me to suggest I know the mind of the man after all these years of incomprehensible decisions, but if he cocks a snook at the SFA and their attempts to restrict his control of Rangers, all the while upsetting Newcastle fans by making them essentially unable to play in Europe ever again thanks to UEFA rules forbidding owners having two clubs in the same competition then all the better from his point of view. Newcastle fans hoping Rangers’ pain might offer them a way out could well be disappointed.


1 Comment

  1. fateck says:

    Brilliantly summed up.

    Yup – as a regular customer at Ashley’s newly-acquired Glasgow warehouse ,who once enjoyed a day trip to his similarly-sized but more upmarket Newcastle outlet (Bolton, 0-0, first day of Keegan’s last stint), I’m under no illusions about the man’s intentions for both institutions. To have two of the biggest clubs in Europe simultaneously operating under caretaker managers, indefinitely, seemed like a reinforcement of his corporate mission statement for the benefit of the new customer base north of Hexham.

    He’ll exploit the potential just far enough to earn him a profit but no further. As you say, Mark, this should actually work out better in Glasgow where the PTSD caused by 2012’s liquidation makes frugality suddenly as important as winning every trophy in sight. And he does need to get us into the Champions League to maximise brand exposure. This is infinitely cheaper to do at Rangers or Celtic than breaking through England’s coterie of gazzilionaires – and taking a transfer fee for a manager he was maybe gonnae get rid of anyway also makes it seem he’s merely protecting NUFC’s fiscal integrity. But this idea is blown out the water by, ye know, not signing anyone, replacement manager included, to ensure that side at least stays in this league of billion-pound TV deals. And, of course, we’re equally aware he could just be using Rangers as scrap metal.

    There’s always that suspicion with Ashley will let you disintegrate so steadily that any slowing of the process seems like investment.

    Like everyone else, I’d love to find out what he’s up to, I’d love to find out how long he’s been up to it (all the gnashing of teeth about potentially selling the Ibrox naming rights – turned out he’d bought them for a quid before we even made the Sports-Direct-signs-at-St James’ connection) and I doubt we ever will. the SFA are knocking him back but he keeps bankrolling us. Why? He doesn’t pretend to have any affection for the club – and this actually an improvement on the busload of “I love the atmosphere at Old Firm games” shysters who’ve sleazed through the doors since Murray sold up in 2011.

    Ashley’s unsubtle in his intent but the execution of his venality is impressively deft. The recent intention to use Ibrox as security against his £10 million loan (£3m of which he instantly repaid to himself) caused mass furore up here. But it meant his subsequent use of everything else we have – car park, training facility, bloody great office building – as security seemed comparatively painless. Made you wonder if the “Ibrox as security” bit was a double bluff.

    The crowds are down here. Way down. No ten year season tickets. But we sold out our allocation at Hampden on Sunday and I think the current attempts by other parties to wrest control from Ashley in the next few weeks will, if nothing else, at least clarify his intention for Rangers. There’s a big leak in this warehouse – new goods are soon dampened when they arrive and start decaying. The 5 new lads will hopefully protect each other from the utter depression which has swamped the extant team and staff – and fans. They only have to play adequately, for four months, and they’ll be heroes. Rangers are awful but the rest of Scottish football is coming back to meet us. Those players could have been the difference last week, against Celtic, far less the impetus which will get us into the top flight through the play-offs.

    And, if that happens – if we do go up this season – the summer transfer window will show what Big Micky Two Clubs is really all about. If he’s still in Glasgow. And if anyone still cares.


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