Part 1 – Don’t Look Back in Anger
I don’t know Mike Ashley. I’ve never met him. I’ve written to him several times without reply. So to write about MA is as a distant observer, informed by the media and the actions he’s taken. This blog is thus based on allegations made by the media and my corporate experience of the behaviours of business executives.
MA is rich and powerful. Not that rich compared with the owners of Chelsea and Man City (the latter of whom allegedly wanted to buy Newcastle first but were frustrated by MA’s negotiating tactics) but rich enough to spend circa 10% of his net worth on a football club.
He strikes me as being very tough to deal with but generous if you make money for him. He’s a street/internet trader who surrounds himself with very smart people to run his retail business for him. IMO he’s tried to run Newcastle like a retail shop and from a financial perspective one can argue he’s been successful. Newcastle is in much better shape now than it was when MA took over. But the question remains, why did/does he bother?
We get mixed messages. We are told that MA considers a good position in the PL is far more important than winning a cup (I’ll agree with that) BUT MA knows that to win anything, if the team doesn’t have the full support of management, it isn’t going to happen, AND if by commitment and talent Newcastle did win some silverware then MA’s stature would increase significantly. Does he care? I don’t know. Does he want to win? Methinks, yes, otherwise why would a billionaire be in business, whether in sports gear or football?
In the PL, IMO, the top 6 places are already spoken for. We might get a chance at one of the cups but that’s it for as long as MA is in charge because he can’t compete financially with owners of Man City and Chelsea. Not unless we produce three or four ‘Gareth Bales’.
So what motivates MA? The answer seems to be winning money, whether it’s the turn of a card or an astute business deal. I’m told he had the chance to sell Newcastle for a vast profit 3-4 years ago. I wonder if he regrets that decision. He would undoubtedly still make a profit from the £250M or so that he’s invested in the club but there aren’t any suitors coming to the fore – are there?
Does Sports Direct benefit from being linked with NUFC? Possibly but our brand image/value isn’t in the top 6 again, and on a worldwide scale you then include the Barcas, Bayerns and Reals of this world. So if MA’s purpose for running a football team isn’t brand development, what else could it be?
Ego? After buying 300 pints and flurry of ‘what-a-nice-fellahs’ MA, later, stabbed Kevin Keegan in the metaphorical back. His popularity and Newcastle’s quality of football plummeted. The fickle and ‘racist’ singing against his southern heritage began. BUT, he ascended to become almost a forgotten man when Newcastle came 5th a couple of seasons back – and that’s about the kindest Newcastle supporters have been toward him, since KK left. The ‘fat cockney’ song was left out of the NUFC hymn book until things went awry again. Within 6 weeks of the start of last season, “Get out of our club…” was resurrected.
It can’t be fun listening to 40-50,000 Geordies telling you to go back to Enfield or wherever you come from. If MA was in it for the ego, I don’t feel he is now, otherwise he wouldn’t turn up for the earful he gets game after game.
Maybe he wanted a football club as a toy, albeit an expensive one. Maybe “MA bought Newcastle because he lost a bet”. I’ve heard that rumour too.
Whatever his reason, he’s found that a football club, especially Newcastle, can’t be run the same was as you run a shop. Or can you?
You’ve got the store manager and a bunch of exorbitantly paid customer service staff, supported by a back room of shelf stockers, HR Recruitment, Finance and of course an in-store consultant who’s familiar with world class best practices (JFK????) oh- yeh and you’ve got a cache of 50,000+ customers once a fortnight or so. You compete against bigger shops who pay their staff more money. So maybe running a shop ain’t that different apart from…
To win you can’t use the pack-em high, sell-em cheap method. You have to select (players) carefully and if you sell then sell high. But to sell players high, they’ve got to play well. And if you’re in charge, a lot of that’s down to you and having the very best store manager, recruitment and training staff that money can buy. (AP + ???)
MA might command little respect from the fans but I suggest this is a secondary problem. I wonder what the tight-lipped players and staff think of him. He has a reputation for saying one thing and doing another. Added to which he throws in JFK whose command of football, to me, seems about 10-15 years out of date.
Can you imagine the smirks, ironic smiles or raised eyebrows that JFK gets as he stumbles over their names? They must shake their heads in amazement at the buffoonery, finance apart, that sometimes goes on in the halls of power at Newcastle.
I suggest that MA does not command the respect of the players nor is he meeting the aspirations of our best players. This is partly why they want away when the likes of Arsenal come a knocking. I don’t expect Cabaye, Remy, Ben Arfa, Tiote or Sissoko to stay beyond their contract because they’ll be wanted by clubs who will match their career aspirations.
Newcastle is alas a selling club, but to MA’s credit he has its most valuable assets locked into long term contracts and ‘the shop’ is making enough money not to have to sell-em cheap.
All the world’s a shop.
Howay the Lads
Paul C Burr