First, let me preface this piece with a dutifully flattering disclaimer. I used to work for The Mirror’s online sports desk and without their superb editor Matt Lawless, I would not have the career that I have now.
This notwithstanding, however, after having the fallout of Neil Moxley’s piece on Newcastle United’s transfer policy clog up my Twitter feed, I feel the need to assuage some concerns.
The article appears, at its best, a speculative comment; and at its worst, a steaming pile of garbage. I won’t go as far to call it fake news, as there are admittedly some truthful elements within it, but these fall into the bears-in-woods category of revelations.
So, let’s pick it apart. Moxley claims that United owner Mike Ashley is set to undermine the progress the club has made by implementing an unpopular policy to recruitment cohering around re-sale values. There was a time when this was the case for the club and it led to relegation.
When Rafa Benitez joined United, though, a crucial caveat of his appointment and later re-appointment, was that he would have a contractual assurance regarding transfers. To renege on this would lead to his resignation and by extension, the club’s consignment to the Football League wilderness. Ashley is, above all, a businessman and it seems unlikely that even he would willingly force Benitez out.
The article, which features no direct quote from Ashley throughout, posits that United will look to sign young players with their best years ahead of them. This seems plausible and hardly Earth-shattering. I can’t name a club that actively seeks to sign ageing players with their best years behind them, at least not with that as their publicly declared remit.
Moxley also suggests that chief scout Graham Carr will have a more prominent say in playing staff. That he already has a prominent say in playing staff seems of little consequence to Moxley.
Newcastle spent heavily in the summer, yet still ended up with a £30m surplus. If this demonstrates anything, it is that there are some merits to the Ashley model. But the key to success lies in compromise.
It wouldn’t be a disaster for Newcastle to target young players, but ultimately Benitez must be afforded a privilege of veto. He has this, we have been assured quite emphatically. Why else would a Champions League winner be braving Burton away?
The Ashley model of yore was flawed because it didn’t recognise urgency and there was unnecessary dalliance over a great many deals. No such hesitation has defined the Rafalution so far. Newcastle identified what they needed to win the Championship, collaboratively, and Ashley delivered the players Benitez demanded.
If two years pass without a single permanent signing being made again, perhaps Moxley can call me out. There are plenty of rods with which to still hit Ashley’s back, but if money is really what matters to him, he will not displease his golden goose.
I’ll end my riposte with another disclaimer. The article serves a purpose – that is to drum up traffic. As to the morality of journalism, there’s a whole debate to be had. I have no issue with the piece being published – it’s neither salacious nor outright untrue – but I retain my right to not believe it.
I’ll start panicking when I see something similar by Craig Hope.
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