Sunday, 14 September 2008

Double blow.

This is an update to my post of a week or so ago about the situation at Newcastle. It is necessarily football-related, so if such things are anathema to you, then feel free to ignore it.

This evening Mike Ashley has released a statement about his intentions to sell the club. The full text is here, and it is well worth reading for a look at the emotional and logistical problems running a modern football club. It makes me feel hugely sad to see someone who has managed to get hold of something they love and respect feeling backed into a corner to the point where they need to give it up. I love Ashley's attitude to being an owner who's not afraid to mingle with the fans, and up until the end of the summer, I think he had the backing of the vast majority of them.

Possibly the only thing Ashley did wrong was underestimate the double-edged sword that is Keegan. Getting him back was a master-stroke, and meant that as long as Keegan was happy, the fans were happy. Unfortunately the flip side of this was that if Keegan became unhappy, so did the fans, and this unhappiness boiling over into protests was the least that could be expected if such a popular person is percieved as having been forced out.

The only mention he makes to the transfer issues at the centre of the recent problems is to say that he prefers to buy young talent rather than big names, and that this conflicts with what the fans want. He says: "The fans want this process to happen more quickly and they want huge amounts spent in the transfer market so that the club can compete at the top table of European football now".

I agree with, that this is a misreading of the situation. The fans want success, and they want the team to play good football. They will be willing to wait 3 or 4 years or longer for the success as long as the team is playing good, passionate football. We would much rather be an Arsenal than a Chelsea, but to talk about nurturing young talent on one hand and then selling James Milner, one of our major proven young talents, on the other is to send confusing messages.

Ashley's plan for the club is brilliant on paper - it is exactly what we need as a club. Had the statement come out as a plan of action at the beginning of the season, every supporter would be behind it. Even Keegan must have been behind it in theory. The only differences come in practice, when the wage bill needs to be cut, and the manager insists he needs to keep players. When we need replacement squad members, but the manager doesn't like the ones the scouts have found. When the scouts go over the manager's head and the board buys the players anyway. These are the areas of disagreement. These are the areas the fans and manager are unhappy.

Ashley then says: "I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. I have listened to you. You want me out."

I don't think this is necessarily what the bulk of the fans do want. I think the fans are reacting to the loss of Keegan badly, and lashing out. If Ashley really wants what's best for the club, I think he needs to stay and prove to the fans that he has their best interests at heart.

After reading through his statement and looking at the work he has done, I think most fans would want him to continue to run the club. I think they want someone in charge who is passionate, and I doubt we'll find anyone better than Ashley on that score. We also want a manager who is passionate, and we'll never find someone better than Keegan on that one. Ashley and Keegan are the perfect people to run the club together, and to lose them both in under a month due to what seems like a personality clash, or a disagreement of style, is heartbreaking.

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