NUFC board reveals its big plan for the Premier League

IF promotion back to the Premier League brought widespread excitement and optimism, they will now be replaced by doubt and fear.

St James's Park
St James's Park

IF promotion back to the Premier League brought widespread excitement and optimism, they will now be replaced by doubt and fear.

Newcastle United are back where they belong in the top flight, but how on earth are they going to stay there?

An official statement released by the club last night contained much sense about balancing the books, producing their own players and generating sustainable success.

But there was also plenty to spread panic and enough to spark outrage among supporters who should still be basking in the after glow of promotion.

The timing of the statement – which implies Newcastle intend to consolidate their place in the top flight without spending any money on new players for a squad, the core of which was not good enough to stay in the Premier League 12 months ago – was significant, for it was released on the same night as the climax of this year’s Premier League title race.

As a government spin doctor might put it, bad news can always be buried on a busy news day. But, for many, this statement was much worse than that.

For some it will be an outage, for others just a depressing reconfirmation of Mike Ashley’s true colours.

He seems to have only ever put his own money in when he needed to protect his investment. He appears to be not a benefactor, but a cold, hard businessman who, like his sport shops, will cut costs wherever he can.

Having offered a crutch after the crippling effects of relegation, he has whipped it away again as soon as the worst was over.

Newcastle owe their owner money and he wants it back.

Mr Ashley will not be spending any more of his own cash to support the club as a business, which is both his prerogative and his right, but where is the extra money generated by promotion going? Promotion is estimated to be worth an additional £50m a year to a football club, but that money will be used to clear debts – the bank’s and his – while Newcastle United as a football concern is left to fend for itself.

Could that have been done less ruthlessly, some going towards consolidating the debt and the rest on transfers?

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley

There is one major, glaring, inexplicable flaw in the five-year business plan, a flaw that sends a shiver down the spine, despite all the warm words about the Geordie nation and spiritual torches.

Everything is supposedly geared up to ensure Newcastle United break even before the start of the 2015/16 campaign, yet they have absolutely no chance of doing so if they do not stay in the top flight until that point. Mr Ashley likes a gamble, but this is a massive one. Clearly, he believes the squad is good enough to remain in the top flight without having to be significantly strengthened.

He will point to the examples of teams like Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City, who held their own during the season that’s just closed.

Yet he seems to ignore the fact that these clubs spent around £20m last Summer in order to ensure their squads were strong enough to compete at that level.

Newcastle United have an excellent Championship team, but that does not mean they will have anything like a good enough Premier League one. They have shown remarkable team spirit and commendable will power to return to the top flight at the first time of asking, but camaraderie and togetherness only gets you so far.

What good will excellent Championship players be against Premier League ones?

During all the promotion celebrations, there was an eye on the future. In every player interview there was a mention of new signings. The right sort of new signings, but new signings nonetheless.

They clearly expected the squad to be strengthened. Now they will be left disappointed like everyone else.

And then there is Chris Hughton, the manager who dug Mr Ashley and Newcastle out of a hole of their own making, the manager who has always toed the party line and spoken eloquently about the support of the board and, more recently, confidently told of the backing he would continue to receive.

He has talked about the need for three or four new faces and had begun to draw up a list of potential targets, but that list was pointless.

He will be shopping in the bargain basement, among the free agents and loan signings, trying to make the best of a situation nobody above him will ever talk about again.

This was not an official club statement, it was a public relations disaster and he has been left to deal with the fallout.

 

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