Newcastle United fans had their patience rewarded at the weekend and have now been asked to persevere with the club’s off-field strategy too.
The Magpies were made to wait until injury time to secure their first home win of 2014 at the weekend and in the results that appear most important to owner Mike Ashley, they posted a profit for the third year in a row yesterday.
With frustration growing at a perceived lack of ambition, supporters were urged to take a long view of their strategy.
Newcastle’s results were presented through the prism of Financial Fair Play, the system designed to stop European clubs living beyond their means. They used it as justification for his modest target of a top-ten finish this season, although United insist this is the start, not the limit, of their ambitions.
“Finances are a significant issue for all football clubs given the introduction of Financial Fair Play into the Premier League in addition to Uefa’s Regulations,” read a club statement accompanying the results. “Complying with FFP continues to be a key influence on strategy and something we have been working hard at over a number of years.
“Everyone at this club wants to finish as high up the Premier League as they possibly can. If the club can sustain itself as a ‘top ten’ team year-on-year with a stable structure and the right finances, it gives itself every chance of pushing even further.”
Newcastle put their post-tax profit of £9.9m for the year ending June 2013 – up £8.5m on the previous year – down to “player trading, a strong commercial performance and a significant reduction in operational losses”.
Player sales, including Demba Ba’s to Chelsea, brought in £11.1m, as opposed to £28.7m going out – most notably in signing five French players in January 2013 – but after “amortisation”, which reflects the changing values of players, a £10.6m profit was declared.
The wage-to-turnover ratio dropped to 64%, below the Premier League’s 70% average but still well above the widely-recommended 50%. The interest-free debt to owner Ashley remained at £129m.
The figures for television money perhaps justify Newcastle’s apparent lack of ambition with regards to the Europa League.
There is clearly a lukewarm attitude towards qualifying for European football’s ugly sister. Fifth place in the Premier League qualifies automatically, but depending on the progress of Manchester City and others in the cups, the side finishing seventh could reach it.
Newcastle got to the Europa League quarter-finals last season, but their fall down the Premier League – from fifth to 16th – was far more damaging as television revenue dropped 8% to £51m. It was not offset by extra matchday turnover, including ticket sales and hospitality, which rose only £3.9m to £27.8m.
With some justification, the Magpies blamed their poor league form last season on the extra demands of their exhaustive Europa League programme.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul pointed to the return of key players Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tiote and goalscorer Loic Remy as the main reason for Sunday’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa.
“I don’t think it was anything more than we deserved,” said the Dutchman. “We pushed so hard for that win, and by the closing stages, I think there was only one team pushing to try to win the game.
“With Loic’s chance (which hit the post in the 88th minute), that could have been it. So for him to keep that level of composure in the last second of the game is really impressive. That’s what he’s got, and that’s maybe what we’ve been missing.
“With him, Coloccini and Tiote, that’s three massive players coming back for us and it’s no real surprise their return made a big difference.
“When you look at the run we had been on, you have to factor in the fact that we were missing three absolutely huge players. They’re the spine of the team really, and I think a lot of people have forgotten that. Even (Yoan) Gouffran was out for a while as well.
“They are massive players and it’s a huge plus that they’re back now.”
Of the three, Krul felt Coloccini’s return was the most significant.
“He slips back into things like he’s never been away,” said Krul. “That’s not to say anything against any of the other lads, but he’s a really big miss. Against Aston Villa, he showed once again what a fantastic player he is.
“Colo made a big difference, and Willo (Mike Williamson) also made a fantastic interception that we celebrated like a goal. Those are the moments that set the fans off, and maybe that gave us the edge.”