Premier League

‘They Don’t Care If We Finish 7th Or 17th’

On Thursday, I came close to loving Newcastle United Chairman Mike Ashley. For just a fleeting moment, I came within a whisker of, if not forgiving, then moving on from the Dennis Wise affair, the disgraceful treatment of Chris Hughton, the renaming of our stadium, the Keegan affair, Xisco, Nacho Gonzales, Joe Kinnear and everything else the fat man has done since he waddled ominously through the door to our lives. People can learn, people can change, I told myself.

It is hard to fully take stock of our transfer activity this summer before knowing how the new recruits will perform, but early signs suggest that Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveux and Gabriel Obertan could be excellent additions. Demba Ba has looked hit and miss so far, but has every chance of becoming a regular source of goals for Newcastle.

Davide Santon is, according to my Inter supporting friend, an incredible coup for a club of our relative standing. Comparisons, he insists, with Paolo Maldini are not necessarily misplaced. Promising youngsters like Haris Vuckic and Mehdi Abeid look set to be part of our first team squad for a long time yet.

Under Ashley, the club has stopped being held hostage for huge wages. We no longer offer 28 year olds a guaranteed income of £50,000 per week for four or five years. This can only be a good thing. Kevin Nolan deserved a new contract, but not of the length that he was demanding. Nor Joey Barton. Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez will likely be sold for the same reason next summer as they inch closer to the ends of their enormous contracts. While it is sad that good players are leaving, it isn’t necessarily to be regretted; the signs are that the club has the scouting network and business nous to replace these players with others of equal quality at lesser cost.

Ashley’s aim is to stop Newcastle United losing him money. Our aim, as fans, is to have a good football team that we enjoy supporting. These aims are not mutually exclusive. The pain of losing Barton, Enrique and Nolan was gradually being replaced by a quiet faith that our austere summer transfer business may be in the clubs best interests in the medium to long term.

Such was my thinking before Thursday’s deadline day. Llambias and Ashley’s faith in their “blueprint” looked to have been vindicated. The signings were good, and there was a strong case that the players who had left had paved their own way out of the club through bad behaviour, greed, or in some cases all of the above. The replacements were cheap, effective and looked like improving. But as the deadline approached, two holes in the squad seemed to widen; Mike Williamson’s injury at Scunthorpe revealed how weak we are at centre-half. And obviously, we are short of a striker. If, I thought, we can fill these two positions with decent enough players, Ashley will have been, to an extent, vindicated.

Of course, we didn’t. Had the bids for Bryan Ruiz and Liam Ridgewell come off, our squad would be nearly complete. But of course, they didn’t. Worse than that, the bids gave the impression of being empty gestures – fig leaves to give the impression of activity to appease the hapless fans that the club had the best interests of the team at heart. As soon as I heard the word “helicopter”, my heart sank. We weren’t signing a striker. Ridgewell, perhaps, but the utter cynicism of putting in a bid for a player we didn’t want, and knew had committed himself to signing elsewhere, brought it all back to me. The cynicism, the brinksmanship, the gambling, the disregard for the fans. And I remembered why I hate this regime.

Our squad is good; the additions add quality that wasn’t previously there, and we have kept Coloccini, Gutierrez and Tiote. But the club had 7 months to find a striker. When the mooted deals for Gamiero, Gervinho and Erdinc didn’t come off, Llambias and co were happy to make do and mend, safe in the knowledge that they had tried. They would rather their bowl was empty than pay a fiver for a burger. Provided the club doesn’t get relegated again, they will, from their perspective, have done their jobs well. They don’t care if we finish 7th or 17th. But the fans do, and we deserve better. Mike Ashley was so close to redemption and vindication, but he blew it. His own narrow self-interest trumped the combined will of 100,000 Newcastle fans. Again.

T’was ever thus.

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