Are We Approaching "Gut-Check" Time For Mike Ashley And Newcastle United?

Which will it be, sir? Hero or goat? The choice is yours.

We are still a full two months away from the opening of the January transfer window, and true to form transfer rumors are already flying around.  Back in the day when newspapers were more relevant, it would likely be said that these rumors are just there to "take up column inches," and perhaps now they're just habit.  The thing with transfer rumors is that they're very much double edged-- on the one hand, it is interesting for a supporter of Newcastle United to contemplate a striker squad of Modibo Maiga, Papiss Demba Cisse, Demba Ba, Leon Best, Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands.  On the flip side, however, it is not as much fun for a supporter of Newcastle United to contemplate a February without the likes of Chiek Tiote (rumored to Manchester United) and Fabricio Coloccini (rumored to Newcastle South Ehrm... Liverpool).  It is my belief that this January window will tell us all we need to know about where we stand with Mike Ashley (a.k.a. #FCB, Ca$hley, etc. etc.).  The answers will come to questions such as:  "Can we keep hope for the future?" and "Despite our tremendous start, do we really need to keep in mind Alan Pardew's admonition that the Toon Army "need to adjust their expectations" lower."

 

As with so very many things in sport, winning can soothe over a great many bad feelings.  There is still a prevailing distrust for Mike Ashley in some sections of the Toon Army, but those concerns are very rarely bubbling over the top these days.  19 points from 9 matches and a Carling Cup run to keep the focus and dreaming on the pitch instead of "WHERE DID ALL THE MONEY FROM THE ANDY CARROLL SALE GO YOU " which is well and good and as it should be, really.  The team is playing a very attractive brand of football that is not nearly as defensively oriented as we feared it would be before the season started, which has deflected the "ALAN PARDEW!?!?!  REALLY?!  WTF?!!!??" indignation following AP's arrival in the wake of popular Chris Hughton's departure.  Perhaps some of this is more luck than skill, but it seeming less and less that this is the case.  Mr. Carr is out-Arsening Arsene Wenger, and we are accumulating a collection of the brightest young French talent to rival any other.  

It has been said that, contrary to many Toon fans' belief, Mike Ashley is an astute businessman-- after all, one does not end up with a very large company that makes enough £ to allow one to purchase one of the most storied and well-supported football clubs in England by being a complete buffoon.  If you're not watching carefully, you can see some rather astute business moves on the fans' side being made recently, and the timing is absolutely not coincidence.  

 

  • In the furor over the adding of sportsdirect.com to the stand faces (coincidentally, did you know that the "iconic" Newcastle United on the East stand was only added in 1996?  Granted that it became recognizable due to it's positioning relative to the TV cameras, but still-- it's does not have the history of time that many might assume it does...) in the furor over the adding of things, they took the letters and put them out for auction.  Cash in, Mikey!  But wait.  All of the proceeds from auctioning off these highly desirable letters is being donated to charity.  
  • With the club on an historic run of form and sitting in the table approximately 10 places above where many might have assumed Newcastle would be at this time, the have announced that current season ticket holders can purchase another season ticket at half cost.  This is another quiet, brilliant move on the part of ownership.  Yes, we're just a touch under selling out still yet, but the atmosphere has been such that a little nod in their direction goes a great distance in soothing some of the less indignant hurt feelings in the support base... and brings those that are still on the ASHLEY OUT train a little closer to pure support without worry.
  • The squad are being very direct in their praise of the fans.  Old boys, new boys, coaches-- almost all of them have been featured in the press speaking on how amazing the support is, that we've got the top fans in the entire league.  Although on evidence it is easy to determine the truth of these statements, I can't think that it's coincidence that these quotes are hitting nearly. every. day.  Obviously I am not in England to know, but I don't remember hearing a lot about teams coming out prior to their warm-ups just to give the traveling support an ovation as they did at Ewood Park on Wednesday.  Just this morning, supporters were invited out to St. James' Park to participate in a fan day and watch the club train.  Or participate in club training.

 

I think that all of these moves are astute... calculated.  And they are all for naught if Mike Ashley fails the gut check that awaits him with the opening of the January window.  With the publishing of the Board's mission statement a little while back, they have articulated what they were saying all along:  their desire is to create a sustainable business model built upon the acquisition of young talent (under 25 years of age), development through the Academy system, etc.  Much of this is bearing fruit already this season-- Yohan Cabaye is 25 years old, Gabriel Obertan 23, Davide Santon 20, Sylvain Marveaux is 25.  Rumored targets Modibo Maiga (24) and Papiss Demba Cisse (26) are right in there as well, not to mention the very young targets from other Academies that are on the radar.

The gut check comes in the form of perhaps the two best performers on the pitch thus far this term, and inarguably a very large part of the reason our defensive record is so strong this term.  Fabricio Coloccini has been linked to interest from Liverpool and Chiek Tiote is rumored to be interesting Manchester United.  

 

  • Fabricio Coloccini is perhaps the most in-form center-back in the Premiership.  He has embraced so much of the Toon, stayed with the club through relegation ("Where were you when we were $hit?).  Granted there was a bit of necessity in that as he had struggled to find his feet in English football, but he could have jetted somewhere else to rehabilitate his image and earn a move to another high-profile team.  Consider his feet well and truly found now... to the point that he has earned the Captain's armband and certainly must be credited with at least part of our success on the pitch this year.   Here's the thing, though.  He's due to turn 30 in January.  The road to Liverpool was well paved last January with Jose Enrique and the former number 9 shirt leaving.  Somehow, though, we ended up better for it.  While it seems to reason that if Liverpool come with another ridiculous offer for one of our players (I'd say about £35m should do), Ashley will sell... the question to Mike Ashley is, then:  If Liverpool do not come with a ridiculous sum, do you keep hold of your captain, your leader and one of the players that the support you have been trying to win back have latched on to with all their heart?  With the results so far from the purchase of our former number 9, it is unlikely that the offer will be too outrageous.  Do you establish the second part of the player acquisition mantra-- do you keep the quality players that you already have in the squad in order to assure a quality product on the field.  Do you attempt to keep this squad flying as high as possible with the potential reward of Europe (and it's riches) sitting there if you can? 
  • Cheik Tiote is a slightly different matter.  He fits squarely into the mission statement age-wise. . . however Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to be desperate for a man like Cheik in the center of his midfield  (see match versus Manchester City) .  With desperation comes the willingness to over-spend.  Do you, Mr. Ashley, keep your hands on the player that fits into exactly what you say you're trying to do?  Do you grip for all you're worth on the player that is every match securing his world class credentials, keeping your back line safer and establishing ball control through the middle?  I think that even the talking heads would be able to realize that this team would not be the same without Mr. Tiote patrolling the middle.  We are going to miss his services through the ACON anyway, but do you, Mr. Ashley, recognize his very specifically shaped hole in our puzzle?  Do you see that with his age and current ability, he is the lynchpin of our future success?  Will you have the guts to turn down Sir Alex Ferguson and the inflated money that he may throw at Cheik Tiote in January in order to keep one of your most important pieces on the pitch for the foreseeable future?
January is going to tell us everything that wee need to know about the regime of Mike Ashley.  Is he going to continue to rehabilitate his image with the fans, man up and resist advances on two of his most vital cogs in the side that has brought good feeling back to the Toon?  Will he not be able to resist the amount of money that will be thrown at him, sell early and leave enough time to recruit in another young buck that will be able to step in and be either Coloccini- or Tiote-lite?  Will he see all the pretty £ signs floating up in front of his eyes, cash in and pocket the money?  The choice is yours, Mr. Ashley, and the eyes of the Toon will be upon you.

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