It’s been ten years since Mike Ashley bought Newcastle United. In that time, we’ve seen two relegations, no significant cup runs, multiple failures to invest, and a string of off-the-field calamities. From selling Yohan Cabaye when the club was 8th in the Premier League to not investing after an incredible 5th place finish, it has been a long decade. At this point, we are used to Mike Ashley and expect virtually nothing. Yet somehow, in the last few weeks he has hit another low.
When announcing his intention to sell the club late last year, it was said Ashley would invest in the squad in January if a takeover wasn’t complete. As January inched closer it became clear that would never be the case. We’re just about two weeks into the transfer window and Rafa Benitez doesn’t even have a budget. Unless a takeover is suddenly announced soon, our only hope of adding to the squad will be loans.
During the frustrating days of Derek Llambias post-first relegation, Ashley was a hated man. Llambias was too, practically the entire club hierarchy was hated. But even then there was a plan, we mostly just didn’t like it. Ashley was basically operating the club like a stepping stone with a limited budget; finding cheap deals for talented players and selling them for a massive profit. It largely worked, even if it wasn’t getting the results we as fans expected, we were still attracting good players and putting together some decent performances in spite of dire tactics. No Newcastle fan ever wants to see the club operate like that, but it’s still better than today.
Things seemed to have changed in the summer of 2015. Steve McClaren was given a massive budget and bought four first-team players, then three more in January. Of course, it all ended in failure, and perhaps that was the final straw for Ashley. He had decided to run Newcastle like a proper club for one season and it ended in relegation. Of course, perhaps the worst part of that is knowing that McClaren, among the worst managers in recent memory for fans, was backed more in two transfer windows than Rafa has been backed in his entire time here.
Now we are that point where Mike Ashley isn’t just a bad owner, but an owner who does not care at all about the club he owns. According to Craig Hope there is no one but Lee Charnley to run the club. It’s a shocking lack of care to leave one underpaid person to oversee literally everything at a football club. In the summer, most deals Rafa desired were actively blocked by Justin Barnes, and now there’s not even an attempt to get a transfer through. Rafa and Charnley know they don’t have the power to spend money that isn’t there.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is Mike Ashley knows a takeover will be completed soon. At that point he won’t care whether the club is in the Premier League or the Championship, he won’t lose any money. He also seems to have disdain for the supporters, so maybe he’d actually prefer us to get relegated as he walks out the door. If he doesn’t think a sale can be completed or is worried about PCP leaving the negotiating table, you would think Ashley would at least try to protect his unwilling investment and enjoy the massive amount of money Premier League clubs receive.
Ultimately, this is Ashely’s worst period as owner of Newcastle. He’s gone from incompetent to completely negligent. Supporters must resign themselves to the knowledge that Rafa will have to keep a completely ill-equipped side in the Premier League. If he does, then perhaps by summer we’ll have new owners ready to invest like any proper football club should. If not, or if the takeover doesn’t go through at all, the possibilities are dreadful. The risk/reward of the next few months feels like something this club has never faced. It feels like life or death for Newcastle United.