The offseason is not too far removed, but already people seem ready to move on from what has transpired at Newcastle this summer. The urgency to move forward is understandable. Many Newcastle fans are sick and tired of hearing about Mike Ashley, because he inevitably reminds them of the terrible circumstances that have befallen this once great club.
However, in order to properly move forward from this situation, fans should first arrive at the right conclusions. This summer Ashley single-handedly ensured that one of Newcastle’s best managers ever would walk away from the club and then proceeded to wholeheartedly back Steve Bruce. Unfortunately, the recency effect is clouding the judgement of many Newcastle fans and pundits alike, as disproportionate emphasis is placed on the latter of the two actions.
Although Mike Ashley’s actions do not seem to follow any specific rationale, the contrary is true. That might sound impossible given the gravity of the second sentence of the previous paragraph, but his actions were clearly guided by something.
In business, salesmen of all types of products may employ different and unique strategies to strike a deal but each and every one would agree on one thing: making the consumer feel like they won the negotiation is a must. It sounds simple, but the way the feeling that the feeling of seemingly winning a negotiations intoxicates the consumer’s thought process is profound. It no longer matters that the deal on the table is better or worse than the one envisioned before entering the negotiations. The only thing that matters is that it is made to seem better than the deal that the other party in the negotiations envisioned.
It boils down to a person’s ego. Thinking that you have bested the obviously skilled other party involved in the negotiations boosts confidence, and subsequently ego, the way few other actions can. Now this may seem irrelevant from the discussion at hand, but the reality is that it encapsulates Mike Ashley’s mindset as a businessman perfectly.
To him, he needs to feel as though he has won every form of negotiation he participates in. In Mike Ashley’s tenure, there has been a countless amount of times that Newcastle has backed out of negotiations for a good player because the asking price is too high. Sure this happens with every team, but it is not as common as it is with Newcastle. For example, Newcastle could have signed the likes of Dele Alli and Mohamed Salah but abandoned negotiations, unsatisfied with the terms on the table.
It is incredibly ironic that Mike Ashley, a billionaire businessman, would hold the mindset of the average consumer. The average consumer is easily manipulated, and the same cannot be said about Mike Ashley. However, in football, there are no average consumers; there is no blatantly ripping off the other person by pretending to lose. While holding the mindset of the average consumer, Mike Ashley is able to safeguard himself from fully functioning as the average consumer by being in the know about the prices thrown around.
Furthermore, as a prime businessman, every single interaction with him takes on this negotiation-type feel. Rafa Benitez, the manager who was supposed to be driving the value of Mike Ashley’s investment forward, suddenly became the nemesis with whom Ashley was negotiating with. As such, Rafa Benitez simply was not worth the trouble to Mike Ashley. Rafa Benitez was not willing to sacrifice his ambitions to stay at the club, and thus was proved impossible to beat in negotiations. Simply put, Rafa understandably expected Mike Ashley to make concessions, and Mike Ashley unfairly expected Rafa to make concessions.
Now this is the obvious part. It has always been known that Mike Ashley loves to satiate his ego; it is why he chooses to surround himself by “Yes-Men.”Typically, his desire to fulfill his ego and his more obvious desire to make money go hand-in-hand, but sometimes they don’t. This summer, when he was searching for a manager to take the post, they clashed horribly.
In signing Steve Bruce, Mike Ashley confirmed that he cares far more for satiating his ego than he does about his money. In hindsight, it can be said with a degree of confidence that Mike Ashley was going to spend big this offseason to at least make Rafa look like the villain. Despite all the negativity surrounding the job opening at Newcastle, the prospect of managing a club with an illustrious history, big stadium, and a 90 million pound transfer kitty would appeal just about any manager.
Realistically, it can be inferred that talks with other, more qualified candidates broke down over the proposed power dynamic. In this era of football, any manager with decent qualifications would want to have a strong say in the players being signed. Yet, Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley were insistent on setting the transfer policy such that mainly players under the age of 24 be signed.
Steve Bruce, as an under-qualified manager with an incredibly poor record, was simply in no position to put up a fight in “negotiations.” At this stage in his career, Steve Bruce knew that Newcastle knocking at the door was as good as it will ever get for him, so he was ready to oblige with whatever terms Mike Ashley put at the table. He would never make “negotiations” difficult the way Rafa or any half-decent manager would, and that is ultimately why he got hired.
This ego-driven power play by Mike Ashley obviously comes with a steep financial risk. If Steve Bruce performs the same way he has for his entire career, Newcastle United is at serious risk of getting relegated. Regardless, Mike Ashley can rest easy now that he once again has a manager that will not challenge his authority and run the risk of damaging his ego.
Ultimately, understanding the ranking of his motivating factors at play here helps to contextualize his previous mishaps and will spare us the agony of his future ones too. For example, consider the odd tenure of Steve McClaren, who was badly out of his depth at Newcastle United. Like Steve Bruce, Steve McClaren was willing to relinquish control and even went as far as to serve as head coach instead of manager. Just as he is doing now, Mike Ashley was willing to settle in terms of the quality of his appointment to extraordinarily dominate the power dynamic with his manager or more appropriately, head coach.
Hopefully, Steve Bruce’s appointment doesn’t bring the same result that Steve McClaren’s appointment did. Relegation this season isn’t be beyond the realm of possibility, however.