Businesswoman Amanda Staveley bids for Newcastle United
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Mike Ashley’s reign as Newcastle United owner might finally be about to come to an end. A breakthrough between the Premier League and prospective new majority owners the Saudi Public Investment Fund means the £300million deal could finally go through after 18 months of wrangling. But what does that mean for Newcastle the club?
To answer that question, first you have to understand just why Magpies fans hate Ashley so much.
Newcastle fans are unequivocal in their agreement on the matter. The hatred is not driven by a tiny faction of unhappy fans: it is a unified stance from the vast majority.
Ashley has been at the helm of Newcastle for 14 years since he purchased shares from Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd in 2007.
On paper, the 57-year-old could have been what Newcastle were looking for. Ashley is Britain’s 61st-wealthiest person with a fortune of over £3bn, according to the latest Sunday Times rich list, thanks to his retail empire which includes Sports Direct and Frasers Group.
But in reality it has proven to be the opposite, with fans furious that Ashley’s interest, attention and money are far more invested in the other arms of his empire.
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There have always been rumours on Tyneside that Ashley only bought Newcastle on a whim and his behaviour over the past 14 years has not done much to dispel that perception.
The fans’ biggest gripe with Ashley stems from one simple factor: he has not invested enough money in the club.
Newcastle have long operated under a tight budget which supporters don’t believe is befitting a traditional powerhouse in the north east.
While that problem can be illustrated by many different examples, a recent one will do the trick: despite getting a few high-earners off the wage bill, Newcastle signed just one player in the summer transfer window.
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Joe Willock’s £22m move from Arsenal was much-needed, but he arrived alone. Andy Carroll, Christian Atsu, Florian Lejeune and Yoshinori Muto were all released.
“Our commitment to being run in a sustainable manner, which secures the financial viability of the club, is a longstanding one,” the club shot back in a statement in September after criticism. “This does not come at the expense of being ambitious, and it is built on the core principle that we will spend what we have.”
Newcastle’s start to the 2021/22 season is also emblematic of the club’s time under Ashley’s stewardship.
The Magpies are 19th and without in the Premier League after seven matches. Their form is nothing new either: under Steve Bruce’s management they have taken just 37 points from their last 38 games.
That is form which would see most top-flight managers lose their job, but Ashley has stuck with his beleaguered manager. Why? Many fans would argue that Ashley simply isn’t that bothered by the performances on the pitch, provided the club stays in the Premier League.
That hasn’t gone too well either, in truth. Newcastle United have been relegated six times in their history – two of those have come under Ashley.
Bruce is far from the only unpopular manager Ashley has hired at Newcastle. Joe Kinnear tops that list, while Ashley’s decision to give Alan Pardew an eight-year contract also stands out among a list of misdemeanours.
Then there is his treatment of popular bosses like Rafa Benitez and Chris Hughton and club legend Alan Shearer.
Ashley’s personality cult has also seen unpopular business decisions made. St. James’s Park has been the home of Newcastle ever since the club formed in 1892, but Ashley decided to rename it The Sports Direct Arena in honour of his company.
In 2011 controversial payday loan company Wonga were also allowed to purchase naming rights to the stadium.
Needless to say, there are more factors behind the fans’ Ashley hatred. But you get the picture.
So, putting aside the myriad issues and complexities surrounding the PIF’s takeover, what will their money mean for Newcastle United?
First of all, it will galvanise a disillusioned fan base. A Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust survey on Tuesday reported that 93 per cent of its members were in favour and it’s easy to see why.
New ownership would actually want to be there is a big deal. PIF, alongside financier Amanda Staveley and David and Simon Reuben will be looking to invest in the club.
The Newcastle Chronicle reports that the group have carried out ‘extensive due diligence’ about the club’s many failings and, crucially, ‘are in a position to do something about it’.
According to The Mirror, the group are willing to invest up to £250m in players and infrastructure at the club.
Bruce could well find himself without a job shortly and the new owners are sure to be eyeing up big-name new managers, as well as the January transfer window.
PIF’s investment could equate to as much as £50m per transfer window, according to The Chronicle.
Newcastle’s training ground, Darsley Park, could be due some renovations, while St James’s Park is also in need of a lick of paint.
Newcastle’s academy will be invested in to ensure a pipeline of young players coming through.
A new director of football is also on the cards, while club legends like Shearer and Kevin Keegan are likely to be embraced once again after being cut loose into the wilderness.
It has not gone through yet, but the coming days are sure to be seismic ones for Newcastle United and their fans.
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