From Keegan to Benítez; what’s changed?

A members view. NUST member Andy Ashwell sets out his thoughts on the current situation at NUFC:

As if anyone needed reminding, the last few days have provided more examples, past and present, of the crass and inept way in which Newcastle United Football Club has been run since the arrival of Ashley in 2007.

Firstly, in two short extracts from his book amounting to just a few pages, Kevin Keegan has given us a glimpse into what promises to be an encyclopedia of the botched mismanagement and amateurish running of a football club. So far, we have read KK’s observations of the club’s Head of Recruitment (Tony Jimenez) with a spectacular lack of ‘situational awareness’ regarding transfer targets. Next, the stunted cockney Executive Director with a liking for ‘commercials’, i.e. signing nobodies to keep a couple of agents sweet.

It’s fair to point out that little has changed bar the names, and we’re again in a situation where a respected manager like Rafa has to have his every decision ratified by a Managing Director (Charnley) who has arguably less of a football background than Jimenez did.

And then there is the undeclared role of Justin Barnes, a.k.a Ashley’s ‘fixer’, who was part of the four horsemen of the apocalypse who turned up in the Directors Box at Palace on saturday. While Wise was officially appointed Executive Director, nobody has been able to identify with any certainty exactly what Barnes’ involvement is at NUFC. 

In the 2004 Competition Appeal Tribunal hearing (after Ashley grassed on his competitors for price fixing), it was noted that “ Mr. Ashley operates largely informally, conducting business on his mobile phone and in meetings, while leaving it to others to make notes and sort out the details.” (It’s worth noting that the same tribunal found “ Mr. Ashley’s evidence was open, honest and in general reliable”).

The long list of clueless minions employed in executive roles at NUFC shows that this remains his default method of conducting business. How can a football club operate effectively when the owner seemingly isolates the manager from his circle of trust, and that circle is full of toadies with little football experience/knowledge? Why have lessons not been learned?

With the weekend’s impending ‘transfer summit’, we can only hope that Rafa’s/our fate isn’t sealed as he is forced to deal with Ashley’s fawning yes men, undermined and humiliated by sycophantic lackeys as per KK.

On top of KK’s revelations comes the news that NUFC have ‘asked’ local boxer Lewis Ritson’s management to remove the club badge from his merchandise. Tweeting afterwards, he said: “Disappointed in NUFC, been in touch with my manager telling them a need to take all nufc logos off merchandise/clothes but happy for me to wear the logo when am live on TV, a team I’ve supported all my life and held a season ticket for 7 years when younger! Mike Ashley Out!”

For any pedantic types; fair enough, they don’t have a licence to use the badge, but surely a bit of perspective needs to come into play here. Ritson himself doesn’t profit from the merchandise, and while the manufacturer could do, realistically any such gain would be miniscule in comparison to revenue from replica shirts and other official club merchandise.

It comes across as petty and unnecessary, and a slap in the face of someone (a fan) who considers Newcastle United a part of his identity, and epitomises the cold, soulless and disengaged nature of the modern day club. This is in stark contrast to the relationship that exists between Tony Bellew and Everton, a club that strives to maintain a community image.

Given what amounts to borderline humiliation, what price Ritson or his entourage bringing the #AshleyOut message to millions when he fights for the European Lightweight title in Newcastle on October 13th – live on Sky Sports? Already a hugely popular fighter in his native Tyneside, that would elevate him to hero status. Go on man, you know it makes sense…

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