So, you do have a voice? Your interview on Sky Sports, broadcast before the relegation decider vs West Ham United was the first time since May 2009 (when your gross mismanagement of Newcastle United resulted in relegation) that you have directly addressed the fans. We have at least gained an understanding on why you appear so hesitant to do so; you are not a very convincing liar. It would be interesting to see if Keith Bishop, your Public Relations adviser who arranged this interview with David Craig (another one of his clients, how cosy), was happy with your performance while reeling off your scripted questions and answers.
But let’s focus on content for now and consider what you had to say for yourself.
Q: Just how disappointed are you to arrive here today to find Newcastle in this situation?
A: I can’t have really imagined it, from Christmas I probably didn’t anticipate we would be anywhere near this situation, so obviously after the last couple of weeks I’m still a little bit shocked by where we find ourselves today.
Surprised to be fighting relegation? We were warned by various people who have worked closely with you, including Kevin Keegan and Alan Pardew, that football confuses and upsets you, and that when you are upset you do things that aren’t brilliant for the football club. But this defies belief, Mike. In the past two full seasons before this one, Newcastle United had displayed relegation form for one and a half seasons. It is no surprise that a football club with such results, ran without ambition, is fighting relegation.
When you lucked your way to a £3.5m windfall after Crystal Palace took Alan Pardew off our hands, did it not register with you that this represented an excellent opportunity to move the club forward and finally show a bit of ambition? By effectively opting to not appoint a manager for the second half of this season, and weakening an already weak squad even further in the January transfer window, you steered the club straight towards the cliff of relegation. The vast majority of ordinary Newcastle fans could see it, so why couldn’t you, or indeed the people you consider to be your knowledgeable advisers?
In any business, but even more so in competitive sports, once you stop aiming to improve you get found out. If you had paid attention you could have learned this lesson in 2009. Or again in 2013. Or even as recently as this time last year following a massive nosedive in results.
Q: The fans want to know who is responsible. In your opinion is it collective responsibility or does it stop at your door?
A: My door.
Yes, we knew that Mike. Now do the honourable thing and put the club up for sale, as you clearly are not the “worthy custodian” you claim the club deserves.
Q: What would you do if the worst happens today to this club and it falls into the Championship?
A: If you’re talking about investing in the club I will continue the policy of investing in this football club.
The last time you invested a penny of your own money in the club was more than five years ago, but you have taken out £11m in loan repayments during that time. Maybe what you meant to say was that had we got relegated you would have been forced to discontinue your policy of zero investment in this football club? This would be done to ensure a swift return to the premier league, making the club more suitable for your exploitation as a global advertising vehicle for your company, free of charge. Any extra “investment” needed for promotion could be added to the club’s debt as you have done before.
Q: Would you invest enough to make sure it comes back at the first attempt to the Premier League?
A: Yes, if you are, if there is such a thing, if you are able to guarantee that I would like to say I could guarantee that, that investment but obviously the results is not something that I can… (silence)
All we can say to this is thank the lord that fortune was on our side yesterday. You would like to say you could guarantee investment with the caveat that the results are…not your responsibility presumably? Well guess what Mike, they are. The buck for all of this stops with you.
Q: If the best happens, and you stay in the Premier League, what is the plan for the club?
A: Well we, I, the only positive I think we got the club on a very sound financial footing so we are able to spend relatively and punch above our weight now with the current financial situation the club finds itself in.
Wait a second Mike. We have waited for eight years to hear what your plan for the club is, and this is the best you can come up with after all that time? The only positive is a very sound financial footing? Whilst we agree that other positives of your reign are few and far between, would it not be correct to state that our so-called sound financial footing is entirely a result of massively increased TV revenue in the Premier League? Is this you claiming credit for the club’s increased financial performance despite the fact that Newcastle United is the only club that has seen commercial and match-day revenue decline in the past eight years?
Putting that aside, your plan for the club is to spend relatively (?) and punch above our weight? Are you aware of the weight this club was punching before you bought it Mike, with the club regularly challenging for European football in the league and actually aiming to win a cup? These are concepts that may not mean anything in your world, but this is generally what people would refer to when asking what the plan for the future is, when speaking about a sporting institution.
Q: If you hadn’t come into this club when you did and cleared the debt, where would it be?
A: Financially not as strong, but unfortunately I’m gonna add to that, that that isn’t really good enough, so it’s no good having the horse and cart scenario and we may have the cart financially but we now need to bolt the horse on it, and we’re going to.
To correct the interviewer, something you unsurprisingly failed to do, you have not cleared the Newcastle United debts, have you Mike? Not even close. What you have done, in effect, is nearly double the club’s debt.
Is this where you get confused about football Mike? We are unsure what your waffle about horses and carts is supposed to mean, but neither have anything to do with football as far as we can tell. Either way, we are looking forward to finding out what the plan is with the horse and cart, as it is bound to be a better watch than Newcastle United has been on and off a football pitch for the past few years.
Q: What’s your ambition for the club?
A: It’s, it’s now gonna be to definitely win something. And by the way I shan’t be selling it until I do.
Your ambition for the club is now going to be to win something, eight years in? Isn’t the ambition of any professional sportsman, sportswoman or sporting institution to “win something”? But only now, on the day that we stare into the abyss of relegation for the third time since you took over the club and mediocrity reigns from top to bottom, you want the club to win something? This statement wouldn’t have anything to do with season ticket cancellations would it?
You could be here a while if you will not contemplate selling the club until you have won something. But you will not, because we will not let you. Your threat of not selling the club until you win something is completely hollow: your entire model of running the club is aimed at not competing for Europe and surrendering the cups at the very first hurdle in order to run the club as cheaply as possible. This club will never win anything while you are here, and no reasonable fan trusts you to change your ways after having endured what they have for the past eight years.
Q: Can we just be clear on that because there has been so much rumour, the club is not for sale?
A: Not at any price. And by the way when I say win something if we ever get in a position that we get a Champions League place that also qualifies as winning something.
“Not at any price” has a familiar ring to it. Ah yes, it is exactly what you said about Andy Carroll in November 2010, two months before selling him. With regards to Champions League qualification, you may be aware that Newcastle United played in the Champions League twice shortly before you rocked up. Great as it was, it does not constitute “winning something” in any way, shape or form. Perhaps an honest answer to this question would have been that you plan to sell the club when the stock is high. What you fail to understand is that your business model for Newcastle United is what makes it light years removed from challenging for Champions League qualification. Being in relegation battles for three out of the last six Premier League campaigns is not a coincidence, no matter how “shocked” you are about it.
Q: What is your message to the fans today ahead of this game?
A: Today we don’t need to be unlucky, not today! But from this day forward we will definitely be making our own luck.
What!? Today we don’t need to be unlucky? A double negative as in “today we need to be lucky” with a twist of “we’ve been unlucky to be where we are” for good measure, is that what this statement is? Let’s be very clear here Mike, for a club like Newcastle United to have to rely on luck on the last day of the season in order to stay up is not good enough, nowhere near. If you truly believe that we are where we are through bad luck, we will be here again, and again. A relegation battle is exactly what this club deserved for the shambolic way you have been running it from the top down.
Q: And finally Mike, there are obviously one or two things to sort out come the end of the season. Can we expect you and your advisers to act on that fairly imminently with regards to the appointment of managers and suchlike?
A: Well, on that basis it’s Lee Charnley and the football board that make those decisions, as it was Derek Llambias who brought in Alan Pardew. So I will not be picking the next manager, it’s not what I do. My job is to make sure they have the maximum amount of financial resources and it is their job to get the best pound for pound value out of those resources.
The same Lee Charnley who thought it was a good idea to effectively hand the fate of the club in the hands of a woefully under-qualified member of the coaching staff? The same Lee Charnley who has laid out a blueprint that states the next in-coming manager is to have limited say on player recruitment and will have to accept a player being sold and not adequately replaced? The same Lee Charnley who has stated that cup competitions are used as an opportunity to give fringe players and youngsters game-time, and who argues that cups are not worth the trouble and get in the way of Premier League survival? And the same Lee Charnley who has warned against qualifying for the Europa League because there is no money in it? His predecessor Derek Llambias was a casino manager with no previous experience, Lee Charnley himself used to be the club secretary. Would it not be sensible to employ some football people to make the football decisions at a major football club?
You state that it is your job to ensure that the club have the maximum amount of financial resources, so considering the fact that the club has lost a conservative estimate of £100m in commercial revenue from the fact that your own company do not pay for its branding all over St. James’ Park, do you consider yourself a failure at your job? We would assume that somebody whose job it would be at Sports Direct to ensure “maximum financial resources” who fell short by £100m would swiftly get their P45?
By setting the financial goalposts, as well as allowing such people to hold the role of Managing Director, you are responsible for whichever manager is subsequently appointed.
Q: And to be very clear: you’re here to stay and you want to make this club successful?
A: To be categorically clear I’m not going anywhere until we win something.
To be categorically clear Mike, we don’t believe a word you say. You are running the club exactly the way you want it, as a vehicle for the benefit of Sports Direct and yourself.
We will not be going anywhere until we have seen the back of you at our beloved Newcastle United.