Upon his appointment as the new Newcastle United Managing Director, Lee Charnley outlined the board’s plans and expectations for the club. For those of you who bought into ‘it’ at the time, you could be forgiven for being surprised by this – but the objective of a football club, or indeed any professional sporting person or institution, should be to perform at the best of its ability and entertain its fans. The club’s financial health is not altogether irrelevant, but it should not be a club’s primary objective, as appears to be the case at Newcastle United ever since Mike Ashley took over the club in the summer of 2007.
Any professional football clubs most important competition is the league it plays in. It’s also safe to assume that higher league finishes correlate highly with higher fan entertainment value. So let’s have a detailed look at how Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United have performed in the league compared to his predecessors.
Since Mike Ashley’s takeover of the club, Newcastle United have finished in the following league positions: 12th (2007/08), 18th (relegated from Premier League, 2008/09), 21st (1st in Championship & promoted, 2009/10), 12th (2010/11), 5th (2011/12), 16th (2012/13), 10th (2013/14) and 15th (2014/15). Which makes our average league position over his tenure a rather lowly: 14th position (rounded off). Lower mid-table, and only just sufficient to stay on the Premier League gravy train… Or not, as was the case in 2008/09, when the club were relegated for the first time since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.
So how does this league record compare to the same period (8 seasons) before Mike Ashley took over the club? We finished in the following league positions: 11th (1999-2000), 11th (2000/01), 4th (2001/02), 3rd (2002/03), 5th (2003/04), 14th (2004/05), 7th (2005/06) and finally 13th(2006/07). On average that makes an average finishing league position of 9th (again, rounded off), or more than 5 positions higher! Looking a little bit further back, since the start of the Premier League (22 years back and including when Newcastle United were in the second tier of English football, ergo in 21st position) up until the point of the start of Ashley’s reign, our average league finish was 8th (again, rounded off), which makes a difference of no less than 6 league positions with Ashley’s record.
There is no doubt that Newcastle United have gone backwards under Ashley. From a higher mid-table team capable of occasionally challenging for honours and quite regularly qualifying for European football, to a lower mid-table team happy to stave of relegation. This is also very evident when looking at a graph of league finishing positions (trend-line in orange, lower bars represent better league finishes and * marks Ashley’s first full season as owner (2007/08)):
The most agonising thing about this drop in performance level is that it is entirely by design, and not a result of some freakish misfortune. The public statements about seasons’ objectives have gradually been downgraded from the point where Kevin Keegan was summoned for crunch talks after expressing doubts if challenging the top four on the budget provided was realistic, to 10th a few years later. And even then, the club isn’t afraid to shamelessly lower their targets midway through a season.
Obviously, finishing higher up the league entails the “risk” of qualifying for a European competition, which former manager Alan Pardew has expressed would be an unwelcome distraction (24 December 2013):
“I think (clubs) are thinking twice about Europe. If you ask the Swansea or the Spurs chairman about whether it’s something that’s worked for them, I don’t know what their answer would be but I’ve got a good idea.
“(and after narrowly avoiding relegation at QPR 6 months earlier) ‘Thank God that we are not in the Europa League’”
Source: The Journal
So there you have it. A once proud club trying to be the best it could be, has been systematically broken down by Mike Ashley. Losing on average more than 5 league positions, to the point where the ambition is now to remain in the league for its astronomical TV revenues and to be a feeder club to “bigger” clubs in order to turn a profit on player trading.