Mike Ashley and Darsley Park – Unfit for Purpose

As disgraceful as the support for Rafa Benitez has been from Mike Ashley in this transfer window, promising him every penny the club earns and then ending the summer as the most profitable club in the Premier league is not the only concern for fans and the manager. Benitez has consistently raised the issue of outdated training facilities and underinvestment at the club academy since the day he arrived at Newcastle. This is an area that Mike Ashley should be on the same page as his manager on, to quote the owner from back in 2008 – “I want Newcastle to be able to create its own legends of the future to rival those of the past. This is a long-term plan. A long-term plan for the future of the club so that it can flourish”.

The lack of investment in Newcastle’s training facility at Darsley Park flies in the face of any such desire and is a slap in the face to a great manager like Benitez famed for bringing on talent.

It was 2003 when Newcastle opened their current facility, over 15 years ago it was state of the art, but these days modern facilities are a miles ahead of what was built prior to Ashley buying the club, and Ashley knows it. That’s why he announced an upgrade in 2013. As Joe Kinnear, Director of Football at the time (pause for thought) said announcing the upgrade – “Top players and top teams need top training and medical facilities. Our current training ground has served the Club very well but the new complex will give us all of the ingredients that we need to continue maintaining and enhancing the performance of elite footballers. It will also be an added attraction when we are looking to recruit players.”

Nothing happened after the announcement, the planning permission that was granted has expired 5 years later.

There have been some improvements that Benitez has been able to push through. There has been internal restructuring, some new gym equipment and a big thing for the manager was resurfacing the indoor artificial pitch. The new 4G surface reduces the chances of injuries, but Benitez was keen to state that this is not anything extravagant, but rather something those of us that play five-a-side already had better than the club – “If our supporters play in their five-a-side teams perhaps, then they will know themselves the difference between a poor quality artificial pitch and a 4G pitch”. The same surface was provided for the academy.

Rafa still wants Newcastle to do more to improve on what was a recognised problem back in 2013.

Almost every other Premierleague club has invested heavily in keeping their training facilities right up to date, if they’ve not upgraded their facilities they have plans in place to do so:

Arsenal Hale End Academy, major developments, completed April ’17
Read more – Arsenal.com

Bournemouth, former Canford Magna Golf Club, granted planning approval January ’18
Read more – AFC Bournemouth.com

Brighton, American Express Elite Football Performance Centre, completed November ’14 (cost of £32million)
Read more – The Argus

Burnley Barnfield Training Centre, completed March ’17 (cost of £12million)
Read more – Lancashire Telegraph

Cardiff City, planning approval for 15 new pitches granted July ’18, further planning decisions pending
Read more – Wales Online

Chelsea Cobham Training Centre, completed ’07, major extension in ’14 and further development ’16
Read more – Chelsea FC.com

Everton, Finch Farm, completed ’07, refurbishments ongoing currently
Read more – Liverpool Echo

Fulham, Motspur Park – purchased land immediately adjacent ’17, planning permission granted May ’18
Read more – football.london

Huddersfield Town, Canalside Complex, planning permission granted February ’18 for new gym and video room
Read more – Huddersfield Examiner

Leicester City, plans submitted for £100m training complex
Read more – Leicester Mercury

Liverpool, redeveloping existing academy at Kirkby, after submitting plans to build 160 homes on existing Melwood site
Read more – Liverpool FC.com

Manchester City, Etihad Campus, 5 years into a major ten-year development
Read more – Wikipedia

Manchester United, Trafford Training Centre, last major redevelopment of medical centre and sports science department ’13, more expansion planned
Read more – Manchester Evening News

Southampton, Staplewood Training Ground, opened ’14, £40million development not yet completed
Read more – Daily Echo

Spurs’ state-of-the-art Enfield Training Ground to go with their incredible new stadium
Read more – Tottenham Hotspur.com

West Ham United, preparing planning application for Rush Green Training Ground
Read more – Daily Mail

Wolves’ Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground, completed November ’05, submitted two planning applications for major redevelopment May ’18
Read more – Insider Media

Protests against the owner are not just about disappointing transfer windows. They are about chronic under-investment across the entire club. The transfer window might be closed but Mike Ashley still has an opportunity to invest where Rafa has asked. Last week, the club released a statement that included the following rally cry – “Now, it’s about all of us pulling in the same direction, for the good of the club”. If that is to have any credence whatsoever it’s time for Mike Ashley and Justin Barnes to start pulling in the same direction as Rafa Benitez and invest the club’s money where he wants.