A bumper edition for you this week as our Photoshop theme is Mike Ashley, chairman extraordinaire of Newcastle.
Lots more on the Guardian site – he really is a good topic.
The news yesterday that Newcastle, or more specifically Mike Ashley, had sacked Chris Hughton was something of a shock to say the least. After leading them back to the Premier League with a 102 point Championship winning season, Hughton has overseen comfortable start to the season with Newcastle lying 11th with 19 points from 16 games.
Ashley cited the need for someone with more managerial experience to take the club forward which is reasonable if Newcastle were struggling but not in the current circumstances.
It’s not as if Newcastle are marooned in the bottom three, they’ve been mid-table all season and had impressive league victories over Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sunderland amongst others. Chuck in a League Cup win away at Chelsea and you’ve got the basis of good start to the season.
Perhaps there was the feeling that the current run of one win in six was a sign of things to come, but if that was the case then surely Chelsea would be sacking Carlo Ancelotti right now, given he has the exact same record over that period. If Ashley looked at the table he’d see Everton and Liverpool below his side too.
The whole reason Newcastle were regarded as a joke club for so many years was that there was always something ridiculous going on. Whether it was poorly thought out signings, directors making inappropriate comments, or hiring Joe Kinnear as manager, you always felt glad your own club wasn’t as stupid.
Hughton brought some stability and more importantly some dignity back to Newcastle. Conducting his business with little fuss, and managing to pretty much unite one of the most divisive squads in recent memory, he was doing well in his first shot at full-time management. Ashley obviously felt otherwise.
Perhaps he felt this season offers an opportunity – it’s a tighter league than normal so a higher than expected finish is achievable.
Perhaps he looks at how well fellow promoted sides West Brom and Blackpool are doing and feels Newcastle should be doing better having last season finished 11 and 32 points ahead respectively.
Perhaps he still plans to sell the club sooner rather than later and wants a bigger manager to attract higher bids and better players. The thing about most of these options is that if anything Newcastle are punching above their weight at the moment.
Ashley may feel that they should resume their place at the higher echelons of the league but times have long since changed from the heady days of title challenges. The main reason is the lack of investment in the team. I know Ashley has spent £300million since buying the club (including the cost price) and he the right to do what he wants but much of this was wasted on poor players and a big fat payoff to big fat Sam Allardyce.
This summer they spent around £6million and that’s being generous as a third of that was just to loan Ben Arfa. Considering how small the squad was to begin with, to currently be 11th despite a poor run of form isn’t to be sniffed at. A promoted side should be looking at staying up first and foremost. Who knows what changing manager now will have.
In fairness, despite the difficulty in doing so, judgement has to be reserved until the next manager is named. If Newcastle end up with say Martin O’Neill (unlikely) or Martin Jol (expensive but maybe) then you could argue that a good decision may have been made, however harsh it is on Hughton.
There isn’t really a good time to change managers and it may as well have been done pre January transfer window. The backlash will come if Newcastle end up with someone like Alan Curbishley or Alan Pardew. Are they truly better than Chris Hughton? Really? It would smack of hiring the proverbial safe pair of hands or in other words complete mediocrity.
Curbishley has a track record of uninspiring mid table finishes, the exception being 7th with Charlton in 2003/04. I lost track of the number of times his team would be in a good position come January before collapsing once reaching 40 points. I suppose Alan Pardew is a slightly better option but that’s like saying Andy Townsend is a slightly better pundit than Robbie Earle – both are completely meh.
By keeping out of the limelight for a while, Mike Ashley’s reputation improved in recent months but he’s destroyed any goodwill he had with Newcastle fans. Even if he brings in someone really quiet good, I’m not sure he will regain it. In the eyes of most, he’s probably the one who should be leaving the club.
Last Season: 1st in the Championship
New Signings: Perch, Campbell, Gosling
Key Player: Jonas Gutierrez
One To Watch: Jose Enrique
Needs A Big Year: Andy Carroll
Would Quite Like: Stay up, beat Sunderland, have a normal season.
Thoughts: For once, there isn’t too much drama at Newcastle. After a shaky start, Chris Hughton comfortably oversaw their promotion as Champions and the current squad looks equipped enough to survive their return to the top flight. Indeed many if the player responsible for relegation are still at the club but everyone is in a happier place and they should have more confidence having dominated the Championship.
There isn’t much money to spend on reinforcements but there have been some good value signings in James Perch and Sol Campbell. Perch is a right back who can cover across the defence while Campbell showed in his cameo half season at Arsenal that he can still do a decent job at this level. His no nonsense approach and desire to win will stand the Magpies in good stead when the inevitable poor results occur. Harper is steady as you like in goal and with the likes of Coloccini and Enrique also off the back of good seasons the defence seems not too bad if potentially a little slow.
In Nolan, Smith and Barton they have three midfielders who all have a point to prove in one way or another – if Barton really does play to the level he clearly thinks he’s capable of (if not everyone agrees) then Newcastle will have a very good player on their hands again. Perhaps the main concern is over goals will come from. You have Andy Carroll who had a good year but isn’t a natural goal scorer. In support there’s Ameobi, Lovenkrands, Xisco and some youngsters. Not good. A loan signing is certainly needed.
So all in all they should be ok. It won’t be easy but they should stay up. But do old habits die hard? Are we just a short distance away from the next ridiculous story that could derail a season and only happen at St James’ Park?