Comment: Mike Ashley promises in 2013 – Newcastle United and Leicester City the reality

    Mike Ashley had hit lucky yet again.

    Newcastle United ended the 2012/13 Premier League season having narrowly avoided relegation, only confirming safety when winning the very final away game (2-1 at QPR) of the season.

    Despite that close escape, the summer 2013 transfer window then saw Mike Ashley banning any permanent transfers.

    Ashley had appointed Joe Kinnear as a supposed Director of Football but in reality this was just so JFK would take the blame for the failure to buy any players. Newcastle fans encouraged to believe it was Kinnear’s incompetence as the reason why no players were bought, rather than Mike Ashley prohibiting it.

    To be fair, a lot of people bought that line, both media and fans, wanting to believe this narrative as it made a good story. However, when not a single player was bought in the January 2014 Premier League window either, it meant Newcastle United went 18 months between buying any senior players – from the end of the January 2013 window to the summer 2014 one.

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    Joe Kinnear was though also used for other things, as well as the pretence he was trying to buy players.

    These quotes below attributed to him in an official NUFC announcement, though obviously it was just something put together by Ashley’s PR / media people…

    Newcastle United Official Announcement – 30 November 2013:

    ‘Newcastle United have announced plans for a stunning new state-of-the-art training complex

    Newcastle United Football Club have announced plans for a stunning new state-of-the-art training complex as part of a multi-million pound redevelopment of the Club’s existing 35-acre training ground site.

    The current intention is that work will get underway in May 2015 and when complete in early 2016, the Magpies will occupy one of the finest training facilities of its kind in Europe.

    While existing training pitches and a modern indoor training hall will be retained, the Club’s current Training Centre building will be demolished and replaced by a much larger, high-tech structure.

    It will accommodate newly-designed changing, training, rehabilitation, medical, leisure and catering facilities and will also introduce the latest aquatic technology to the site, with a 20-metre swimming pool, a hydrotherapy and fitness pool and specialist equipment to aid injury prevention and recovery.

    The new construction will also create a fitness centre double the size of the Club’s existing gymnasium, as well as administrative space, a presentation suite for match analysis and a new media suite.

    Newcastle United director of football, Joe Kinnear, said: “This is a hugely exciting development for Newcastle United. We have one of football’s great stadiums and we are delighted to now be announcing plans for a training complex which will rival any in Europe.

    “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.”

    The new training complex has been designed to fit within the Club’s impressive environmental policy, building on the Magpies’ achievement of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral football club in 2012.

    The new eco-friendly building will be made from cross-laminated timber (CLT) sourced from sustainable forests and will produce its own energy from a combined heat and power (CHP) plant room.

    A formal planning application is to be submitted shortly before a tender process begins. For exclusive images, click here.

    The Club’s official website, will continue to bring supporters exclusive updates on the project as they happen.’

    The same day as this official Mike Ashley / Newcastle United media release, NUFC beat West Brom 2-1 at St James Park. A fourth win in a row after victories over Chelsea, Tottenham and Norwich.

    Despite the near relegation miss only months earlier and then a ban on buying players that (2013/14) season, the incredible Mike Ashley luck knew no bounds.

    By the close of 30 November 2013 and the win over West Brom and the announcement of the ‘State Of The Art’ new training ground, Newcastle United were in sixth place in the Premier League, only one point off the top four.

    Another promising few weeks went by with only one defeat, one draw and three victories, including a first league win at Old Trafford for over 40 years. Indeed, after beating Stoke City 5-1 on Boxing Day 2013, Newcastle were still very handily placed in sixth, only three points off the top four and dreaming of better to come in the second half of the season.

    When it comes to luck, Mike Ashley was literally rolling in it, in the absence of buying players, to try and temporarily fill the goals gap in summer 2013, Ashley had allowed the loan signing of Loic Remy for a year as QPR had been relegated.

    Remy arrived injured and took a month before he could start a Premier League game BUT once he did, the French striker amazingly set alight a team that had almost been relegated, a team / squad that had been totally demoralised after Mike Ashley had refused to allow any net spend on the squad in the summer of 2012 after the fifth place finish, only squad player Vurnon Anita brought in and paid for by the sale of Fraser Forster and others.

    Loic Remy though was the focus for an exciting looking Newcastle attacking team, the spearhead with Cabaye, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Santon and Sissoko all performing well, summed up when Yohan Cabaye scored that winner at Old Trafford.

    What could possibly go wrong…

    In those final weeks of 2013, Leicester City were halfway through their fifth season of trying to get out of the Championship, having got promotion from the third tier in 2008. More of them (Leicester) later…

    For Newcastle United, Mike Ashley ensured this surprising season of promise / encouragement was going to last far less time than the 2011/12 season one did, Ashley selling Cabaye to PSG for £20m and refusing to allow any players to be bought in that January 2014 window. Only another loan signing, Luuk de Jong, who didn’t quite work out as well as Remy.

    After reaching sixth place in the table on Boxing Day 2013 with 33 points from the first 18 games, Newcastle then only managed five more victories and one draw, as well as fourteen defeats, only 16 points from the last 20 games and a mediocre mid-table position instead of what might have been with just some modest ambition.

    Meanwhile, Leicester City finally managed promotion to the top tier after five seasons trying, six years after playing League One football, in 2014 they were at last in the Premier League.

    Loic Remy had scored an impressive 14 goals in 24 Premier League starts (plus two sub appearances) yet Mike Ashley refused to allow any attempt to be made to buy him or match wage expectations. The loan striker went from QPR to Chelsea instead and Newcastle United / Mike Ashley went for the alternative budget signing of Emmanuel Riviere.

    Newly promoted Leicester maybe predictably struggled, only four wins in their opening 29 games and looking guaranteed to be relegated. However, a remarkable seven wins (including 3-0 over Newcastle) and only one defeat in their last nine games saw Leicester to comfortable safety in the end.

    In contrast, the Mike Ashley capacity to grab chaos and failure out of the jaws of (relative) victory know no limits, Newcastle only ensuring safety when winning the very final game of the season, Jonas Gutierrez inspiring and scoring in the 2-0 win over West Ham.

    Never mind though, Newcastle United were still showing ambition elsewhere of course…what had happened to that new state of the art training ground that would be the best in Europe and help Newcastle to compete with whoever…and where were those promised ‘exclusive updates’ on its progress…?

    We’ll just jump forward another four years (six years after the original announcement in 2013 and three years after it was supposed to have been completed) and here’s Lee Charnley…

    Lee Charnley 18 April 2019 – as reported by Martin Hardy (one of a number of selected journalists invited to speak to Lee Charnley after the 2017/18 NUFC accounts were published):

    “We are looking at a training ground building project that is potentially going to be between £15m and £20million.

    “If you were to ask me now, do I think we are best served spending that on a new training facility or spending it on improving the team, now, today in the short-term, I think that money is best spent on the team.

    “We have revisited the plans that came out and we now have a different design. We have also got a different build structure.

    “In my experience, has a player turned round and said I’m not signing for Newcastle United because of your training facilities? No. Did it stop us getting promoted out of the Championship, did it stop us finishing tenth, did it stop us having a good season this season? No.

    “Is it something at some point in the future, if we could and it was the right time to spend the money, we would look at improving? Yes.”

    Lee Charnley quotes in The Chronicle – 14 August 2019:

    “It is about priorities.

    “There is a pot of money. Where is the greater need? At this time it’s on field.

    “It’s not unreasonable, the pot of money can only go so far.

    “You go and spend it on the training ground it means there is less to spend on the team.

    “Spend it on the Academy, there is less to spend on the team.

    “Spend too much on wages, there’s less to spend on the team.

    “That doesn’t mean we don’t spend in all those areas, because we do, but our view has been at this point in time the priority is what goes on to the field.”

    “It doesn’t mean we don’t want to update the training ground.

    “Does it mean at some point in time we would like to update the training ground? Absolutely, yes.

    “It is about priorities. It doesn’t stop us doing what we need to do on a daily basis.

    “Our pitches are very good, our gym is perfectly adequate and functional.

    “Do we have a swimming pool or water facilities? No.

    “Would we like to have it at some stage? Absolutely.”

    If we now bounce back in time again to summer 2015 onwards and look at what has happened at Leicester City compared to Newcastle United in these six years of action / inaction…

    Leicester City

    Premier League Champions 2015/16.

    Champions League quarter-finalists 2016/17.

    Fifth place in Premier League 2019/20 and qualifying for Europa League.

    A stunning £95m new training complex opened in December 2020.

    The 2021 FA Cup winners.

    Currently third in the 2020/21 Premier League and hot favourites to have Champions League football next season.

    Newcastle United

    Relegated yet again from the Premier League in 2015/16, only six years after his first relegation.

    No Champions League football.

    No Europa League football.

    No cup semi-finals, never mind finals, or actually…winning something.

    Not one brick laid of the £15m-£20m ‘State of the Art’ rival anything in Europe new training complex, eight years after Mike Ashley / NUFC said it was essential if the club were going to be able to compete.

    Currently sixteenth in the 2020/21 Premier League and looking forward to another summer lacking any ambition and another relegation fight next season.

    Mike Ashley using taxpayers money via the furlough scheme to pay many of his NUFC staff in 2019/20 AND continuing to do so into the 2020/21 season.

    Earlier this month, the excellent Swiss Ramble looked at the capital expenditure allowed by the owners of Premier League clubs since 2010.

    This is money spent on such things as training ground and Academy facilities, as well as stadium building / rebuilding / expansion / improvements.

    As you can see, Mike Ashley at the very bottom of the table when it comes to building for the future, only a total of £7m spent on the most essential repairs and maintenance, every other club / owners showing more ambition in their club investing in the future.

    On the pitch, Newcastle United have been lucky when it comes to the relegation battle to have three such woeful teams at the very bottom this season.

    However, so long as Mike Ashley remains, Newcastle will always be at risk of relegation, as a total lack of ambition on AND off the pitch ensures that.

    A bit of a ‘coincidence’ that Leicester City on the other hand are getting so ‘lucky’ with what happens on the pitch, you would almost think that what a club does off the pitch might just help.

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