Mike Ashley’s a gambler. And he’s taken another big gamble.
Ashley’s gambled on Newcastle United’s Premier League status. Again.
Why? Why has the club spent just £40million – the net spend is far less – to turn a Championship squad into a Premier League one?
The Magpies were left behind last season during its year in England’s second tier.
And the money spent is nowhere near enough for it to catch up, even with Rafa Benitez in charge.
Why can’t Newcastle, with the Premier League’s TV income and gates of 52,000, hold its own in the division?
Ashley, United’s billionaire owner, sat down with Benitez in May to thrash out a budget for this summer’s transfer window.
We don’t know what was agreed – Benitez pointedly said he expected Ashley to “keep his word” last month – but it must have quickly become apparent that what was agreed simply wasn’t enough given the rampant transfer market inflation.
United spent the bulk of the window haggling over deals.
But, at some point, a Premier League club MUST pay Premier League fees. It’s that simple.
Benitez, not a gambler himself, has had to take gambles in the transfer market. Not all of them will pay off.
Ashley’s reluctance to put in any more money has a lot to do with his keenness to sell it.
Surely that’s shortsighted. Newcastle’s value is closely tied to its league position and a relegation-threatened club won’t be such an attractive proposition to buyers.
Maybe Ashley thinks the squad is good enough for it to prosper in the top flight.
And, maybe, Benitez can steer United to a mid-table finish this season, but most fans recognise that the squad is weak in several positions.
And surely Ashley should have listened to Benitez – and those who know the game – over the past few weeks.
History tells us that Newcastle don’t do deadline days, but yesterday still came as something of a surprise.
There were more departures but not one arrival. Yes, not one.
Kenedy stayed at Chelsea. Matt Targett stayed at Southampton. And Benitez also didn’t get the extra forward and goalkeeper he felt was needed. Fulham target Dwight Gayle stayed at St James’s Park – the Magpies couldn’t secure a replacement – and that was that.
Benitez met managing director Lee Charnley at the training ground yesterday afternoon. No news wasn’t good news for Benitez, who is likely to be on West Ham’s managerial shortlist should they dismiss Slaven Bilic.
Charnley had only one job this summer, and that was to ensure Benitez had a squad which was capable of competing this season. The problem was that the budget didn’t allow him to do that job.
And United’s squad, put simply, doesn’t look much stronger than it was a year ago.