Mike Ashley’s rash decision-making can be avoided by German structure

by Charlie Coffey

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

English football must follow the German model of club ownership for the sake of the fans, and the well-being of the clubs themselves. Investors such as Mike Ashley or Malcolm Glazer would be allowed to purchase up to 49% of a club, but the majority share would be held by supporters, with the objective being not to allow unqualified but merely wealthy men being in the position to make the wrong decisions for the club.

As was commonly believed before the announcement of Ashley’s decision to sack Chris Hughton yesterday, and has been confirmed in the aftermath, Newcastle fans were behind their manager and happy with the job he has done: promotion as champions at the first attempt, then a start to the season that has included wins against Arsenal and Chelsea and, of course, the 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland that confirmed Hughton’s place in Geordie legend.

Newcastle have not won for five games now, but then almost every team has had a bad run at some point this season. One of those games was a draw to the current champions Chelsea, who have only won one of their last five games themselves. The fact that Newcastle are still in 12th place in the table is testament to the job Hughton did before that run. In the four games prior Newcastle won three, including that win at the Emirates.

Fans cannot always know best, and sometimes they might disagree when an experienced football man makes an unpopular decision for the sake of the club, for instance a manager playing with one up front when the fans demand attacking football. However, I would guess that the collective voice of died-in-the-wool Geordies would know more about what’s best for their club than Mike Ashley, especially those of the required status to be a board member.

Having sacked a promising young British manager who has worked his way up from assistant and has the respect of a dressing room which includes some highly volatile characters, it is rumoured that Ashley is going to put the new ‘messiah’, top-scoring striker Andy Carroll up for sale. I wouldn’t be going to anymore matches at St James Park, sorry, the SportsDirect.com @ St. James’ Park Stadium anytime soon if I were him, unless he wants to get his head ‘stoved in’.

Young British managers must be wondering whether they have any chance of landing, or keeping, jobs at Premier League clubs these days. Whoever replaces Hughton will be Newcastle’s sixth manager in three years, and that Ashley has declared a need for an experienced manager having appointed Alan Shearer just last year is hypocritical and shows reactive decision-making rather than a long-term strategy for Newcastle.

If managers such as Hughton are not granted longevity despite impressing, how will they ever gain the ‘experience’ Ashley wants? In terms of managerial experience Hughton is a stottie cake to Shearer’s cocktail sausage. Having had the advantage of watching other managers from the background, Hughton has the experience of seeing where they have gone wrong, whereas another manager who does not know Newcastle may make the same mistakes no matter how experienced he is.

When I saw Newcastle in the flesh early this season, they looked like a decent, solid side, but slightly rigid and lacking in top-class creativity. In other words a side capable of winning the Championship and staying up in the Premier League, but without a special player capable of taking them to the next level, which is understandable as their wages and transfer funds would have been limited. Hughton then made the astute loan signing of Hatem Ben Arfa, whose stunning winner against Everton in his second match for the club suggested he might be able to provide the flair they were lacking. His horrific leg injury was a tough break (sorry) for himself and especially for Hughton. Even so Newcastle have proved me and others wrong and have impressed even without Ben Arfa, and the shocked look on Hughton’s face after he left his meeting with Ashley yesterday is proof he thought he had done enough to prove himself to the owner.

FIFA bemoan the fact that there is a lack of English coaching talent (Hughton played for Ireland but grew up in London), and they now have a chance to protect them and give them greater opportunities by enforcing tighter control on chairmen such as Ashley.

Ashley has apparently lost a lot of money on Newcastle United but he has also lost the respect and the backing of the fans by making a series of ill-informed, knee-jerk decisions. Had his investment been managed by a board made up of fans, as is the case in Germany, he might have maintained his dignity and avoided the year in the Championship, and the resulting financial loss in terms of TV rights.

Messrs’ Hicks, Gillett and Glazer have done nothing but damage to Liverpool and Manchester United, and with the impending UEFA regulations that will limit the amount of expenditure a club can make compared to their revenue, it could also be argued that the people in charge of such expenditure should be regulated by the fans. Such measures may be the only way to prevent further damage to footballing institutions such as Newcastle United.

Read Charlie Coffey’s brilliant blog at my11.com.

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  • Doug

    The German thing was what immediately sprong to my mind also.

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