As another transfer window looks to be fizzling towards a conclusion and another season of struggle rumbles on for a mere pitiful version of the artists formally known as Newcastle United, Mike Ashley is absolutely delighted and fans are equally as enraged.
From the mercurial owner’s point of view, everything is going exactly to plan. A business plan he follows stringently across his multitude of companies and ventures. That underlying plan? Spend as little money as possible to make as much money as possible. Unfortunately, that is the complete wrong ethos for running a football club. Speculate to accumulate doesn’t exist in this man’s world. Which is very much a contradiction to the fact he is The Gambler.
The Gambler has a lot of publicised stories of his nights in casinos, turning up to one visit at Sports Direct HQ with a wad of £50 notes from one heavy night. But that’s small fry to The Gambler. He much prefers the larger stakes. Taking gambles on big businesses going to the wall, flying in like the saviour but he is gambling. He is rolling the dice. And 9 times out of 10 he wins. He’s just won against Intu for reduced rents or he was closing House of Fraser stores. Gambling with human lives and their futures. It’s not the money, it’s the feeling of winning. And he doesn’t care what he has to do or the destruction he leaves in his wake to get the win.
Self-made billionaire and he’s got there doing it his way. Not conforming to normal business etiquette, he isn’t part of the big business boys club. He is a maverick, he is The Gambler. He is loathed by the City for his ways of doing business and keeping them out and he’s loathed in Parliament for his sheer disregard to anybody but himself. Along with his gathering of trusted lieutenants, a comparison could be made to The Wolf of Wall Street. Yeah there’s not drugs and loose women knocking around, but they do things their way.
And this is where Newcastle United suffer. The Gambler doesn’t run a football club how it’s supposed to be run. But he does lots of sensible gambling with the running of the club. Sensible in his mind anyway.
Since taking ownership of Newcastle United, there has been a significant lack of investment. Not just in the playing squad but the club as a whole. The training ground is small and behind the times, a mooted new training ground has been knocked on the head due to money having to actually be spent to obtain it. Anybody attending St James’ Park on match days will tell you how shabby parts of the stadium are now looking and need updating. Let’s not spend any time talking about the playing squad, everybody knows that situation.
Everybody wonders why? Why the lack of investment? Why is the club not run in line with how football clubs are run? I’ll tell you, The Gambler.
To The Gambler, why use big stakes on a short odds bet. Think of that as signing a player for good money or even a record transfer. What would he get from that? Having that much capital tied up in one asset that isn’t guaranteed to secure a profit or even a return. That doesn’t fit his business model at all. Instead he prefers to spend as little as possible with the chance of securing a huge profit approach. Just like how he made his money in Sports Direct. It’s like us normal lads sticking our £5 accumulators on with the bookies on a Saturday with the chance to win a few hundred. The ethos we had for a few years of raiding France for cheap imports fits that bill perfectly and he nicked a few quid doing it. Perfect. Profit. Gamble paid off.
The Gambler has also talked up Newcastle United producing their own talent in the academy. Bringing through their own players, it was his dream and a special project he considered overseeing himself he told ‘Craigy’ in a Sky Sports ‘interview’. Liken this scenario to what he has done with Sports Direct again. When it first boomed onto the high street it was stocked high with Donnay. Then it was Dunlop. Then it was Slazenger. Firetrap. No Fear. Kangol. Karrimor. Who owns or has lots of shares in these companies? The Gambler. He’s producing his own stock, for little outlay, and selling it to the masses and making a fortune. Bringing through a player from the academy, costing very little to do so, turning him into a player and then selling him would be perfect for The Gambler and his ethos. Just like making a Slazenger polo top for next to nothing, stocking it in his shop and selling it to Big Alan in the local social club as he gets three different outrageous colours for a bargain £10. Does anybody remember a lad called Andy Carroll? Did he come through the academy for next to nothing? How much did we sell him for?
Then you have relegation. Two relegation’s in 11 years of ownership. People may see that as two years of The Gambler losing. Wrong. He never loses. The Gambler is one step ahead. In a relegation, he has to loan poor old Newcastle United money to keep operating in the form of an interest free loan. Let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of why and where the other money has gone if it hasn’t been spent. So Newcastle United now owes The Gambler around £140 million in interest free loans due to relegation’s. So his original gamble of spending very little to stay in the Premier League hit a minor blip twice. But as a contingency, and to keep making money, loans were given instead which had to be paid back. The Gambler hasn’t lost a penny. He was in a win/win situation. Not spend money in the Premier League but ‘loan’ the club money in the Championship. It’s not criminal but ethics have to be questioned.
And this is an interesting point and links back to him ‘rescuing’ these struggling companies and owning a football club which owes him considerable money. Why does he do it? To make more money. Owning companies that are making a loss such as House of Fraser and owning Newcastle United, he will qualify for reduced rates of tax due. Thus lining the pockets further of The Gambler as he doesn’t have to pay as much money into the state.
Then we have Rafa Benítez. Possibly The Gambler’s greatest and most solid bet. He knew he could invest even less money with Rafa at the helm because he alone could guarantee at least 12 points a season through his excellent coaching. The Gambler knew this was a cert, no chance of losing. He knew he didn’t have to put in big stakes like he did with Steve McClaren. The extra cost of the salary is a fraction of the cost of signing players and he could keep the club in the Premier League on a shoestring budget. If previous managers such as Alan Pardew or Sam Allardyce were managing this team, they would be rock bottom of the Premier League with very few points.
There comes a time when the people putting the money into the club have to start asking questions about where their money is going. The fans have asked that for a long time. Is this why we don’t have too many sponsors and commercial partners? Surely they would be asking questions of the club if they were putting money in and seeing no investment? Why are they not asking what their money is being used for? Has anybody tried to link any of our sponsors to The Gambler personally? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a link. Not only do Sports Direct get free advertising but they also stop questions being asked too. Are Sky Sports and the Premier League not wondering where their money is going if it isn’t being invested in anything?
So The Gambler is far from all in, but definitely holds all the aces.