LONDON – As he is English football’s answer to Howard Hughes, it is difficult to know what Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is thinking. Ashley does not do interviews. He is the Secretive One.
His Sports Direct chain has helped make Ashley a billionaire, so he is obviously a guy who knows how to make the right decisions. It is unlikely, to say the least, that Ashley would tolerate failure in any of his businesses, so why does he allow Alan Pardew to continue as Newcastle manager after winning only 19 points out of a possible 81?
Too many chairmen panic when results start to go wrong, so in some respects it may be welcome to see someone without a hair-trigger finger. But Newcastle is not going through a bad spell, it is going through a bad year. At each game there are “Pardew out” banners and a SackPardew.com website has been set up. Ashley — so far — has refused to give the fans what they want.
If Pardew is a dead man walking, it has been going on so long he will need a new pair of shoes soon. The manager says the same thing after each game “my future is out of my hands . . . this team needs to win games . . . I have to turn it around,” but what else can he say?
So why does Pardew remain in charge? It could be that Ashley is so bloody minded he refuses to bow to mob rule. A more likely explanation is that for all Ashley’s unpopularity on Tyneside (he is a close second behind Pardew), he runs Newcastle as a business instead of providing a money pit. He gave the club a £129 million interest free loan, but Newcastle has made a profit for the last three years. No honors, but no debts as such.
This has mainly been due to Newcastle’s transfer policy which is to buy players at a reasonable price and sell them off at a profit. The club has worked the French market particularly well — Mathieu Debuchy, £5 million from Lille, £12 million to Arsenal; Yohan Cabaye £4.8 million from Lille, £19 million to Paris Saint-Germain; Sebastien Bassong £500,000 from Metz, £8 million to Spurs.
The players are generally identified by head scout Graham Carr, and Pardew is willing to work under what many managers would see as restrictions.
However, of the last 24 players signed by Newcastle, only two have been British, with most coming from France, giving rise to jokes such as the manager has changed his name to Alain Pardeu.
When Massadio Haidara was signed from Nancy he said upon arriving at Newcastle: “It’s almost like never having left France there are so many of us here.”
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IT WAS the most damning criticism that can be leveled at any football team, but especially a Premier League side full of internationals and millionaires.
“They wanted it more than us,” said Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard after the team’s 1-0 Champions League defeat in Basel.
One team can always outplay another, but to want it — to want victory — more than the opposition in the Champions League is a disgrace. How can any team at the top level not “want it” as much as whoever it is playing?
The display in Switzerland was the worst from a Liverpool side most can remember, despite the slender scoreline. The effect of losing Luis Suarez is greater than manager Brendan Rodgers anticipated, while his team selection and tactics against a Basel team Liverpool should be able to beat were questionable. Mario Balotelli has done nothing to suggest he is more than an overpaid baggage-carrier and the Merseysiders have a soft underbelly that Real Madrid, who are next up in Group B, can ruthlessly expose.
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IT IS a lovely dream for Manchester United fans, Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford from Real Madrid. Sadly, that is all it is . . . a dream.
Firstly, it would cost United £380,000 per week in wages, with a four-year deal costing in the region of £140 million including a £60 million fee.
Ronaldo may be unhappy that Xabi Alonso and Angel di Maria were allowed to leave, but why on earth would he want to move on when he can — make that will — rewrite just about every worthwhile record at Europe’s most successful club?
The Portugal international currently has 264 goals and is on target to overtake Raul’s club record of 323 probably in 2015. Another Raul record in danger is the Spaniard’s total of 71 Champions League goals. Three more and Ronaldo, who has scored 54 goals in 53 games for Real, will overtake Raul.
Ronaldo has scored 25 hat-tricks for Los Blancos — three behind Aldredo di Stefano.
One record CR7 would love to beat is Lionel Messi’s 50 La Liga goals. With nine in his opening four games, Ronaldo has hit the ground running.
At 28, Ronaldo is at the peak of his incredible powers, he is hardly ever injured and plays 90 minutes of every match.
Maybe, just maybe, he will return to Manchester in three or four years’ time, but for now there are records to be broken.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5