Probably anticipating a backlash after the latest transfer window, NUFC recently released a statement to supporters explaining their strategy.

Any communications from the club are as rare as hen’s teeth so it’s a welcome change. But let’s take a look at what they said and whether it stacks up.

Our commitment to being run in a sustainable manner, which secures the financial viability of the club, is a longstanding one.

This is true. Newcastle have made profits in 8 of the last 10 years. Over that period, they’ve made an aggregate profit of £94m.

 

Only 3 clubs have made higher profits over that period (Spurs, Man Utd and Arsenal). The only seasons when they didn’t post profits were 16/17 (Championship) and 19/20 (Covid impact).

Over that period, owner funding has amounted to precisely zero. Newcastle is a self-sustaining club, one of the few in the PL (and indeed the Championship).

 

 

This does not come at the expense of being ambitious, ……….

This is where the statement becomes somewhat subjective. Many supporters would question what the ambitions of the club actually are? Is it their ambition merely to stay in the Premier League? Or is it to push for the top half of the table and a compete for a cup?

If it’s the former then yes, we can agree that the club is spending to match their ambitions. If it’s the latter then the spending is likely to fall well short of fulfilling that ambition.

………. and it is built on the core principle that we will spend what we have. The cash generated each year through matchday and non-matchday activities, plus any transfer fees received from player sales, determines how much is available to spend.

Again, this is true. All cash generated by the club goes towards what they spend. But there’s a couple of things that isn’t mentioned here.

Firstly, what the club generates in cash relative to other PL clubs has essentially tanked over the last ten years. This is particularly the case in respect of Commercial Revenue. By standing still, NUFC have gone backwards against other clubs. The graph below shows NUFC being left behind by the “Big Six” since Ashley bought the club. But it’s not just the Big Six. They are now being overtaken by the likes of Everton, Leicester and West Ham.

 

 

So whilst it is true that the club spends what it generates, the club has failed to grow that income compared to nearly all other clubs. And many of those other clubs also routinely supplement that income with money gifted from their owners!

But not Ashley. He will only pump his own money into the club when forced to do so (usually as a result of his own catastrophic decision making). And this is the second thing not mentioned in this part of the statement.

A big chunk of cash generated by the club has been spent on repaying money that Ashley loaned the club after their relegation(s). One might think that this is fair enough. He’s loaned the club money so he’s entitled to it back.

But that ignores the fact that firstly it was his decision making that forced him to loan money to the club in the first place and therefore it could be argued that he personally should suffer the financial consequences of that decision making; secondly, many (most) owners, particularly in the top two divisions, who have made loans to their clubs essentially write those loans off by capitalising them. Not Ashley.

By recouping part of his loan (£33m) in 17/18, Ashley diverted cash away from desperately needed transfer funds for Benitez. Did Ashley really need that money? I’m sure he’d have survived with the remainder of his purported £2.5b wealth. Ashley gambled with the club’s survival, just as he did when recouping his loan in 2011 following promotion from the Championship.

So it’s a double whammy. We have an owner who will not put any of his own cash into the club but has also miserably failed to grow the club’s turnover. A change of ownership is essential just to catch up with those middle ranking PL clubs who have overtaken us.

This relates not only to first team playing squad expenditure, but to all other areas of the club. In simple terms, there is one pot of money and spending in one area reduces the amount available for others.

Again, nothing inherently untruthful about this. But what is not mentioned is that the club has spent virtually nothing on infrastructure or “other areas” over the last ten years. So whilst other clubs have managed to extend, or relocate into new, stadiums, Newcastle have barely managed to pay for a new coat of paint to St. James’ or their training facilities.

 

 

If no money is being spent on “other areas”, you’d think that would leave a big pot for transfers. Think again.  The playing squad value (relative to other clubs) and team performance does not suggest a club that is prioritising success on the pitch over everything else.

In a ‘normal’ year, our operating model would generate sufficient funds to enable us to make one or two quality first team additions, as well as investing in other areas. This approach takes time and requires careful management and long-term planning, ensuring that we spend the money we generate wisely to benefit the club.

I’m sure the first reaction of many supporters to this was to question whether the £40m purchase of Joelinton was money spent “wisely”. But that would be slightly unfair. We’ve established that the NUFC squad value is lower than many clubs that have finished below them which suggests that they do squeeze value out of their budget.

Like it or loath it, Newcastle have a long term purchasing strategy. That strategy does not change when a new manager is brought in. With a few exceptions, they pay the bigger fees for players of a certain age (below 26) with a sell on value. Until recently, they relied heavily on the European market as they judged it provided better value than the domestic market. Players brought in generally tend to be young, quick, hard-working and arrive with little baggage.

The trouble is that in a “normal year”, the income generated by other clubs (or the money put in by their owners) allow them to buy better quality players. And this is the crux. We are falling further and further behind these clubs. No matter how wisely money is spent, unless the club can generate more funds, they will continue to be also-rans.

The last two years have been challenging, with Covid-19 having a considerable impact on the club’s finances and therefore the amount of cash we have available to spend. Internally, all parties have long been aware of the budgetary parameters under which we are operating.

This is not unreasonable. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Covid has not impacted on all clubs’ finances in the PL. My article on the 19/20 accounts, highlighted the hit that the club had taken last season as a result. 20/21 was likely to be even more severe.

The shortfall in funding as a result of Covid will most likely be made up by club owners. In Newcastle’s case, the club owner will want every penny of that shortfall back.

Ahead of the summer transfer window and having made a significant impact after arriving on loan in January 2021, Joe Willock was identified as the club’s primary target. Once it was confirmed that the player would be available on a permanent deal, a collaborative decision was taken to pursue this option. All parties were aware as to the implications for further squad consolidation, with the collective view being that securing Joe Willock was the right priority. There was a shared understanding that further additions to the playing squad would be heavily influenced by player trading, both in terms of available funds and space in the squad. The deal to bring Joe Willock to the club was formally completed on Friday 13th August 2021 and we are beyond delighted to have secured him. Our preference to pay transfer fees up front, rather than spreading payments over several years, is well documented. We believe this approach to be in the club’s long-term interests, giving the club far greater certainty and control over its spending in future windows and seasons. In negotiating/securing this deal post Covid-19, we acknowledged the need to make an exception and, on this occasion, have spread the transfer fee over instalments. We did so this summer to secure a player who we know makes us stronger and who our head coach was unequivocal in his desire to sign.

I’ve never really understood this approach, but the club obviously thinks it gets better terms by paying cash up front. With the cash constraints facing the club, it’s understandable that they would’ve been struggling to pay the Willock fee up front so they’ve shown some uncharacteristic flexibility to get the deal done. I was surprised, and delighted, as anyone when they got this deal over the line. Let’s hope he quickly rediscovers his form from last season.

Since summer 2019, the club has made nine permanent signings and taken five players on loan. Our net spend over this period is c£120m* (£160m spent on players and £40m received from sales). We have delivered on our commitment to spending what we have, and indeed because of our business this summer, have spent more to secure our primary target. To suggest otherwise is misleading and claims that money has been taken out of the club are wholly untrue. For context, this summer, Sky Sports reported that Newcastle United’s net spend was the tenth highest in the Premier League. The club retained its best players despite the obvious financial challenges.

Since the summer of 2019, NUFC do indeed seem to have opened the purse strings to support Steve Bruce (if Benitez had received similar backing what could he have achieved?).

But let’s take a look at the last ten years. Newcastle have consistently had one of the lowest net spends in the Premier League as evidenced by the graph below.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a low net spend. Buying low and selling high, combined with a good youth system, works for clubs like Southampton. But it needs a solid structure supported by quality management to deliver this model. I don’t think the current management regime at NUFC meets that criteria.

Having finished last season in 12th place in the Premier League, and in the top six of the form table over the final nine fixtures, the club at all levels maintains a strong belief in its current squad. We have a talented and committed group of players who have shown that they are fully capable of delivering and we ask all our loyal supporters to get behind their team, because we are stronger together.

The start to this season has rather undermined this final part of the statement.

But I agree with much of it.  I reckon we have got a talented and committed group of players. They just happen to be managed by a Championship manager. With a half decent manager, I reckon this squad could be pushing for the top half of the table.

But I suspect most people will recognise that the real problem at Newcastle isn’t Steve Bruce. As long as we have the current owner, this club will continue to tread water. I’ll let the takeover saga play out before adding my weight to any protests but the noises coming out aren’t encouraging.

If it does all fall through, the club is in sound financial health to attract another would be purchaser. The trouble is there aren’t many people out there of sound mind willing to pay Ashley’s ridiculous asking price.

ANDREW TROBE – @tfAndy1892