Sunday, 9 October 2011

Why seeing Newcastle flying high is so good for football

The rush to keep up with the Jones has been one of football's biggest failings since the Premier League was launched 20 years ago.
With TV cash gushing in to guarantee the repayment of loans, clubs hurried head long into debt like a student handed their first credit card.
And even when basket cases like Leeds and Portsmouth pointed to the error of their ways, the race to the financial bottom continued.
Firstly through Roman Abramovich's billions and more latterly with Sheikh Mansour's arrival at Manchester City. It appeared the only way to win was by splashing out.
Driven on by demands for success from unrealistic fans, egos were flattered and money spent that simply wasn't there.
Newcastle fell into that trap for a while. Mega deals for Michael Owen, Alan Smith and Joey Barton were concluded with the aim of giving the Geordie nation the success they craved.
But instead of chasing silverware, Newcastle were shamed as they found themselves relegated with a wage bill of £71m - the 6th highest in the Premier League.
The lessons were quickly learned. Owner Mike Ashley realised the odds on getting a return on his money were better in his beloved casinos.
Squandering was suspended, sensible measures were promoted. Assets like Andy Carroll were sold when rivals offered more than the market price; normal business practices were upheld by Newcastle in a football bazaar where anything goes.
Drains on resources like Barton and Kevin Nolan were moved on. A new order was in place.
Ashley pumped money into a youth system tasked with trawling an area that gave England Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer.
He set up a scouting system that spotted bargain deals at foreign clubs and struck before an auction took place.
The outcome has been remarkable. Newcastle sit in fourth place in the Premier League proudly boasting an unbeaten record.
So has Ashley found a panacea for all football's ills? Absolutely not. Even UEFA's Financial Play will not stop the likes of Manchester United, City and Chelsea from running away with the league.
But what Newcastle have discovered is a way of competing for a European spot and in the cup competitions without bankrupting themselves.
The wage bill is down to a manageable level and so is an expectation that, ever since Kevin Keegan's first spell as boss at the club, has been out of control.
Newcastle's fans can now look forward to challenging at the right end of the table without fearing their beloved side will go bust further down the road.
As mentioned previously in this column, it is a situation Everton have lived with for a long time and one more chairmen can grow accustomed to in time.
Sanity is finally returning to the game.
What football has needed for a long time is a role model. Chairman and fans needed to see relative success could be achieved without spending big.
It's a model that is sure to be copied for as long as Newcastle continue to fly high. So for the sake of the football, we should all have our fingers crossed that they remain in fourth spot next May.

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