We are amidst the festive period folks, and as we roll ever forward into the busy Christmas schedule it can be easy to forget that in only a few short days we are faced with a period that could define our season – the January transfer window. As we inch ever closer to the January transfer window, there is much discussion about the ‘business-plan’ of a certain Mike Ashley. Now that the team are performing well, the apologists ahem I mean pro-Ashley supporters are claiming that this is indicative of a long-term ambition from the custodian of our football club. They appear to twist the events of last January to make it appear that the 5 signings that were made in last season’s winter window were smart investments and that we were lucky that he ‘brought forward’ a number of these signings in order to protect our Premier League status, and that we should be fortunate to have such a benevolent guardian as Ashley.
Bah! Humbug. Now, do not mistake this lowly blog writer as the Scrooge of the piece, if anything, myself, and all other fans alike are more akin to Bob Cratchit. Woefully ill-treated by a miserly skinflint who had no other interests than his own monetary gain, while we content ourselves with any small mercies that may come our way. Sound familiar? While that particular Christmas tale had a happy ending following an epiphany from the antagonist, I fear no such happy ending for our own sad tale.
It is a matter of perception and perspectives when one assesses the events of last January. While some may erroneously think that our 5 signings were a combination of ambition, forward thinking and benevolence, the truth is that Ashley screwed up badly in the summer of 2012, following our superb 5th place finish. He failed to invest in squad depth, and as such we failed to cope with the extra games that the Europa League demanded of us, and when injuries and suspensions began to pile up, we simply could not cope. As you all well know, we then found ourselves in the midst of a relegation battle which we were losing, and following our humiliating 2-1 home defeat to Reading (a team who themselves were ultimately relegated) Ashley decided to protect his investment by signing 5 players.
We had needed a centre half for the 2 1/2 years we had already been in the league so M’biwa’s signing was well overdue. We should have signed Debuchy the previous summer. We did not really need Haidara as we already had Santon but he may be one for the future. Only Sissoko and Gouffran were surprising additions who immediately benefited the team but let’s not forget that had Ashley had his way, he would have delayed these 2 signings until the summer when he could have snapped them up for free.
Mike Ashley’s signings – whether through necessity rather than ambition – had saved us from relegation. Just. So what was Ashley’s approach to the summer transfer window? Not a single penny spent, with only Loic Remy coming through on loan. Master stroke. Genius. Business guru strikes again.
Fortunately, the work of fitness consultant Faye Downey seems to be paying dividends, and our squad has remained relatively injury free this season, and Pardew has also seemingly managed to get the most from the players at his disposal. Players like Shola Ameobi and Mike Williamson have upped their game, and key players like Yohan Cabaye are on top form. All of which has seen us make a spectacular start to the season. Let me ask you one question on this point – does any of this have anything to do with Mike Ashley? Is Mike Ashley coaching the team? Is Mike Ashley managing this squad of players? Is Mike Ashley taking training sessions? No. So why is any credit being given to a man whose only addition to a squad that nearly got relegated was the loan signing of Loic Remy (no matter how impressive that signing may be turning out to be). Mike Ashley had once more taken a gamble with the strength of our squad, and through sheer luck, we have remained free of any injuries or suspensions that could de-rail our season. If we suffer from such injuries or suspensions, we could find ourselves sliding down the league.
Mike Ashley can supplement the fine work that has been done thus far with some signings in the January transfer window, but do not delude yourself in thinking that last January was any sort of blueprint for success. The only blueprint that last January proved to be was that if we are fighting relegation, and only if we are fighting relegation, will Mike Ashley stick his short arms into his deep pockets and invest.
Is Mike Ashley a genius? Not even close.
Despite the negative undertones (and overtones for that matter) of this article, do not think that I am not in festive spirit. I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I will be taking another couple of days off over Christmas, but rest assured I will be dropping in for an update on the very important games that we have coming up!
Merry Christmas everyone!