Is the Newcastle job the most unappetising in football management?

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 27 June 2019, 10:02

There is something about Sports Direct that makes me feel grubby on the rare occasion I venture into one of their branches.

It’s a purely personal viewpoint and maybe my rabid OCD is the problem and not Britain’s number one sports retailer.

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Our local shop is like all the rest; cheap and cheerful, a little scruffy with opened boxes of football boots, astro trainers and runners stacked high on tilting piles - a high street version of the Piza’s Leaning Tower.

Staff seem somewhat distracted and given the revelations about how the company used to operate it’s no surprise why.

Unfortunately, SD’s founder Mike Ashley has spread his business model to the fine old institution of Newcastle United Football Club.

It’s like Sports Direct just without the cheerful bit. Doom and gloom, disappointment; despair.

As manager Rafa Benitez packs up his things, clears his office at the training ground and heads for a better life in China, Newcastle and Sports Direct have become joined at the hip.

Whoever is daft enough to follow in Benitez’s footsteps - and someone will no doubt - they too could soon end up like one of SD’s disinterested shop assistants. Shuffling around in baggy shell suit trousers, ignoring your increasingly desperate pleas to find a pair of size eights.

The only problem is that the good folk of the UK can’t get enough of Sports Direct. That is why it can claim to be the country’s go-to place for sports gear.

Ashley must be doing something right and that is what should infuriate us most of all.

Even though profits are down this year, Ashley is expanding his business empire to include struggling Debenhams and House of Fraser, two big name department stores fallen on hard times.

There’s an obvious link here. Ashley seems to have a thing for companies which are dying on their feet, with Sports Direct the cash cow to fund his bizarre regime.

Newcastle is dying on its feet. Finishing 13th last season in the Premier League was punching way above their weight and the fans have no doubt it was down to the astute work of Benitez.

He is now gone amid a wave of unrest and disagreements over his personal pay packet and the size of the transfer funds being made available. Sixty million quid apparently which is a drop in the ocean compared to the requirements of the team.

The next man who takes on the most unappetising job in football management can expect one thing - a wave of sympathy from people looking in on the outside.

He will effectively be joining the football arm of Sports Direct, a stack it high, sell it quick concern where quality of service and clean floors come second to a bargain.

And until the supporters of Newcastle United stop going to St.James’ Park en masse it will remain the same. Much like Sports Direct.

If the punters stopped pouring through the doors to pick up cheapie sports equipment the company would have to change its ways.

Ashley is not going to do that while 52,000 naive souls keep flocking to their sporting cathedral, allowing him to exploit their fervent demand for football - regardless of quality.

When Starbucks was caught avoiding bucketloads of tax, consumer groups called on customers to stay away to send a clear message. It didn’t happen - the population still poured millions of gallons of Latte down their necks.

The same goes for Newcastle United. While the fans keep paying through the nose for tickets and tops - available in Sports Direct naturally - Ashley will not change a thing.

The Middle Eastern takeover seems to have disappeared like an Arabian genie in a puff of smoke leaving the beleaguered Toon Army fighting the same battles and the same old foe in Ashley.

The manager that takes over needs to be fully aware that walking into St.James’ Park these days is almost the same as walking into Sports Direct - cheap but not cheerful.

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Laurent Banide
(Oldham Athletic)
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