As we move ever closer to the end of yet another European football season, fans from all corners of the world still cannot believe their eyes as they cast them over the Premier League table.
Leicester sit comfortably at the top with only three more match days to go and the title is surely theirs to lose now. Another three points and they will have completed an incredible miracle in modern-day football.
But laudable as Leicester’s fairytale adventures have been this season, it is at the other end of the table that real drama is taking place.
Aston Villa have already been relegated and Newcastle United look increasingly likely to also follow them down the ladder, and one just can’t help but wonder if one particular incident on 29 May 2015 has had a role to play in Newcastle United’s miserable campaign in 2015/16.
On that date Newcastle United took the contemptible decision of axing two of the club’s long-serving players in Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez, and they did so in a manner that aroused the wrath of all Geordies in Tyneside: they were informed by the then-manager John Carver over the phone while they were in Belfast, Northern Ireland attending a coaching course.
The ruthless nature of the act is made more evident when put in the context of the ordeal Gutierrez had to endure in the preceding couple of years. He was a man who had beaten cancer to come back and score the club’s survival goal in their final game against West Ham United.
Not only had he valorously triumphed in his battle for life, but he had been back just in time to make sure that the club he had served for seven years would also not lose their battle against relegation.
Just imagine how heartbreaking that must have been for a player and a human being above all and come May 15, Newcastle United and their eccentric owner, Mike Ashley may well have paid for what they so heartlessly did a year ago.
Mike Ashley is an English entrepreneur who bought the club for a total of 134 million pounds in 2007. Since then he has proven himself to be an extremely unpopular figure amongst the fans.
Only two years into his reign, Newcastle United were relegated from the Premier League for the first time since the competition was formed in 1992.
His decision in 2011 to change the club’s stadium name from ‘St James’ Park’ to ‘Sports Direct Arena’ made Newcastle fans ever more vocal against him.
Sports Direct is a sports retail company founded by none other than Mike Ashley, and his decision to sell the naming rights of the stadium further illuminated his true intentions behind the caring façade he has always tried to project.
Although later in 2012, under a new sponsorship deal with Wonga, the stadium’s previous name was redeemed, Newcastle fans have never allowed the incident to elude their memories.
In the eyes of the supporters he is none but a businessman who wishes to expand his brand and who has no regard for the values this historical club has cherished for years.
Ashley, who had a history of wearing Newcastle jerseys and sitting among the supporters, can no longer disguise the fact that for him Newcastle United means no more than another business venture.
All that interests him is keeping the club in the Premier League one more season so that he can reap the profits gained through the mega TV deals that get more and more lucrative by the year.
As from 2016 until 2019, every season, each Premier League club will bag a staggering 81 million pounds only from domestic broadcasters. That figure could go well beyond 100 million pounds if you consider foreign broadcasters as well.
For every shrewd businessman that is an opportunity to seize, and although Mr. Ashley will never publicly admit, it might be the sole reason why he has suddenly had a change of heart and has decided against selling the club he put on the market on a couple of occasions in the past.
Newcastle United can offer no excuse for how they have performed this season. It is the most poignant irony of all that they have spent over 80 million pounds in the summer and January transfer windows only to fight another relegation battle.
Incredibly, only Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool have spent more this season.
They exhibited real ambitions by recruiting a quality player like Wijnaldum, but apart from him none of their summer buys has been a success and for that their chief scout Graham Carr must be deemed culpable.
Carr had previously earned Ashley’s deep pockets a considerable amount of money by signing players like Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy who were subsequently sold for a total yield of 22 million pounds in profits.
Ashley had hoped to put his recent one-billion-pound loss behind him and have a fresh start with the mammoth TV deal struck for the next season, but the club’s likely relegation will hardly bring him any solace.
If Newcastle get relegated, not only will he not get his hands on the millions of pounds offered by Sky Sports and BT Sport, but with the inevitable drop in the number of supporters who will visit St James’ Park next season, he will find it hard to pay the senior players’ high salaries.
This will force the club into selling its top earners which may turn every Premier League supporter’s worst nightmare, which is languishing in the middle of the Championship table, into a painful reality for the Newcastle faithful.
When Mike Ashley appointed Steve McClaren as manager in June 2015 and provided him with a sizeable transfer kitty, at the very least he expected a payoff of a top-ten finish in the table.
But his choice in the dugout turned out to be a colossal failure, and if Newcastle can’t attain favorable results in the remaining three matches, then Ashley will have to figure out a way to increase the sale of Newcastle’s Championship kits in Sports Direct stores for the next season.
The fact that McClaren changed formations nine times in the first nine Premier League matches is simply beyond recognition, but by the time he clung to the same formation for a number of matches Newcastle’s free fall in the table had already begun for some time.
That Newcastle United, having splashed over 80 million pounds on new signings, currently stands only above an already-relegated Aston Villa in the table is nothing shy of a miracle in modern-day football; a miracle that is as incredible as Leicester’s imminent Premier League glory.
In the midst of Newcastle’s unforeseen predicament, we are unwittingly reminded of a man who, around this time last year, had dauntlessly emerged from a most unforeseen predicament of his own to once again set foot on the grass at St James’ Park.
On 4 March 2015, Jonas Gutierrez received an emotional ovation from Newcastle fans as he replaced Ryan Taylor in the second half of the match against Manchester United.
Gutierrez’s comeback story was a sublime one, a story in which Newcastle and Mike Ashley can claim no part. They cruelly neglected him in his most difficult period of life, and gave him neither financial nor emotional support of any sort.
No more than a month had passed since his surgery that Alan Pardew, Newcastle’s manager at the time, told him to find a new club. It would certainly not be far-fetched to surmise that the owner was the real man behind that statement and the subsequent phone call.
There was a clause in Gutierrez’s last contract with Newcastle stipulating that his contract would be automatically renewed should he play 80 matches for the club during the course of the contract.
However, despite his return to full health, Newcastle United deliberately kept him away from the first team so as to prevent him from reaching the eighty-match mark.
A month ago during a court hearing in Birmingham that was held following a lawsuit filed against Newcastle United, a teary-eyed Gutierrez stated that he would never forgive Newcastle United for the way he had been treated, and his heartrending teardrops may well have sealed Newcastle United’s relegation verdict way before May 15.
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