Is Ashley planning Udinese style selling club network at Newcastle, Rangers and Oldham?

Posted on October 16th, 2014 | 23 Comments |

Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo.
Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo.
Is Mike Ashley using Giampaolo Pozzo’s selling club network of Udinese, Granada and Watford as a model for Newcastle United, Rangers and Oldham?

To begin at the beginning though, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane. In the aftermath of Kevin Keegan’s acrimonious departure from Newcastle United in 2008, an under fire Mike Ashley made a statement. In this, among other things, he attempted to outline what subsequently became known as his ‘Arsenal model‘ for the club. In Ashley’s own words:

“My plan and my strategy for Newcastle is different. It has to be. Arsenal is the shining example in England of a sustainable business model. It takes time. It can’t be done overnight. Newcastle has therefore set up an extensive scouting system. We look for young players, for players in foreign leagues who everyone does not know about. We try and stay ahead of the competition. We search high and low looking for value, for potential that we can bring on and for players who will allow Newcastle to compete at the very highest level but who don’t cost the earth.”

It sounded less credible however when a mere five months later, then Managing Director, Derek Llambias suddenly revised this to the Aston Villa model. Villa were on a very good run at the time under Martin O’Neill and had recently claimed Arsenal’s usual fourth spot. To me, this tended to suggest that Ashley and Llambias were really just plucking names of familiar English clubs who were doing well at the time on a lower investment level than the likes of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. In other words, it just seemed like a shallow opportunism by Ashley the huckster, intended to impress, inspire but ultimately deceive Newcastle United’s fans.

Though I wasn’t impressed with Ashley’s Arsenal twaddle, or Llambias’s Villa twaddle for that matter, I DID believe that Ashley had a model of some sort. To look at it from the other side, I found it very hard to believe that he DIDN’T have a model of some sort as that would have been stupid.

Looking back at the evidence back in those days, of course, all Newcastle United fans will remember the ‘three Wise monkeys’ team, brought in to scout for boys worldwide. Then of course there was the exposure in the Keegangate tribunal of a deal with a Uruguayan agent kingpin, who would supply Wise with players in bulk over the head of Keegan. Most memorably of all perhaps, this led to Wise taking on loan a Uruguayan player called Ignacio Gonzalez as a “favour” to the abovementioned Uruguayan. When Keegan found out, Wise dismissively told him watch Gonzalez on YouTube, where there was a poor, blurry 2 minute odd video of highlights (I watched it). Like Pearl Harbour, it was an event which will live on in infamy, or it will with many Newcastle United fans anyway.

I thought about what was happening at Newcastle, did a little research on selling clubs and bingo! There was another team had been doing pretty much what Ashley said he was doing for many years, albeit in a less dishonest, clumsy and incompetent manner than Ashley. The more I looked, the more the similarities persuaded me as Ashley’s Newcastle United developed over the following seasons. As you have probably guessed from the title of this piece, my fledgling hypothesis proposed that Ashley’s real model was actually another North East team who play in black and white stripes, Giampaolo Pozzo’s Udinese from the North East of Italy. “La Zebrettas” (the Zebras) don’t have a large fanbase like Newcastle’s, but they survive and profit by being Serie A’s ultimate selling club. As Stefano Garini in ‘‘ put it:

“Udinese’s management is especially good at buying talents from minor leagues and at an incredibly low price, allowing a club with modest ambitions to bet on numerous young footballers with a cost effective team.”

Another piece on football finance blog the Swiss Ramble said in 2011:

“In the last decade, Udinese have received over €206 million from sales in the transfer market. Deducting purchases of €94 million during the same period gives net proceeds of an astonishing €112 million. In most years since 2005, there have been at least a couple of big money sales, including the likes of David Pizzarro (Inter), Marek Jankulovski (Milan), Per Krøldrup (Everton), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Sulley Muntari (Portsmouth), Andrea Dossena (Liverpool), Asamoah Gyan (Rennes), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli), and last summer, Gaetano D’Agostino and Felipe (both to Fiorentina). It’s a seemingly endless production line of players who were bought cheaply, but sold on for large sums.”

Alexis Sanchez and Gokhan Inler
Big Udinese moneymakers Alexis Sanchez and Goklan Inler
Back in the days of Ashley and Llambias’s nonsense about Arsenal and Villa, Udinese was Pozzo’s only club. However it now stands at the head of a troika of Pozzo owned footballer farms, developing high quality livestock for top European clubs such as Milan, Internazionale, Barcelona and many others. In 2009 however, in much the same way as Ashley moves in on distressed sportswear brands, Pozzo started snapping up distressed football clubs to further develop his roster of talent. First was a struggling Granada in 2009 (they were on the verge of bankruptcy), and then a struggling Watford in 2011.

Now though, we see Ashley following Pozzo’s lead again with his heavyhanded involvement in a financially distressed Rangers, and also a less hostile involvement (so far) with Oldham Athletic. There has been enough elsewhere about Ashley’s Rangers shenanigans since he bought the naming rights to Ibrox for £1, took over the club’s merchandising, increased his shareholding in the club to 9% and called for the Chairman and another director to stand down so I won’t dwell on it. On Oldham, though he doesn’t seem to have any shareholding yet, the Latics already play at Park, wear Sports Direct ‘Sondico’ shirts and have Sports Direct running the club’s merchandising, but is there more to it than that? It’s not much, but their chairman Simon Corning also spoke of a “relationship” with Newcastle United, along with talk of loan deals of Newcastle players: “We have a relationship now, so hopefully we might be able to lean on them for one or two good players” he told an interviewer from the club’s official website. Of course, the Latics also played a pre season friendly with the Magpies in the run up to this season.

Now when big players like Alexis Sanchez, Oliver Bierhoff and many others inbetween are mentioned, some will say no doubt ‘if that’s true, isn’t it a good thing?’ It sounds great until you consider one very sobering statistic, Udinese have NEVER won a major trophy in their entire history. They hadn’t before Pozzo took over in 1986 and they haven’t in the 28 years since. Though they are currently riding high in 4th in Serie A and did once reach the group stages of the Champions League in 2005, they finished 13th last season. Their average league position over the last ten seasons has been 8th. Like Newcastle in recent seasons, they have also been erratic, finishing anywhere between 3rd and 15th in that period. Whenever the team built up a head of steam, with one notable exception (the now 37 year old Antonio Di Natale), it’s best players were sold, usually at a huge profit and replaced with more cheap youngsters. As for Granada, after five years of Pozzo they finished 15th in La Liga last season, and Watford finished 13th in the Championship.

Though it might be good for the balance sheet, this constant ‘churn’ of players has brought no success, just eternal mediocrity and soulless clubs with no hopes and no dreams.

Sound familiar?

To give you a flavour of the Udinese model, and also what Newcastle United fans, not to mention Rangers and Oldham fans might have to look forward to if my hypothesis is true, the following comes from Rob Hughes in the New York Times:

He [Pozzo] shuttles players around from one team to the other, like books from a central library, or men passing through transit camps.

Udinese alone currently have 28 players out on loan according to Wikipedia. As you can see here, in 2013-14 season alone, Watford took in 14 players from the other Pozzo stables at Udinese and Granada. Having squads as unsettled as that is not the route to real, sustained success on the pitch.

Now I’m not putting this personal hypothesis forward as fact yet, nor even as a strong theory, but I do think it will be very interesting indeed to see what develops in Ashley’s relationship with Rangers and Oldham in the future, and of course the relationship between these clubs and Newcastle United.

NUFCBlog Author: workyticket workyticket has written 1091 articles on this blog.

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23 Responses

  1. Whey Hey !, It’s like slipping in between new sheets.

    They obviously have some kind of plan in the loose sense of the word.
    I think that buying in cheap youngsters with a sell on value is their basic idea but anything after that is a case of fly by the seat of their pants and see where the wind takes them !
    Ashley is just a con man who is doing his bit for S****S D****T by using the club as a free advertising tool with something like over a hundred and thirty different logos all over the stadium.

    Onto today’s matters and it will be another afternoon where “The Man From Carbuncle” Pardew will see his charges have to score at least two goals to even get a foothold in the game.
    What’s the betting on them being two down before there is a right of reply from those in Black ‘n’ White ?

    I am going to go for another draw today with a prediction of 2-2 and another uncomfortable afternoon for Fatty Arbuckle and Penfold The Team Sheet Filler watching on from the stands.
    Leonardo Ulloa to be the hero for Leicester today if he is playing.

  2. According to The Chronicle Police are still looking for someone who was seen to jump from The Tyne Bridge last night.
    I wonder whether the poor soul decided he couldn’t bare to watch another game of Pardew’s turgid Anti-Football ?

  3. The prick has had any amount of time to sort his crappy screen out.
    We’ve only been waiting for the thing for five years or something and the cheap toe rag cannot get that right !
    Complete dick heads who run this club !

  4. Keith Bishop is that the game again. Aren’t PR gurus supposed to stay behind the scenes? Be an invisible hand on the tiller? I think he’s the Alan Pardew of PR gurus.

    He hasn’t done a very good job for Les from the Bay City Rollers either, I thought he was dead!

  5. Leicester aren’t very good, the problem is that we’re not very good either. We might nick it 1-0 or 2-1 or something like that with the Cisse factor though.

  6. Udinese ?

    Yeah you have used that similarity before, the buy em cheap and sell em on for a decent profit.

    But it’s not earth shattering news, anyone with a brain in his head understood this a long time ago.

    And the usually insulting description “selling club” tells us it’s not exactly a new policy.

    However there are differences between “seria A” and the “EPL”, one league rewarding it’s members way beyond that of the other, guess which?

    The rewards of EPL membership are more generous by far and outstrip any monies earned by sides like Udinese from player profits, though there are similarities between the business plans of both NuFC & Udinese.

    With NuFC accepted as a selling club by most.

    So what does this all mean ?

    Obviously there is little hope of winning anything or even having the chance of watching any decent football any time now, or in the foreseeable future.

    The result of constantly changing the side and selling on those who show any talent, instead of building a side through a careful policy of adding one or two quality players each season.

    I mean when was the last time we watched a decent game involving NUFC ?

    I thought of advising some to go watch Sunderland, but following to-days walloping, that advice goes out the window.

    Soh !

    Looks like we are stuck for the foreseeable future with an owner who knows jack about football (but a lot about making a buck from the NUFC fans) plus a manager and staff that have consistently presented us with, some of the leagues worst tactical efforts and who if at any other club would have been fired years ago.

    So what’s the future?

    This season? well there are worse sides than NuFC, but few worse managers, in which case without bringing in someone who can put the ball in the net up front and a couple of decent central defenders, we will be involved in a struggle to avoid the drop.

    Which is Ashley’s worst nightmare, but he may be too obstinate or take a gamble on the present group surviving the drop, I certainly wouldn’t advise that with this side.

    But the fact he was dumb enough to agree to getting rid of three of our best players to save a buck on wages and replace them with cheap flops, only shows how poorly run this club is.

    Sorry but we need another clearout and begin to build a decent side that can both entertain and win a few points while in the process, as this soap opera is becoming the leagues largest and longest bore.

    I don’t understand why anyone is willing to shell out for a seat anymore, just to be bored to tears.

    One hope is Ashley may find owning a perennial Champions league side, a club that has a much larger fan base and a stadium that holds around fifty thousand bums, “Ibrox”!

    Where he already has the right’s to rename SD Stadium, plus a world wide fan base willing to wear any logo on their shirts (WONGA ?)

    Hey ! why not ? sounds good to me.

    However the battle at Ibrox will be a lot tougher than he experienced at Newcastle, who’s fans hadn’t the courage of their own convictions and now are now a spent force, accepting anything Ashley throws at them.

  7. chuck says:
    October 18, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    “Udinese ?

    “Yeah you have used that similarity before, the buy em cheap and sell em on for a decent profit.”

    Aye Chuck, makes me wonder why I didn’t just write that instead of wasting almost 1500 words on it. :-)

  8. Madison Bumgarner :) He is a baseball pitcher currently in the “World” Series. It is not enough to have Bumgarner as a surname, but they had to give him a commonly used girl’s name as well. Madison is quite common over here FOR GIRLS.

    If Jonny Cash was still alive he might write a song about it.

  9. They usually have daft names over there though. People just call their children anything like Destiny, Track, Banjo, Sketch, Moon Unit or whatever. Even ‘Diesel’ is a name over there now.

    There’s ‘Bumgardner’ as well, which is even better. The Germans have alot to answer for, Bumgarner / Bumgardner is one of theirs, along with quite a few other names worth tittering at.

  10. Geordie, he can’t own two in the same League or if they are in the same UEFA European competition, eg the Europa League or the Champions League. If the owner has more than one then the other must bow out.

    As is pointed out in the piece though, Gianpaulo Pozzo is one owner who now owns three European clubs for a start, in Italy, Spain and now England. He would only have a problem if two of them got into the Europa League or the Champions League at the same time.

    Red Bull is another owner which owns several clubs worldwide, including two I know of in the UEFA zone. They have even incorparated their brand into the name (Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig) just like they do with all their clubs. Thankfully though, I doubt Mike Ashley would be able to change Newcastle United’s name to something like ‘Sports Direct Newcastle’ or ‘Sports Direct Geordies’ after the Hull Tigers fiasco though.

    One final thing, Ashely wasn’t supposed to own ANY of Rangers, but once he had the power of life and death over them the Scottish FA soon capitulated and worked out a deal where he could own up to 10%. It could be upped to 20% next or who knows?

    If you have a man by the balls, the rest of him will follow.