In which we make no apologies for not quite making it past Martin Samuel and his thoughts on Mike Ashley, Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire in the Daily Mail…
The Daily Mail‘s Martin Samuel is a serial Mike Ashley apologist. He has previously used him to criticise Jeremy Corbyn, he has painted him as the saviour rather than the scourge of Newcastle and last year he gave him a platform in an exclusive interview.
And now – with talk of a Newcastle United takeover by Saudi investors – he is back with a column that is headlined ‘Newcastle takeover is ringing the loudest of alarm bells as £300m sale looms large’, but presumably had the working title of ‘Please give my mate more money’.
What is bizarre is that in every other reference to this takeover in the Daily Mail over the last few days, the figure of £300m is the accepted price.
On April 15, Mike Keegan and Craig Hope combined to tell us that ‘the £300million takeover of Newcastle United is now in the hands of the Premier League’ while on Thursday night, Hope went it alone to write that ‘Steve Bruce will keep his job as Newcastle manager should the proposed takeover of the club go through. Sources close to the £300million deal being brokered by Amanda Staveley say it would be ‘wrong’ to make an immediate managerial change.’
£300m and then £300m again.
Oh and Samuel himself said in September on Sky Sports: “This club has been for sale virtually since the man bought it. If you want to buy Newcastle, you can phone him up and have Newcastle by the afternoon. But you need £300million. If you haven’t got it, that’s a problem.”
But now Samuel wants the investors to please give his mate more money. Because they have loads and that means that the price can just go up willy and indeed nilly.
‘The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has total estimated assets of £256billion. The difference between the £340m Mike Ashley wants for Newcastle and the £300m believed to be on offer, is 0.015 per cent of that wealth. And that is what has been holding this up?
‘The equivalent of £4.50 to a person earning £30,000 annually. Roughly the price of a pint of beer. Alarm bells, alarm bells.’
Alarm bells indeed. You told us seven months ago that £300m was the price and now it’s risen by a mystery £40m which is entirely unknown to all your colleagues who are presumably being fed information by somebody close to the investors.
‘Some interpret Ashley’s silence as confirmation a deal is nearing conclusion and he is doing nothing to jeopardise it, happy to get his £300m amid a huge economic downturn. That would make sense.
‘A more cynical interpretation is that Ashley is letting the deal proceed, placing no obstacles in its path, allowing the papers to be lodged with the Premier League until the moment he can look his suitors in the eye and tell them, ‘Right, show me the money’.
‘And if it is not there, if there is another hitch, another delay, a fresh round of conditions or negotiations, then it is on them, not him. He proves his point and is done: it really was another waste of his time.’
So what you are saying is that Ashley might have sneakily agreed a £300m deal but then could turn around at the last minute and demand another £40m. And if they refuse it is ‘on them’. Really? It will be ‘on them’ if the price goes up at the last minute and they refuse to pay? And then it will be Ashley’s time that will have been wasted? What the actual f***?
Captain, dear captain
Meanwhile, Martin Samuel is back on his hobby horse about footballers supporting their clubs by agreeing pay cuts. And this time he is combining that with an old man favourite: The lack of proper captains in the modern game.
‘It is a familiar trope that there are not so many great captains in football these days. Never will that have been more keenly felt than at the top of the Premier League on Friday morning.
‘The news that Manchester City, plus the three biggest clubs in London — Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham — are still to agree temporary cuts or deferrals with their playing staff, can be viewed in many ways: but a failure of leadership is certainly one of them.’
So that’s four clubs named as failing to agree temporary cuts or deferrals, which entirely masks the fact that there are actually 18 Premier League clubs who have yet to agree such a plan. Only Southampton and West Ham do actually have an agreement. So why single out those particular clubs? Obviously Samuel being a West Ham fan has absolutely no influence here…
‘When Jordan Henderson launched his charity initiative earlier this month, he did so by contacting the captains. All are seen as figureheads in their dressing rooms.
‘Yet it seems those same individuals cannot command such authority in the equally important conversations about wages. Arsenal have been wrangling with their players all week, and while Manchester City first appeared to be leading the way, discussions since have hit an impasse. A lot was made of Tottenham players’ anger at the club furloughing non-playing staff, because they felt it made them look bad, but since that decision was reversed: nothing. Nor at Chelsea, where a number of senior players are out of contract at the end of the season.’
And nor at another 14 Premier League clubs not mentioned by Samuel, including Liverpool. Jordan Henderson might have launched a charity initiative but is is presumably not a great captain because he has not delivered an agreement with the players. Oddly, Samuel does not target him. Or Troy Deeney. Or Lewis Dunk. Or Ben Mee. Or Harry Maguire. Or Wes Morgan. Or Simon Francis. Or Jamaal Lascelles. Or Conor Coady. Or Jack Grealish. Or Billy Sharp. Or Seamus Coleman.
But he does mention four clubs with foreign captains. What an utterly bizarre coincidence.
‘Close on two weeks after the captains were called to a meeting with the Premier League and shown a bleak forecast, only a handful of clubs have successfully convinced their staff of the growing emergency. One was West Ham, where the influence of Mark Noble was said to be crucial.
‘It was Noble who attended a meeting with senior management, and several team-mates, before going out to explain the club’s position to the rest of the squad.’
Firstly, two is not a handful unless you are Jeremy Beadle. And secondly, Samuel somehow neglects to mention that what Noble agreed with the West Ham players was not a wage cut but a wage deferral. Which is EXACTLY WHAT ARSENAL PLAYERS ALSO AGREED.
But let’s not let that get in the way of this:
‘Noble will go down as a legend of the Premier League era for West Ham. When he speaks, the dressing room listens.
‘Can the same be said of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal? The worst kept secret in football is that he is eyeing a way out come the end of the season. What does he care for the longterm financial stability of the club? In many ways, it would almost suit him if they were troubled enough to require a quick sale.’
Bloody hell. To even suggest that a footballer might be quite happy to see his club in financial straits is horrific.
Oh and it’s Arsenal’s PFA representative Hector Bellerin who has been conducting all the discussions with the club. Because it’s his job.
At some point, it seems that Samuel may have noticed that he appears to be only targeting foreign players…
‘The cosmopolitan, and temporary, nature of the Premier League will certainly not have helped the clubs in persuading players to consider the long-term future when so many are simply passing through. And this is not just about foreign players, either.’
Oh good. We were worried for a minute there.
‘Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is captain of Southampton, who were the first to agree wage reductions. He is now in his fourth season there. He’s not Matt Le Tissier but he must carry some clout.’
It has been widely reported that Ryan Bertrand played an important role in those negotiations but as Samuel basically called him a ‘dummy’ last week, he is steering well clear of that clarification.
‘So nor is it purely about longevity. Harry Maguire is only in his first year at Manchester United and has emerged as hugely influential, while Henderson has clearly grown into the captaincy role at Liverpool having succeeded Steven Gerrard in 2015.
‘Both men have led the way at their clubs during the coronavirus lockdown.
‘Yet when other members of the elite fall on the mercy of the Premier League and Professional Footballers’ Association as mediators in this time of crisis, it is hard not to think what might have been achieved with better leadership; or a sprinkling of men who saw their club as more than a career move.’
And yet neither Maguire nor Henderson – who have ‘led the way at their clubs’ – have actually managed to agree a wage cut or deferral with their Manchester United or Liverpool players.
Surely, the ‘news’ that Manchester United and Liverpool are still to agree temporary cuts or deferrals with their playing staff, can be viewed in many ways: but a failure of leadership is certainly one of them.
Or does that really only apply when the captain is a foreign?