As a Newcastle fan, I just have to throw my hands up at the Andy Carroll debacle. Whether it was the player or the owner or both, the result is the squad has been dealt a sucker punch. The fact that the deal wasn’t even on the radar until deadline day, of course, is the worst part of the the sorry affair.
As a South Florida sports fan, I can’t help but see the parallels for both Ashley and Carroll in the local sports teams.
The Florida Marlins, the local baseball team, is owned by Jeffrey Loria. Before he acquired the team from John Henry (yes, the current Red Sox and Liverpool owner) in the winter of 2001-2, he owned the Montreal Expos. He sold the Expos to the league, which had a two-step plan to fix them – move them, then sell them. Montreal has no Major League baseball team. So, Loria bought the Marlins.
After winning the World Series in 2003, the team since has been characterized by four things:
- the lowest salary in the league, or close to it,
- the lowest attendance in the league, or close to it,
- a team that despite these handicaps still finds a way to be in the middle of the pack every year, and
- a team that spins a nice annual profit for Loria.
None of these make Loria a loved figure here, of course. Most Marlins fans tend to speak of Loria through clenched teeth, and every trading deadline and off-season movement period becomes a time of anxiety rather than anticipation.
Apparently Mike Ashley is trying to be the Premier League’s equivalent of Jeffrey Loria. On one hand, Ashley doesn’t have to worry much about losing all the fans. Newcastle attendance was down last year in the Championship, but they routinely outdrew most EPL matches. On the other hand, the fans here aren’t nearly as rabid as the Toon Army, and I’ll be pretty surprised if Ashley takes his usual place in St. James’ Park on Saturday.
As for Carroll, he had the chance to be one of Newcastle’s all-time greats. A local boy turned football hero, he was on his way to be the new Alan Shearer. Now, he’s the new Lebron James. Carroll may find success as Liverpool’s new number 9, as well as a long-term role on the English national team, but he’ll never own Anfield the way he would have owned St. James’ Park.
I hope someone sends Carroll a tape of Lebron James’ first return to Cleveland – it was very, very ugly. He should be prepared for 50,000 angry people in black-and-white when Liverpool visits Newcastle next season. Of course, Newcastle are not guaranteed to stay up. They dropped to tenth Wednesday night after a lackluster performance at Fulham. Ashley has promised to keep the 35 million quid in the club in “transfers and wages” – notice he didn’t say just transfers – but if the club is relegated again, or if he sells the club, what happens to the funds then? It’s a serious gamble Ashley has made here, and the only people happy with it wear red and white (both in Liverpool and, I’d suspect, in Sunderland), and nobody would be surprised if it all turned sour.