In 1997 the Austrian director Michael Haneke made a film called Funny Games. It’s horrible. An exercise in deconstructing Hollywood convention. Like all the biggest blockbusters it builds tension, puts a family in jeopardy, gives viewers the hope of redemption, but then, every time you’d expect a gratifying pay-off in the form of the bad guys getting their comeuppance, the film winks at the audience and defies them any satisfaction, the sadistic monsters perpetuating the ordeal on their victims just keep it going, worse and worse ,daring spectators to keep watching. Many refuse. Walk-outs were widely reported. Indeed, they were the point, the director commented "Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn't need the film, and anybody who stays does".
Every January transfer window is like watching Mike Ashley’s Funny Games. The NUFC support spend a month desperately craving fulfilment, clinging on to every rumour as if there’s going to be some respite from the owner and a moment of relief where we make that big signing on January 31st and live happy ever after. It never happens, any promises of investment and doing what’s needed are invariably broken, the rug pulled from under us every time, leaving a frustrated and dissatisfied audience.
That might be unfair. There have been exceptions. Back in 2012 Papiss Demba Cissé was an eight figure arrival brought in with the hope of making a Champions League push, but that was half hearted, Ashley allocated more to loan repayments for himself (£11m) than he allowed the club to spend on transfers. The push failed.
In 2013, with the club languishing in 16th, £18m was spent on Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Gouffran, Haidara and Sissoko. We finished the season in 16th, no improvement, but safety assured. In 2016, with the club languishing in 18th, £29m was spent on Townsend, Shelvey and Saivet. We finished the season in 18th. No improvement and relegation assured.
Unfortunately these scant returns from January investment have not taught Ashley that he should value having a manager better than Alan Pardew or Steve McClaren and back him. Their failures to capitalise have taught him that his default position of not spending anything in January is the correct one.
Newcastle have not made a single permanent signing whatsoever in four of the last five January windows. Thousands of Newcastle fans tuned into transfer deadline day hoping for the best, but knowing that the club have not made one January deadline day signing in eight years. They held their nose through the orgy of self-congratulation over grotesque transfer fees on Sky hoping we’d add to Leon Best (2010) and Fabio Zamblera (2008) as the only January deadline day signings in the whole of Ashley’s tenure (total cost £1.3m) but never held their breath.
Haneke re-made Funny Games in 2007, the year Ashley arrived at Newcastle. It was identical to the original, a shot for shot remake but this time with a glitzy Hollywood cast. Despite the extra glamour, it was the same story and the same horrifying watch.
Ashley has hired a top class, world famous manager in Rafa Benitez but he’s cast him in the same film with the same script and the same budget. For those of us watching there will be no Hollywood ending, the only question is when will Ashley, Rafa or we walk out?