Athletic on Charnley

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Athletic on Charnley

Post by Colback's Orange Tufts » Thu Jun 10, 2021 6:37 am

https://theathletic.com/2630880/2021/06 ... ed-article

Paints a picture of an inside man who does what Ashley says. Kind but inpentrable.
And really how sparse the management of the club is
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Re: Athletic on Charnley

Post by Bodacious Benny » Thu Jun 10, 2021 8:20 am

Can't read it as not a subscriber.

Everything at the club seems to be done on a shoestring, from coaching, scouting, transfers, wages, stadium repairs, infrastructure development, developing young players etc.
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Re: Athletic on Charnley

Post by Beatski » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:18 pm

Sneakily copy and paste it COT

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Re: Athletic on Charnley

Post by Remember Colo » Thu Jun 10, 2021 2:40 pm

Can't read it either, but Charnley has never struck me as an ill-intentioned man, just one that lacks the football knowhow and resources to hire the right people or have a real vision for the club. That also has too many conflicting objectives he's responsible for.

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Re: Athletic on Charnley

Post by Speedo » Thu Jun 10, 2021 2:55 pm

Yeah he basically comes across as a hardworking but shy, overpromoted bloke who lacks any real vision or people skills. Which shocks me.
SpoilerShow
Explaining Lee Charnley, the ‘mysterious character’ who runs Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United

The biggest decision of Newcastle United’s season was a non-decision; sticking with Steve Bruce and letting it ride. By the final whistle on the final afternoon of a wearing campaign, the team had won five of their last eight fixtures and for Lee Charnley, who runs the club on behalf of Mike Ashley, its unconventional and reluctant owner, finishing 12th in the Premier League represented a form of vindication. Waiting had worked although, as usual, the club’s managing director was saying nothing.

This was not a miracle, not even an “achievement”, as Bruce himself admitted, although, given the trauma of their 3-0 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion in March and a run of two wins in 19 league matches from mid-December to early April, it was quite a turnaround. Amid the financial ructions of pandemic football and with a takeover saga chugging along, a third relegation to the Championship of the Ashley era — and a second on Charnley’s watch — was unthinkable. By the end, it was enough, albeit played out to the sound of silence, with no explanation, no context, no expression of bullishness or thanks.

On a personal and professional front, last month brought Charnley welcome news, with HM Revenue & Customs dropping a four-year investigation into the club, which had seen Newcastle’s offices raided in 2017 and electronic devices seized. As part of Operation Loom, Charnley had been arrested and then released without charge. “I’m delighted for Lee, in particular, who has had to fight it all,” Bruce said. “Dark forces” had been conspiring against the club, Ashley claimed.

What Charnley thought of it remains unknown, as do his views on season-ticket refunds, the prospective takeover, the government furlough scheme which the club has used, the aborted Super League, players taking a knee, structural reform of the game or the price of fish because, as usual, he was saying nothing. No club in the Premier League has such an aversion to communicating with their own fans and surely no leading executive is less visible than Charnley, who does not even have a Wikipedia page. And he is Newcastle United’s only director.

It contrasts hugely with just how visible and voluble Newcastle, as a club, are. Charnley has presided over one of the most turbulent spells in club history, encompassing their relegation in 2016 and recovery under Rafa Benitez, the Spaniard’s painful 2019 departure, a club-record £40 million splurge on Joelinton, 10,000 season-ticket holders walking away, Ashley’s desperate attempts to sell up, a poisoned relationship with the Premier League over the stalled Saudi-backed takeover, and the dramatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which took a wrecking ball to every club’s accounts.

And, really, Charnley should not be such a stranger. After all, he is the ultimate Newcastle insider, who rose through the ranks over more than two decades until Ashley gave him the top job in 2014.

With his shaven head and thick-rimmed spectacles, he is a distinctive figure, but biographical details are scarce. Senior figures who were at the club when he joined remember Charnley as the “office boy”, or the “tea boy”, someone who used “to hand out the team sheets at reserves games”, an administrator who was “entirely unremarkable”. He is a survivor, “the last man standing”, according to one.

He is also a human being, one who has been part of the furniture at Newcastle for years; he cares about results, the club and the people who work there. In private, he will speak passionately about the team and everything around it, arguing his case. He can be spiky and also personable; both authors can testify to that, whether from press briefings about the accounts or other meetings. That humanity is important to recognise. There may — quite often — be a lack of common ground, but he is not just a suit.

His quiet climb and antipathy to publicity — as well as a salary which, for a long time, was the lowest for a top-ranking Premier League director — makes it easy for people to dismiss him. Ashley’s long string of contentious decisions and broken relationship with the fans casts another shadow; to many supporters, numbed by years of mediocre football and controversies, Charnley must be a “yes man”, someone in the firing line but who has no real power. The truth, however, is more nuanced. There is some empathy for his position. Plenty like him.

What cannot be denied: he does not have an easy job. Ashley has always been a maverick businessman with a flickering attention span. He now wants out. Fans want him out, and they also want better. Managers want more, players want more. And Newcastle themselves are less, stripped to the bone. “Charnley knows he is on borrowed time,” a source says. “When a takeover happens, he’ll be asked for the alarm codes and the passwords and be told to leave.” For now, though, he is captain of a ghost ship.

Over the past few weeks, The Athletic has spoken to myriad people inside and outside the club, from colleagues and former colleagues to players, staff and agents, and fellow executives at other teams. All of them agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, which is kind of appropriate.

The questions they were asked were fairly simple. What is he like? Is he good at what he does? What are the demands of his role? And the biggest one of all: Who is Lee Charnley?

Before a seismic final-day, survival-ensuring victory over West Ham United in May 2015, Ashley gave a rare TV interview inside St James’ Park. He accepted that the blame for Newcastle’s failures lay at “my door”.

“After the game, Mike came into the chairman’s suite, gave everyone a hug, shouting, ‘Get in!’,” a former senior employee says. “He ordered everyone drinks, turned to Lee and said, ‘Well Lee, this is your job now. This is your club. Get on with it’.”

On the face of it, Charnley is the main man, tasked with running a business that turns over £176.4 million a year.

The reality is less straightforward. Even before he was desperate to sell, Ashley was unpredictable and prone to bouts of disinterest in Newcastle — a relatively small part of his retail-and-leisure empire — with a close circle of associates. Justin Barnes, a loyal lieutenant, has considerable influence and is the main liaison with the prospective buyers, but no official title.

At a Fans’ Forum in 2018, the club stated that Barnes is a “conduit” between Ashley and Charnley, is not paid by Newcastle and, “while he will give his view in discussions, he does not have decision-making powers”. Keith Bishop, meanwhile, is Ashley’s long-serving PR man, the self-titled “Bishop of Soho” who once counted Nancy Dell’Olio, the ex-wife of former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, and Russell Grant, the celebrity astrologer, among his other clients. Both men have been regulars at matches. This is not a typical set-up.

Charnley replaced Derek Llambias, who was in charge when Kevin Keegan resigned, when the club were relegated in 2009 and then came straight back up, and when St James’ Park was briefly renamed the Sports Direct Arena in 2011. The former casino manager from London was close to Ashley.

“Derek would often have massive ding-dongs with Mike,” one senior ex-employee says. “That seemed to be the nature of their relationship and, in many ways, it worked.

“Derek wasn’t a pushover and he’d fight some difficult battles. By the end, he ‘got’ Newcastle. If he knew something was wrong or needed doing, he’d give it back to Mike. In Lee, you’ve pretty much got a yes-man, trying to predict what Mike would want him to say and then saying it. He has to go via Keith and Justin to get anywhere close. Derek took a lot of punches, but it felt more dynamic.”

Another former employee agrees.

“Mike has left a lot of responsibility to Lee, but Lee is just his yes-man and won’t stand up to him. Derek did; he had real barneys with Mike.”

“Ashley gets Charnley to do the things he doesn’t want to do and Charnley just does what Ashley tells him,” a figure who has worked for Newcastle on first-team matters says. “You think to yourself, ‘He’s a nice lad, he’ll try his best’, but as soon as anything remotely complicated comes up, he has to talk to Ashley and Ashley doesn’t have a clue.

“If you can’t even do a free transfer without talking to Ashley, it means you have no power. For me, he was an administrator — not even a managing director. Sometimes I would feel sorry for him, but I don’t think anyone would tell you he has a great vision. He was just in the middle and it’s about surviving. That’s no way to run a club.”

“It feels like you’re speaking to someone who knows they cannot give you any answers,” says one agent. “Lee constantly says he’ll ‘need to check with Mike’ — like he has to run every little thing by his boss.”

A similar perspective is offered by a Charnley-era Newcastle player. “I felt quite sorry for him sometimes,” he says. “He’s a decent guy and he knows football — with the best will in the world, you can’t say the same about the owner. I like Mike, but he’s not immersed in football in the same way.

“With Lee, I get the impression he knows what the club needs, but he just can’t do it. If he had a button marked ‘yes’ and was able to press it, the football side would be much better, but there’s no ‘yes’ button at Newcastle. Everything has to be run past Mike or Justin.”


Charnley is viewed as Ashley’s “yes man” by some but others see that as a smokescreen (Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
A rival executive believes this is a smokescreen. “I don’t think Lee has to report back to Mike,” they say. “If Newcastle need a left-back and it would cost them £40,000-a-week, Lee will be trying to get them for £30,000. He’ll say, ‘There’s no way Mike will pay that’. That’s what I do — the owner doesn’t even know I’m negotiating.”

“Charnley is 100 per cent in charge of negotiations,” one intermediary agrees. “What he’ll do is put himself in the middle to make it seem like he’s not. But what he says to Ashley, Ashley will go with. If he goes to Ashley and says, ‘This needs to be done for these reasons’, it’ll happen. He knows how to get Ashley on board. He has a lot of autonomy.”

The player disputes that version. “It’s not a tactic. It’s really hard for Lee — it’s not simply about getting a yes or no from Mike, it’s about getting the timing right. Newcastle is a small part of Mike’s life, so Lee will say, ‘I can’t go to Mike with it this week’. He has to pick his moments, but football doesn’t work like that. With transfers, the longer you wait, the bigger the risk of losing players.

“It’s the same with contracts. He’d have to get Mike’s sign-off. Mike has his own views about players’ worth, but it sometimes feels random and they don’t offer contracts based on that worth anyway. It’s ridiculous. (Chairman) Daniel Levy wouldn’t have to go to (owner) Joe Lewis at Spurs and ask about offering Harry Kane an extra 10 grand a week. He’d be told to f*** off and get on with it.

“Lee is the fall guy; he’s the one who gets it in the neck from everyone, whether it’s Mike, the manager or the fans. He’s not really a chief executive because he isn’t able to make the decisions, he has to pass them upwards.”

In other ways, Charnley is left to fend for himself. “It’s just him, without any support system,“ says an insider. “The club is completely pared down. Beyond the first team, it’s all down to the bare bones. It’s a big club being run like a small club, and Charnley does a good job in many ways.”

As another source explains: “There is no ‘board’ as such, no accountability beyond the MD. It’s just Charnley and then the departments below him. That is unique in football and businesses of that size.”

“What you need is a management team of people who lead football, finance, commercial, so on. They don’t have any of that,” says the top-flight executive.

Newcastle are the only top-flight club to have just a solitary “director” listed on the Premier League’s website. In October 2018, they responded to a Fans Forum question about why they did not have a conventional board. “The club has a senior management team which meets regularly and has an awareness of all aspects of the club on a day-to-day basis,” they said. “Major decisions at the football club are made by the managing director and, where appropriate, the owner.“

“He’s a one-man band,” another senior ex-employee says. “Nobody can do anything without Lee’s say-so.”

A former associate concurs: “Lee has always run things quite tightly. People don’t tend to do things until they get Lee’s go-ahead.“

Little wonder then if decisions on relatively minor issues become snarled.

“I would blame Lee for that,” one of the former employees says. “If he can kick the can down the road, he does. With transfers or big purse strings, he’s probably waiting for the nod from Mike. On some smaller decisions, I honestly think he gets it off his table for the day and thinks, ‘I’ll wait for them to ask again’. That was one of my big frustrations.”

“You can ring him up, although there are times he just disappears,” says the player. “It’s like he’s in his office looking at his phone thinking, ‘Oh no, what does he want? I can do without this’.”

COVID-19, a loss of funds and Ashley’s desire to move on from owning the club have not improved Newcastle’s dynamism. “It’s a club in a transition period, as if it’s been sold, with the owner basically washing his hands of it, when in fact it might never be sold,” a former employee says.

The former first-team figure laughs when it is put to him that Charnley might deserve credit for not sacking Bruce after that Brighton defeat in March. “Why do you think they didn’t fire him?” he says. “Because they didn’t want to pay (compensation). Full stop.”

However, patience is also a stated policy.

In a rare 2015 interview, Charnley said: “When we feel we have the right person in that position (head coach), indeed any position, our focus is on supporting them so that, together, we can ride through the rough periods that, inevitably, come.”

Unlike the combative Benitez, who publicly urged Newcastle’s hierarchy “to do things right”, Bruce has kept any frustrations in-house; the head coach has been the focal point of fan unrest at his hometown club. “The Bruce relationship is fuelled by Lee’s bad relationship with Rafa, who had his life every single day,” one agent says. “I did feel sorry for Lee at that stage, because he was stuck between Rafa and Mike, who were like two fighting parents. He was in the middle of this cat-and-mouse pissing contest.

“To have Steve must be like a breath of fresh air. It feels like a case of, ‘I’m glad he’s taking the s***, because it means I’m not’.”


Charnley is said to find life easier with Bruce, after a conflict between Benitez, right, and Ashley (Photo: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)
Yet stasis is also entrenched at Ashley’s Newcastle, at Charnley’s Newcastle, and was so long before anyone had heard about coronavirus or suspected that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund might want to buy the club. Upon his appointment, Charnley spoke about a new “multi-million-pound, state-of-the-art training complex, which we hope will be completed in early-2016”.

There may have been decent reasons for it — on-field struggles, relegation, Ashley’s determination to sell — but this is another can that has been kicked down the road. There have been upgrades at the Benton complex, a fresh look and an expanded gym, but does it speak of an organisation straining for excellence?

“There’s no pool, or other stuff which would be standard at most Premier League clubs,” the player says. “They hate it when people say this, but it’s not fit for purpose. Injured players have to work their rehab around Zumba classes at the local David Lloyd (gym)!”

That last bit, said with tongue in cheek, is comprehensively denied by the club, while Ashley has previously stated: “Our training facilities have improved significantly during my tenure. They are fit for purpose and very clearly do not have a negative impact on performance.”

When Charnley joined Newcastle, he had “a head full of black hair”. It was the turn of the Millennium, Bobby Robson was manager and the Blackpool-born administrator arrived as assistant club secretary.

Over more than two decades, while the manager has changed 17 times, and ownership has passed from Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd to Ashley, Charnley has gradually been promoted until, in April 2014, aged 36, he became Newcastle’s most powerful employee. Yet, to many of his colleagues, he remains a “mystery”.

“I certainly didn’t see him as future manager-director material,” says a former club official. “Great on the administrative side, but entirely unremarkable.”

Having previously worked for the Football League at its old offices in Lancashire, Charnley joined Newcastle under Russell Cushing, then the club secretary. As part of his role, Charnley coordinated off-field matters for the reserve team, who were based at the city’s Kingston Park stadium.

“He was always very well organised,” says a source. “But whenever I spoke to him, he always said he was ‘acting under instructions’. That sums him up, really.”

One former player describes him as “a likeable guy”, and another as “one of the lads”.

Former colleagues liked Charnley, even if he was reserved, and viewed him “as a real team player before he became a bigwig”, who regularly attended staff nights out. “He’s quiet; he doesn’t shout from the rooftops, he’s not lairy or busy, he just gets on with his job,” says another ex-employee. “I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone or raise his voice. He’s polite, courteous.”

After Ashley bought Newcastle, Charnley assumed the club secretary role in 2008, a position that saw him become a director. For five years, he worked under Llambias, before running the football side of the business once the former MD left in 2013, while John Irving dealt with commercial operations as finance director.

“It worked quite well,” says a source. “When Derek left, it was like we had two MDs. John was really switched on with the business side, based at the stadium, and Lee was good with the football side, based at the training ground.”

Within 12 months, Charnley was made MD. “Mike would go to the training ground to discuss transfers with Lee, who did the paperwork, so they built a close relationship,” the source says.

By June 2015, when Ashley relinquished his directorship and Irving departed, Charnley created the “Football Board”. Alongside the MD, it featured Steve McClaren, the then-head coach, Graham Carr, the chief scout, and Bob Moncur, a club ambassador and former Newcastle captain, but this board rarely ever met before being quietly disbanded during the 2016-17 season. Since then, Charnley, as sole director, has overseen day-to-day decision-making, having relocated from the training ground to an office on level four of the stadium, along the corridor from the boardroom.

“It’s like two businesses, really,” says a former associate. “There’s the football side and the non-footballing side, and the non-footballing side is run like a small business, not a top-level sporting institution. They try to restrict every penny spent on the non-football side. Lee oversees a very well-run operation, with some very committed, underpaid people.”

Although Charnley is close to what some refer to as his “inner circle” — which includes Richard Hines, the club secretary — the now-43-year-old does not socialise much with staff. Some claim he “doesn’t speak to some employees face to face, he texts and emails them”, which others refute, while some retort that he walks around staring down at his phone to avoid corridor small-talk.

Most view Charnley as a “fair boss”. Staff Christmas parties are fully paid for and Newcastle run a “very Ashley-esque” incentivised bonus scheme. Charnley waived his own six-figure bonus following promotion in 2017 and it is understood that he asked for it to be shared out among club staff.

“There’s a side to Lee that a lot of people don’t know about,” says a source, referencing Charnley volunteering at the Newcastle West End Foodbank, without courting publicity, and his regular donations to NUFC’s Foundation. “He can be remarkably generous.”

The issue, both internally and externally, is communication. When he was appointed as managing director, Charnley stated he would not “comment on the media speculation and rumours that exist in this digital world“, and Newcastle have become known disparagingly by fans as the “no-comment club”.

“Information doesn’t seep down from above,” the ex-associate says. “There’s a culture of fear, a concern that whatever they say will make things worse. That comes from Charnley.”

Even Newcastle’s intermittent public utterances about the takeover have been generic club statements, albeit remarkably incendiary ones. Charnley’s last in-depth communication with supporters came via programme notes at the start of the 2019-20 season, which he promised would become more regular. There have been none since.

“He shows total and utter contempt for fans, treating them like pieces of meat,” says a former player. “It must be the only Premier League club that doesn’t have any communication with its fans.” Another reveals that former players, including himself, have reached out and offered their help, but the regime has not accepted it. “It’s just mind-blowing,” he says.

“I don’t think for one moment Mike is saying to Lee, ‘Don’t communicate’,” says a former employee. “I just think Lee doesn’t want to.”

A rival club executive understands Charnley’s position, though. “It’s hard, because everything you say is torn apart and I think that’s probably exacerbated at a club like Newcastle,” they say. “I get it, you have to talk, but it’s also the way some people are: ‘Do your job, keep your head down and then the less you say, the less it can be held against you’.”

Throughout the pandemic, there have been what one employee describes as “waves of internal communication, peaks and troughs”; regular video updates from Charnley to employees after football was first paused in March of last year, but gradually less information. Some staff members are understood to remain on part-furlough, with more than one claiming to have received little reassurance over their long-term job security.

Asked by The Athletic to clarify their position on furlough, the club declined to comment.

Amid takeover rumours, of which there have been countless, Charnley is “usually pretty good at providing bits of information, trying to do his best”. An employee insists Charnley is “relatively visible” on the staff intranet system, Jostle, although that has “waned” as the pandemic has worn on.

There is a perception that he prefers anonymity outside St James’. A source claims Charnley “sometimes heads out into the city almost in disguise”, removing his glasses and putting on a long coat and hat to avoid being recognised (one nickname for him inside the building is ‘Harry Hill’, due to a passing resemblance to the British comedian). He also regularly plays at a popular golf club in nearby Northumberland, with another source claiming he “goes early, so nobody can see him”. Given some unsavoury incidents in the past, and his apparent unpopularity among supporters, few blame him for being guarded.

“He may be a mysterious character, but he is just doing his job,” a source says. “He shouldn’t be vilified for that, even if some decisions can be questioned.”

“When you go to Newcastle’s boardroom, it’s only Lee and a couple of mates, and you think, ‘Where is everybody else?’” a Premier League executive says. “But they don’t have anybody else.”

At many Premier League clubs, the chairman’s suite is bustling on a match day, full of directors “schmoozing”, doing the rounds. At St James’, the atmosphere is more subdued.

“Charnley doesn’t pound the flesh, make himself visible,” a former employee says. “Sir John, Freddie Fletcher and Llambias were all brilliant at it, but Charnley just doesn’t do it. He doesn’t show those interpersonal skills. There’s no ambience in the suite now. He just sits on his phone and rarely speaks.”

Pre-pandemic, sources claim Charnley’s table in the chairman’s suite was “never full”. Barnes and Bishop were often there, while Ashley’s helicopter pilot regularly enjoyed a pre-match meal, even though the billionaire has rarely attended games himself in recent seasons.

“Charnley’s not the sort who goes around making a fuss of the ‘corporates’. Nobody high up bothers with that anymore,” says a long-term presence in the directors’ box. “On the rare occasions you do speak to him, he’s always very reasonable, but he’s hardly ever around for a chat. He rarely invites many, beyond his inner circle, into the chairman’s suite.”

Officials at other clubs, however, have always found Charnley a welcoming host.

“He was very courteous,” says one former executive. Another describes him as “warm and not a bad guy”, but “not one to talk about the politics of the Premier League or anything interesting”.

Although Charnley attends almost all away matches, during the pandemic there were occasions when “there was no representation from Newcastle whatsoever”, according to the official. Ashley’s pilot is often on the manifest, even if the billionaire is not. “You were allowed 10 (people) at away games and Man United always have a massive contingent,” the official says. “Smaller teams may bring three or four, but Newcastle very rarely bring anyone (beyond Charnley).”

That is primarily because, as mentioned, besides a distant owner, Newcastle also have a skeletal executive structure. The Premier League’s website lists the directors at each top-flight club for 2020-21. Manchester United have 14, 19 of the 20 clubs have at least three and the average is five. Newcastle are the only club with just a solitary director.

Charnley’s salary is also among the lowest. During his first three seasons as MD, he’s been paid £150,000 a year. In 2017-18, he received £300,000, half of which is believed to have been reward for a 10th-placed finish, while in 2018-19, his salary including bonus was £267,000. Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, was the best-remunerated Premier League director in 2019-20, on £3.09 million; the top-flight average for best-paid officials at clubs was £1.4 million.

While some claim Charnley has been “overpromoted”, fellow executives refute such “snobbery”.

“I think that’s crap,” says the former official. “The best people in a club are always those who come through it; they know every element. Just because you don’t come from big business doesn’t mean you can’t be good at your job. He’s worked his way up at Newcastle, so he knows every aspect, all the moving parts.”

Still, that manifests itself in his modest remuneration. “Everybody has to start from somewhere,” says the current director. “It doesn’t mean that someone handing out team sheets can’t become a useful and powerful executive. He was club secretary for a long time; that’s a critical role. For that person to become MD, which isn’t unheard of, it’s a cost-saving exercise. You get the best admin guy, who knows the club well, to run it because you’re saving money by not hiring someone experienced and expensive. But you’re also hiring someone who will do what you tell them to.”

Charnley is still willing to stand his ground during Premier League meetings when necessary, even if he is not a typical top-flight director.

“He would be quite vocal,” the former executive says. “He wasn’t shy. He holds his own, but only when he felt it was important to speak up. Some people in those meetings just want their voices heard.” The current official says: “If you stick him in a room with Ed Woodward, Christian Purslow and Steve Parish, he’d stick out. But many executives don’t have that level of personality. He doesn’t say much and doesn’t dominate the room, but that’s not unusual.

“Newcastle are very commercial-based. When there are debates, they would often be, ‘Why would I do that? It’s going to cost me money?’ That must come from Mike.”

Since the takeover stalled, Charnley’s tone during meetings has sometimes been “negative”, says the source. “He isn’t happy with how the Premier League behaved,” the official says, “and that’s led to Newcastle almost protest-voting against things.”

Unsurprisingly, Newcastle are understood to be the only club who opposed extending beIN Sports’ TV deal with the league. The Qatar-based broadcaster’s material was allegedly pirated by Saudi network beoutQ, an issue that has held up ratification of the prospective takeover. But the director claims there have been “two or three 19-1 votes now, and Newcastle have been the one”. Newcastle insist they only vote in the club’s best interests and not for political reasons.

When officials deal with Charnley on a club-to-club basis, they find him to be “straight-talking”, “decent” and “just doing what Ashley tells him to”.

The former director, in particular, offers a sympathetic impression of him. “My club dealt with similar things, where you’d be getting battered by fans for everything,” they say. “The job of the CEO is really tough.”

Ashley has always approached football as an outsider. His drive for sustainability, to ensure the club “lives within its means”, has never been an issue in itself; in many ways, it is a sensible, laudable, objective. Just because something has traditionally been done one way, doesn’t mean it always should. The problem has been the application of that principle, which has led to contentious and sometimes ill-judged decisions, exacerbated by clumsy communication.

Whereas many other Premier League clubs have sporting directors, directors of football or even dedicated contract negotiators (Newcastle’s inexplicable experiment with Joe Kinnear did not last long), it is Charnley who ultimately brokers transfers and contract extensions, with Steve Nickson, the head of recruitment, identifying potential targets alongside head coach Bruce, who has the final say on incoming signings.

“There is no executive structure beyond Charnley,” says a source. “So things happen that you wouldn’t see elsewhere, like player contracts running down and their value being lost, or targets going elsewhere.” As one recruitment official puts it: “Every in and out and every contract decision at Newcastle happens on Charnley’s say-so. He’s the negotiator-in-chief.”

Certainly, Ashley himself rarely intervenes when it comes to the minutiae. Bruce, like Benitez and McClaren previously, primarily communicates with the owner through Charnley, very rarely directly. When Bruce talks about “knocking down the door” to secure transfers, he is referring to the entrance to Charnley’s office.


Charnley is respected for his “no ****” approach to transfers but his intransigence frustrates others (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Again, there are contrasting verdicts on Charnley’s style.

One agent describes him as, “Always fair and up-front about deals and what’s possible.” Another says, “Charnley doesn’t ****, which is more than I can say for other CEOs. He doesn’t give a lot of room for manoeuvre, but he doesn’t change the goalposts.”

Others, though, describe some of his conduct during meetings as “rude” and “disrespectful”. They allege that he sometimes disappears “off-grid” and does not respond to messages for long periods, before calling and attempting to resume negotiations days or even weeks later.

“He says, ‘No’. That’s what he does,” a source says. “He will not be pragmatic, he will not look at what’s right, he’ll just say, ‘No’, and block it out. If you’re trying to negotiate something with him, he won’t think of the logic behind it. He’ll just say, ‘No, I’m not doing that’.”

There is another way of looking at this, of course. Agents are not renowned for their altruism and Charnley could simply be protecting his club by taking a tough stance during discussions, just as intermediaries do on behalf of their clients.

“They are a disaster on transfers,” says the Premier League director. “They overpay; they are looking at free transfers and paying higher salaries. When you’re looking at a player, and if they’re considering Newcastle too, you normally don’t do it because they pay quite high salaries.”

For the most part, though, Newcastle are renowned for being frugal with transfer fees. Joelinton is very much an exception.

Instead, the Miguel Almiron transfer saga of the January 2019 window is a better representation of how Newcastle and Charnley have operated.

From an early stage, Charnley made it clear to MLS club Atlanta United that Newcastle would pay £16 million up front, potentially rising to £21 million with add-ons, and that they could take it or leave it. Atlanta expected Newcastle to return with another offer but Charnley held firm and, almost two months later (the MLS season had ended in early December), the deal was agreed on pretty much those initial terms. Money was saved, but the delay frustrated Benitez, who believed it placed the team’s position in jeopardy. Why wait and gamble? Why not give him more time to work with the player?

“They are belligerent to the point of being detrimental to themselves,” an agent says. “Mike Ashley’s policy is to try and extract as much value as possible, even when it isn’t there. When it works, great, they make a decent profit. But when it doesn’t, they shoot themselves in the foot. They try to extract every penny they can out of every deal; that makes dealing with them a grind.”

Value works two ways.

When it was all over, Charnley pushed to his feet and looked skyward.

Newcastle had done their best to lose, faltering when two goals up against 10-man West Ham and, for the final few minutes, their managing director had cradled his head in one hand. This was an uncommon demonstration of public feeling, but it was also a high-stakes moment; 2-0 up with 20 minutes left had become 2-1 and then 2-2 before Joe Willock popped up with the winner.

St James’ was empty on April 17, 2021, but the pressure was tangible and Newcastle’s victory, their second in succession, brought sharp relief. They were up to 15th, nine points clear of the bottom three with six games remaining and a storm was dissipating. That was an unlikely scenario four weeks earlier when Brighton away happened and Bruce’s position felt borderline untenable. Charnley’s response was a very human one, but why wouldn’t it be?

It is not a new observation, but it can be difficult to understand an ownership model that has often turned logic on its head, and Charnley does not actively help that process.

Perhaps he has been burned too many times by journalists, perhaps he feels everything he says is picked apart, perhaps it has gone beyond that point, perhaps he distrusts the spotlight. Perhaps he just wants to keep his head down and get on with it.

A week or so ago, The Athletic approached Newcastle and told them we were writing a profile of Charnley. We wanted to paint a picture, to explain the mechanics of what he does and what he’s like. We had spoken to a lot of people by then, but if Charnley cared to contribute, we would be happy to listen, on or off the record.

The offer was politely considered and declined.
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Remember Colo
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Re: Athletic on Charnley

Post by Remember Colo » Fri Jun 11, 2021 2:14 am

Far more interesting read than I expected. I hadn't appreciated how long he'd worked at the club, and that he'd slowly worked his way up. I think I'd always assumed he was just another business associate of Ashley's.

Maybe it's the fact that I read it over several different periods of the day so I forget my other thoughts from earlier, but I'm not surprised agents might complain about how the club does business. So many other clubs cave and do whatever necessary to compete against other clubs, and that's the reason the entire business structure is broken from an operating side. Obviously it's to our club's (performance) detriment, but more clubs should do the same if finances will ever get in order.

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Re: Athletic on Charnley

Post by Bodacious Benny » Fri Jun 11, 2021 7:10 am

Not read it all yet, but just highlights the shambolic approach we all know that goes on, with very little structure or autonomy. They make a good point that NUFC is just a small part of Ashley’s lift and I think we all forget that sometimes, in comparison to his other investments it’s not his primary concern by any means and he’ll only give it a certain amount of his time.

Charnley sounds like an alright bloke and probably one that many of us can either relate to or know someone like that in our own workplace. Been around for a while, nice guy, found his way up the ladder through circumstances etc. but not really a leader and just someone higher up the chains gofer.

Captain of a Ghost Ship is accurate, until there is a takeover at some point in the future nothing will change.
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