Newcastle United hope to be able to compete with the Premier League’s big guns in two years, as managing director Derek Llambias tells Mark Douglas in an exclusive interview
DEREK Llambias is rightly proud of the financial framework laid down over the last three of his five turbulent years on Tyneside.
Putting Mike Ashley’s plans into practice has taken the hide of a rhinoceros and the foresight to see past football’s usual boom and bust logic. But this footballing fourth way now faces its biggest test – can it deliver tangible success to Tyneside?
They will never erect a statue outside St James’ Park to commemorate Newcastle United’s wage-to-turnover ratio dipping below the magic 60% mark.
As much of an achievement as this might be – and United are on track to achieve it, despite the recent flooding of the squad with more first-team “purples” – Newcastle fans didn’t raise the decibel level on Saturday to celebrate stability and the club’s robust wage structure.
The noise and fervour was down to the re-emergence of a team capable of producing football of power, poise and passion. The buzz was whether the debut of Moussa Sissoko (pictured right) bore comparison to Malcolm Macdonald’s, a debate to energise any Saturday night on the town.
None of this is lost on Llambias as he holds court in the Virgin Money suite that overlooks the majestic stands of St James’ Park.
United’s managing director might talk about blueprints, wage structures and constructing a robust black-and-white bottom line but the romanticism of the game is not lost on him. He is a football supporter himself – and he and Mike Ashley will regularly travel to support England. “We get it,” he says at various points during our chat. Most crucially of all, given their previous touch-and-go situation with supporters, he is moved to comment: “We listen, we honestly do. People don’t think we do, but we do.”
So he knows that logic must be mixed with fantasy when it comes to football. He talks of having to remove his inner fan when it comes to this year’s FA Cup exploits, pragmatically figuring that, while losing to Brighton might be painful, it might help Newcastle’s avowed aim of staying in the Premier League in the long-run.
For Llambias, the key point to stress is that their “model” is not simply aimed at keeping the club afloat or ticking along without the requirement of a huge loan. It is to actually deliver tangible success at some point – and a team capable of competing with the top four.
When will that success be delivered is the inevitable next query. The honest answer – without exactly nailing his colours to the mast – is two years. It comes with caveats, of course, but Llambias can envisage a situation in which Newcastle are slugging it out with the heavyweights sooner than you might think.
“We always said we had a five-year plan. We feel this season may have put us back a little bit, but I think we’ve now worked our way through that. I would say we are a couple of years away from absolutely having a really, really strong squad with the depth we need.
“A trophy for (manager) Alan (Pardew) would be just incredible. The FA Cup is his dream for this club. For us a trophy would be a dream. Mike and I would love a trophy, for sure we would. We’d also love to challenge those big boys though.
“When you look at last season it was exciting for us sitting there and thinking, ‘If we’d won that game we’d be third and if we won that game we’d be fourth and then thinking how it would feel if we’d have been pushed out of that Champions League place by Chelsea’.