DESPITE their long-standing disdain for the media and self-professed reluctance to embrace most of the norms that might be construed as ‘positive PR’, Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley don’t half like issuing a club statement.

They still don’t talk to the press of course, and they certainly don’t want to subject themselves to any form of questioning from the fans, but every so often, in the manner of a well-oiled Soviet propaganda machine, the great leaders speak and Newcastle’s club website conveys their message to the world.

Last Friday was one such moment, with an unattributed ‘club update’ appearing on Newcastle’s site reacting to the inevitable fall-out from the club’s failure to sign anyone on transfer-deadline day. Ashley and Charnley might willingly perpetuate the notion that they couldn’t care less what is being said about them, but the reality is that they are surprisingly touchy when criticism is aimed in their direction.

Much of the update wasn’t really an update at all, just a rambling attempt to justify the fact that while the rest of the Premier League were improving their squads over the summer, Newcastle were spending the best part of £25m to turn Joe Willock’s loan move into a permanent transfer and effectively get back to the position they were in at the end of last season.

“The last two years have been challenging, with Covid-19 having a considerable impact on the club’s finances and therefore the amount of cash we have available to spend,” said the statement. “Since summer 2019, the club has made nine permanent signings and taken five players on loan. Our net spent over this period is £120m (£160m spent on players and £40m received from sales).

“We have delivered on our commitment to spending what we have, and indeed because of our business this summer, have spent more to secure our primary target. To suggest otherwise is misleading and claims that money has been taken out of the club are wholly untrue. For context, this summer, Sky Sports reported that Newcastle United’s net spend was the tenth highest in the Premier League.”

So far, so predictable, if also so misleading. In fairness to Ashley, Newcastle have spent money over the last two or three seasons. The arrival of Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron attests to that.

The two key questions are whether that money has been spent wisely, and why while spending £160m on players in the last two years, Newcastle have only been able to raise £40m through sales.

The two issues are, of course, intertwined, with the Magpies having spent over the odds for a number of players, who then prove impossible to move on because they are tied to lucrative, long-term contracts.

Joelinton is a perfect case in point, signed for an utterly-ridiculous £40m and contracted to the summer of 2025 so Newcastle would almost certainly have no chance of moving him on even if they wanted to.

It’s not just new arrivals either. Dwight Gayle signed a contract extension this summer committing him to St James’ Park until 2024. Ciaran Clark signed a new deal in January, tying him down until 2023. Jeff Hendrick is contracted until 2024, Jacob Murphy until 2027.

The Newcastle hierarchy will argue that such arrangements protect their long-term investment into the players in their squad, but when Steve Bruce bemoans an inability to “trade” and “move players on” this summer, he is effectively acknowledging a fundamental flaw in the Magpies’ business model. Selling players should be a fundamental part of how a club operates – Newcastle find it pretty much impossible to do.

So, it is easy to pick holes in the fundamental argument put forward in last week’s statement. Ultimately, though, Ashley and Charnley’s attempts to justify their inactivity in the transfer market were not the most interesting part of what was said. Instead, that was the implied warning to Bruce over where the blame should lie if things unravel.

“Internally, all parties have long been aware of the budgetary parameters under which we are operating,” read the statement, before adding: “All parties were aware as to the implications for further squad consolidation, with the collective view being that securing Joe Willock was the right priority.”

For ‘all parties’, read, ‘and that includes you Mr Bruce’. Tomorrow morning, Bruce will speak publicly for the first time since the transfer window closed. It is certainly possible to interpret last week’s statement as a thinly-veiled instruction not to overstep the line and start pinning the blame for no deadline-day signings on those above him.

If Bruce starts bemoaning the fact that he was unable to sign Hamza Choudhury on loan, or criticises the decision not to sanction a move for Mason Holgate or Boubacar Kamara, the club response will be, ‘This is also on you’. Bruce, as last week’s statement was at pains to point out, was a key part of the collective decision-making process.

Ashley doesn’t like managers who step out of line, but he also doesn’t want to countenance the possibility of a third relegation on his watch, so perhaps the most significant part of last week’s message came at the end.

“Having finished last season in 12th place in the Premier League, and in the top six of the form table over the final nine fixtures, the club at all levels maintains a strong belief in its current squad. We have a talented and committed group of players who have shown they are fully capable of delivering.”

The inference there could hardly be clearer. ‘This is not a squad we believe should be involved in a relegation battle’. Plenty would disagree with that assessment, but Bruce could find his position in jeopardy if results do not improve.