On 25th May 2015 Ashley surprised no doubt even his own advisors when he made a statement live on sky sports ahead of our final game of the season against West Ham Utd. He told supporters he took full responsibility for the position he found the club in. he said he would continue to invest in the football club; that the club was in a sound financial footing and that we could spend and punch above our weight (whatever that meant). He also stated that his target was to win something and that he would not be selling the club until we did and that the club was not for sale at any price. He also advised us that it was his job to ensure that Lee Charnley had the maximum amount of financial resources to get the best pound for pound value out of those resources. Those resources brought us Steve McClaren, abject football and McClaren’s sacking in March 2016 with only 6 wins chalked up out of a possible 28. McClaren spent £81.6m in his nine months on Tyneside.
Relegation was almost a given when Rafa Benitez was appointed and although we only lost two of our last eight games Rafa was unable to stop the rot and relegation was viewed by supporters as a new beginning for the club with a world class manager at the helm; provided he was allowed to do things his way. Rafa’s presence has rejuvenated the club, the city and its supporters. His project is to bring success to Newcastle United and last season was Stage One of that project; stop the rot, clear the deadwood and the negativity; concentrate 100% on getting the club back into the top flight and use the platform of promotion to build something special. Promotion was Rafa’s priority; he served that up as requested and it was topped off in the most dramatic of circumstance when the Championship title was sealed after the final whistle had blown at St James’ Park. That success cannot be underestimated. Rafa’s net spend was minus £30m.
So what do we make of Ashley’s media appearance and more importantly where does that leave Rafa, as he continues his rebuilding of the football club. In Rafa we have someone regarded as one of the top ten managers in world football. Only once in our history has the club had a manager with such managerial record or standing in the game and that was Bobby Robson . Keegan may have been a messiah on Tyneside but he was a one off; a manager for a time; a manager who fitted the dream of Tyneside in the early 90’s supported by an owner who matched the supporters dream with financial backing.
Ashley has made it plain that he will not and cannot pump finances into the club to support the aspirations of Rafa and the fans. He simply doesn’t have the resources he says, to compete any more. He has set out his stall and told all who wish to listen that the club is up for sale. Surprisingly, just at the point where the dots were being joined, the rebuilding programme moving to its next phase, supporters 100% behind Rafa’s plans for the club and united behind a common cause like never before under Ashley’s tenure as owner. And guess what; Ashley has bottled it.
True to form he has gained maximum publicity from no financial output. He has used Sky Sports to put out a free advert around the globe that Newcastle United Football Club is for sale. However, he has also put at risk the rebuilding programme that Rafa Benitez has so diligently been putting in place this last 12 months since agreeing to stay on as manager after relegation. Ashley has undermined the plans for the season and he has put in jeopardy our chances of strengthening our position to ensure we firstly secure our Premier League status and then consolidate and build a squad capable of bringing success in the longer term. Now, more so than any time since the Keegan era we need a return to the days of supporters, manager and owners in unison, to make the dreams become reality. Let’s hope that the free advert pays off and we can find new owners who are not as short sighted as Mike Ashley, before it’s too late!