Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is a conundrum. Not much is really known about the man himself (for starters, his Wikipaedia page gives his birthdate as simply 1964/65 but a Google search for his name shows 1963 in Google’s biography bit over on the right of the page) but he apparently comes from a fairly modest background, left school at 16, opened a sports shop at some point in the 80s when he himself would have been in his early twenties and is now worth an estimated £1.5 billion after guiding his business from that one shop in Maidenhead to over 400 branches of the well-known Sports Direct chain.
Clearly he has made some very astute business decisions over the last 30 years or so.
So, how come since taking over Newcastle around six years ago he has made so many absolutely awful decisions in his running of the club?
When he started his takeover bid, Glenn Roeder was the manager, he was replaced for the start of the 2007/08 season by Sam Allardyce who left the club in January 2008 “by mutual consent”.
Under fire from the fans, Ashley needed to do something to get them behind him so he sent out a team of crack forces to find Kevin Keegan who, since leaving Manchester City three years earlier had spent most of his time playing golf, playing golf and playing golf. When Keegan was found, he was brought back to England and was duly appointed Newcastle manager just a week after Allardyce’s leaving.
The whole second-coming of Keegan never quite felt “right” to me – the reasons seemed wrong, he’d been out of football too long, it always felt like a decision based on sentiment and fan pressure.
By the end of the 2008 season, the cracks were beginning to appear in the relationship between Ashley and Keegan and, far from bringing back the glory days of Keegan’s previous stint at Newcastle, they finished in twelfth place.
With the 2008/09 season barely started, Keegan resigned on 4th September saying, “It’s my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want“. It was an opinion that Mike Ashley might have done well to take note of.
The man Ashley chose to replace King Kev was even more bizarre – Joe Kinnear – another man who had been out of the game for around four years by the time he took charge at Newcastle at the back end of September 2008.
Kinnear already had a record for ill-health having suffered a heart attack in 1999 whilst managing Wimbledon and it was a related issue that meant he needed heart surgery less than six months after taking charge at Newcastle.
Ashley was once again looking for a new manager and once again seemed to succumb to the popular choice amongst the fans when he appointed the recently retired, fans-favourite – Alan Shearer.
Can I just remind you at this point that these decisions were being made by the same man who had built a multi-billion pound retail giant from scratch in just 25-30 years.
The footballing world looked on in shock, horror and disbelief as Shearer only succeeded in getting Newcastle relegated (and when I say “shock, horror and disbelief” I mean, “Well, wtf did you expect?”)
Whilst Shearer seemed happy to take the job on when Newcastle were a Premier League outfit, reveling in his portrayal as Newcastle’s favourite son and saviour, he didn’t seem too keen on getting his hands dirty in the unglamorous Championship and especially not when there were far more attractive propositions to him such as being a pundit for MotD on the table.
Anyway, after lurching from one disaster of his own making to another, Ashley’s enthusiasm for the whole football club owner thing seemed to dissipate completely and, instead of looking to appoint a new manager, he simply let assistant manager Chris Hughton do the job whilst he got on with the business of trying to sell the club to anyone wanting to spend £100 million on a newly relegated Championship side.
It was the first time that Ashley didn’t actually make a decision about the manager. This was a default position that came about as a result of the lack of a decision.
It probably goes without saying that it turned out to be the best decision Ashley never made in all his time at Newcastle.
Hughton just got stuck into the job and started the season well, winning the “Manager of the Month Award” for August, September and November. Mike Ashley stopped sulking, took the club off the market and made Hughton the permanent manager.
Hughton duly delivered, won the Championship and Newcastle were back in the big-time.
Then Ashley sacked Hughton just three months or so into the new Premier League season in what was seen by many as one of the biggest “Thanks a lot. Here’s a kick in the bollocks” moments in the history of football.
Three days after Hughton’s sacking, Alan Pardew took over on a five and a half year contract.
Newcastle finished the season around mid-table and Pardew set about rebuilding in the summer of 2011 with some very astute signings (Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, for example).
Newcastle finished fifth that season and Pardew won the “Premier League Manager of the Season Award” – the first Newcastle manager ever to achieve this distinction.
However, Pardew and Newcastle seemed to be a bit unlucky with injuries in the 2012-13 season, came nowhere near replicating the achievements of 2011-12 and found themselves very much in the relegation fight for most of the season.
What Ashley would do about this, if anything, was always going to be interesting.
The answer came with today’s announcement from Newcastle that Joe Kinnear has been brought back to the club and given that most maligned of roles – “Director of Football”.
Here’s what Kinnear has to say about himself and his new role when interviewed by Sky Sports News today:
“[My role will be] in charge of transfers, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the side we’ve got and to help out Alan Pardew in every possible way that I can.”
“What I can offer is that I believe that I’m a very good judge of players, I believe that I’m a very good tactician.”
“I intend to make Newcastle far better than they are now. I think I’ve got a bright head, I think I can see a good player and know a good player and get the right players in for us to be successful. I have no other agenda, that is exactly what I want to do and if I see players at the club right now and I believe they’re not good enough to be at Newcastle then I intend to move them on.”
“If we feel, when I sit down with Alan Pardew and talk to him about the strength of what we need to be successful then I will make sure that that is carried out. I think I’ve got… well, I know I’ve got… more knowledge than most people at Newcastle as a football manager and that’s not being disrespectful to anybody and so therefore I know that we will have a decent season.”
The video of the nine minute long interview can be seen here and it is quite odd listening to him – it’s almost as if he feels that he is going to be the actual manager, he’s certainly lining himself up to take all the credit should Newcastle do well next season but it will obviously be Pardew who will be left carrying the can should things go badly.
Quite what Ashley’s obsession is with Joe Kinnear is anyone’s guess but this is yet another bizarre decision and, after Keegan’s parting words five years ago, you’d think he’d have learned a lesson.
Pardew will not be liking this one bit and I would be very surprised if he’s still there by the end of the season with Kinnear taking the job for himself again.
You don’t need to be Mystic Meg to see this as a likely future and you don’t need much in the way of intelligence to see how much Ashley has undermined yet another decent manager of his.
You do have to be absolutely batshit crazy to understand Ashley’s thought processes, though.