Mike Ashley is now in his ninth season at Newcastle United and his former right hand man John Irving has made some very strange claims about the running of the club under the Sports Direct billionaire.

After the departure of Derek Llambias in the wake of the bizarre return of Joe Kinnear as ‘Director of Football, Mike Ashley made the surprise decision not to bring in anybody to take over the running of the club on a day to day basis.

Instead, head of finance John Irving (pictured above to the right of Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley) was left in charge along with Lee Charnley, the pair of them becoming the only directors at the club until Mike Ashley was later named as a third.

John Irving later moved on to work at Newcastle Airport and of course Lee Charnley is now the sole ‘figurehead’ in the day to day running of the football club.

In an exclusive interview with the Northern Echo, John Irving has talked about his current role at the Airport but also about Mike Ashley and the running of Newcastle Airport…

John Irving speaking to the Northern Echo:

“When Mike came in there was a step change in business attitude, it is now a very stable football club, but that doesn’t come out because it’s not the fun stuff.”

‘Stable’ – A club that in nine seasons under Mike Ashley has been relegated once, spent a year in the Championship and has been in a relegation fight three times in the last four seasons.

John Irving:

“What we did has given the club a firmer footing and what it’s doing now is the direct consequence. They have got the ability to go and buy quality players. We always had a plan and they are working on it now.”

‘A plan’ – We were always told by Llambias about five year plans…plans which seemingly involved getting relegated and as for a transfer plan – to not buy from a position of strength when finishing fifth and then end up desperately spending money in January 2013 and January 2016 to try and stave off relegation is crazy.

John Irving:

“He gets a lot of criticism at the club for things that are not necessarily his doing. The club is lucky he bought it; I honestly believe that. If not, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Ah yes, the ‘what if’. This is used as a stick to beat anybody who questions Mike Ashley, could have been another Leeds, Portsmouth etc etc.

Pompey are a far smaller club than Newcastle and Leeds were ruined by successive owners, you only have to look at the likes of smaller clubs than Newcastle such as Southampton, Leicester and Stoke who fell on hard times and are thriving.

If Ashley hadn’t came along somebody else would have bought it and not used the club purely as an advertising tool for his retail empire

John Irving:

“He has made a massive difference to Newcastle United and has never taken money out of the club.”

This one is very strange considering John Irving was in charge of finance when Mike Ashley took out £11m in 2012 as repayment of a ‘loan’.

John Irving:

“Football has changed and clubs can operate badly and still make money because of the television deals. But Newcastle does work well, it operates well and still makes money. The model works at the club and Mike has Newcastle United’s best interests at heart.”

I’ll leave you to decide if Mike Ashley has ‘Newcastle United’s best interests at heart’…but to claim that Newcastle United is somehow an example to others in terms of how it is ran off the pitch is outrageous.

The matchday and commercial revenues are laughable compared to what they were before Mike Ashley arrived. The only thing that has made Newcastle go into profit is the ever rising TV money, as well as the seasons where the club made big profits on transfers.

John Irving:

“You don’t build a football club by chopping and changing and that’s reflected in the management. He’s been very loyal on that front and that’s a good thing.”

So getting rid of Allardyce within months, getting rid of Shearer within weeks,, sacking Chris Hughton after doing a brilliant job and embarrassingly losing a case for constructive dismissal by Kevin Keegan when it was admitted he had been lied to by those at the club, is showing loyalty!!! Sticking with yes man/puppet Alan Pardew for four years doesn’t equate to Ashley showing loyalty.

John Irving:

“When I was there, I looked after the business side with a great team of people around me. It was all about budget planning and cash flow planning, working with Derek Llambias and Lee Charnley on what we were going to do in the transfer windows. It focused on what we had and what we could spend. We built a really good business model and always stayed ahead of the game.”

As I’ve said above, finishing fifth in 2011/12 and then buying only Vurnon Anita, then buying five players in desperation in the following January to fight relegation is brilliant planning??? Followed by the disastrous weakening of the squad that has caused so many later problems, with Mike Ashley then not allowing any spending until 18 months later!!!

John Irving:

“As a club this season, they are definitely not where they should be but they’ll be better next year. Mike won’t accept anything less than that.”

In the relegation zone with only 15 games remaining, let’s hope better doesn’t mean being higher up…in the Championship.