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Ranking the worst decisions made by Mike Ashley at Newcastle United

3 years ago
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The £300 million-pound question….will Mike Ashley finally leave after 10 tortuous years of ownership?

I didn’t want to get carried away last Monday when the news finally came. We have had some false dawns before as we all know but this time things seem different. Could it be that the indifference and cost-cutting of the Ashley era is finally at an end? No doubt if the sale is finalised, and that still might be a big if, we will get a queue of pundits and experts lining up to comment how Ashley has actually “done a good job as owner” and how the club is now on a better ‘financial footing’.

These people probably need a reminder that football clubs are not real businesses, they don’t exist to have a nice balance sheet. Football clubs exist to win or at least be able to dream of winning trophies and titles. Glory is the reason for we go on a weekend, not to see financial development over ten years.

Premier League football is the minimum requirement and now Ashley has delivered that with a genuine top-class manager, it is hard to complain about the present. The demand of a team that tries seems to have been accepted. Still with takeover talk gathering pace and Ashley having spent over a decade as owner, it felt like an appropriate time to look back, and try to form some sort of ranking of the worst decisions made by Mike in his time at the club.

Forcing the resignation of Kevin Keegan

It seems obvious to start here. It’s easy to forget now but there was a time when Mike Ashley was reasonably popular among sections of our support. He even sat amongst fans in the latest shirt with ‘Smith 17’ on the back. Yet he failed to support Kevin Keegan when he agreed to come back as manager. This was summed up by having the arrogance to appoint the odious Dennis Wise above Keegan in the management structure, alienating King Kev and directly leading to the disaster of the 2008/09 season. It was the first of Ashley’s awful decisions and somehow foreshadowed what was the come. Ambition cast to one side, for purely financial reasons. Keegan was never going to be part of a club that didn’t want to at least try and target the top half of the Premier League. It was the right thing to do from Kev, who was dignified to the end, but the chaos this left the club in was one the main reasons for the first Ashley relegation.

Appointing Joe Kinnear…. Twice

Just another minor cause of that painful season, appointing ‘JFK’ as Keegan’s replacement. A sentence I still can’t believe I am writing 9 years after it happened. It’s hard to expand on just about how ridiculous this appointment was at the time, it’s all been said. Shay Given’s recent autobiography on how deflated the dressing room was after Kinnear was announced as manager, speaks volumes on subject. The only thing that could top such an outrageously bad decision, was doing it again years later! Ashley bringing him back as Director of Football probably tops the original decision to bring that joke back to football. Cue an embarrassing talksport interview, that once again made Newcastle United a laughing stock. Yohan Kebab indeed.

Renaming St James Park

Surely it terms of purely emotional violation, this represents the most destructive move of the Ashley era. Having the sheer audacity to try and rename the hallowed ground of St James Park, looked like a move that was done only to irritate fans and boost the profile of Sports Direct, hidden behind some vague financial explanation that it could benefit the club. Previously Ashley was only hurting the club’s future by hurting it’s potential, now he was going after the tradition of the club and the city. The one thing that should always be sacred is the stadium name. Attempting to change it sums up Ashley’s sheer indifference towards fans emotions and concerns, that has festered throughout his time as owner. Ironically, the stadium name change was announced during the one successful Premier League season we have had in the Ashley era (2011/12) when we went onto to secure a 5th place finish after flirting with Champions League qualification. Even when we were relatively successful on the pitch, he found a way to put a negative shadow back over the club. Typical.

Selling Andy Carroll

Every player has their price, apparently. They certainly do when they play for a club owned by Mike Ashley. It hasn’t always worked out badly for us, we managed to get £30 million for Moussa Sissoko after all. Some players that have been sold during the Ashley era though, have often been sold without proper replacements lined up. Our owner’s willingness to gamble at the end of transfer windows often damaged the squad beyond repair. The worst must be the deadline day sale of Andy Carroll. At the time Carroll had looked devastating in the first half of that season, had the number 9 shirt and was flying. It’s easy to forget now but back then the sky was the limit, incredibly we had ended up with another local striker to get behind, he had the potential to be the next Shearer. Cashley had other ideas and rather than let Pardew build the team around him, encouraged Carroll to move when the price was too good to turn down. Big AC even travelled down to Liverpool in Ashley’s personal helicopter to complete the move, how convenient. It wasn’t the only time this happened either. For all Alan Pardew’s faults what’s often overlooked is that in three of his four January transfer windows at the club, his best player was sold (Carroll 2011, Ba 2013, Cabaye 2014) demanding conditions for any manager to thrive in. The one mid-season window when Ashley backed Pardew rather than made life more difficult for him, and bought Papiss Cisse we finished 5th and had a brilliant second half of the season.

Sacking Chris Hughton

Only at Newcastle could a manager win the derby 5-1, and find himself out of a job months later. What on earth the fat cockney was thinking on this one I haven’t a clue. Admittedly we had a slightly inconsistent spell just before Hughton was shown the door but were we really in any danger of relegation under him? No. Possibly still one of the most unjust sackings in the Premier League over recent years and there have been quite a few. Hughton is proving himself as a top-class manager again this season with Brighton looking competitive in the early part of the Premier League. The fact we drew 1-1 with Chelsea in Hughton’s final home game, with Carroll scoring, highlights that the team was in pretty good shape. An unnecessary decision looked even worse, when you consider Pardew was brought in as replacement, which hardly got disgruntled fans back on side.

Letting Pardew Leave

Ok, stop shouting and hear me out on this one. This is not so much the fact Alan Pardew left Newcastle United. Many fans had wanted him sacked months earlier, some fans had wanted gone years before. The error from Ashley on this occasion was more the fact that he allowed Pardew to leave without appointing a proper manager as a replacement. Once again, he saw cash as ultimate prize, and if Palace were willing to pay compensation then why not let Pardew leave? To merely give John Carver the job as interim manager was a joke. Nice bloke, good coach, but should have been nowhere near the top job. A complete shambles. Carver was in charge for just under half of that season, but won only three league games. We went from 9th when Pardew left, to having to scrape a win on the final day of the season to stay in the division. For me, those months under Carver were in many ways more traumatic than either relegation season. As a result, letting Pardew go and not finding a proper replacement has to be one of the worst decisions of the Ashley era, highlighting how cost-cutting came ahead of the welfare of the club.

So, which do you consider to the very worst of Mike Ashley’s calls in his ten years at SJP?

I have missed out many more terrible decisions, but let’s face it we could be here all night.  The above are not ranked or in any particular order, but do comment which decision stands out in your memory as the worst of his tenure. Also remember the next time a colleague or a television pundit claim that Mike Ashley has been a ‘good owner’ for Newcastle United, remind them about the overwhelming evidence that suggests otherwise. Each of these decisions alone suggest a poor owner of a football club, combined they point towards complete incompetence. Hopefully this time the sale talk is serious and the Ashley era, which has already robbed me of years supporting an ambitious club, is finally over. We can only hope.

You can follow the author on Titter @JackLaceyHatton
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