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Opinion

Mike Ashley has left the building

3 weeks ago
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I may wake up tomorrow morning to hear that after (15 and counting) weeks of alleged due diligence, the Premier League powers that be have rubber stamped the sale of Newcastle United.

If I do, I will breathe a big sigh of relief, and cast thoughts of Mike Ashley’s reign of error out of my mind forever.

However, if it doesn’t happen – and happen soon – I fear the club will be in an even worse position that if it was business-as-usual under the self-appointed saviour of the UK High Street.

The problem we’ll have if no takeover is forthcoming is an owner who is even less interested in the welfare of Newcastle United than he was before.

He – like most fans – went into lockdown assuming that he’d come out of it with £300m in his back pocket and no football club to think about. After a decade and more of criticism from all quarters, and abuse from ours, that must have been a tempting prospect.

Imagine you are in a job you don’t like, then being offered one you really want. Everything looks nailed-on, and you tell your colleagues and friends you’ll be leaving as soon as everything is sorted. You are told that the last remaining step in the process is for your new employers to get some references, and you don’t see how there could be any problem with those. You can’t wait to hand in your notice, and you may even look forward to telling your boss where he can stick his job.

Weeks and months go by, you call a few times, and are repeatedly told that everything is in hand and that you shouldn’t worry. But you know it never usually takes this long to confirm an appointment, and you start to suspect something has gone wrong. You are faced with the very real possibility that you may have to wind your neck in and stay in your current position. If you didn’t like the job before, you will like it even less now.

This is the sort of position Mike Ashley finds himself in.

His plans for July 2020 very much included £300m in cash, and very much did not include Newcastle United. Now we might be stuck with him, and he may be stuck with us. For once, he and the fan base will be united, in feeling a bitter sense of anti-climax.

It’s hard to conjure up an image of Mike Ashley with any enthusiasm for Newcastle United, so I won’t.

If he ever did feel any affection for the club, he managed to keep it well hidden. But, having come so close to ridding himself of what must feel increasingly like a millstone around his ample neck, he may find he is carrying it beyond transfer windows, season ticket sales, pre-season friendlies and our first games of the 2020/21 season; perhaps even beyond that. If he lacked enthusiasm before, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll have a whole lot less in those circumstances.

I don’t want Mike Ashley as the owner of Newcastle United, and if he’s trying to sell, neither does he. To all intents and purposes, he left the building in April 2020, as soon as the bid turned out to be credible. He put on his Lonsdale flip-flops, headed for the beach, and thought he’d never set foot in Newcastle again. Now he may have to come back.

That would be a disaster and this time it’s a disaster he can’t be blamed for. That will not improve his mood.

Like the person who has to carry on in a job he thought he was leaving, he’ll have trouble mustering a scrap of energy for the task. I very much doubt he’ll want to invest a penny in the club, and he won’t want to listen to anyone else’s plans.

It would be the ultimate sick joke if all the takeover achieves is giving us a worse version of Mike Ashley than we had before.

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