Mike Ashley: Better the devil you know?

With promotion as champions secured, Newcastle fans finally got the news they craved on  Wednesday: Rafa Benitez is staying on Tyneside after successful talks with Mike Ashley.  As good news is often rare with the Sports Direct owner at the helm, has he finally learned from his mistakes?

Ashley’s calamitous history at NUFC

After arriving to much optimism and bringing an end to the Freddy Shepherd era, Ashley’s arrival gave us a lot of hope initially. However, the days of sinking pints in the away end with fans quickly evaporated as Ashley began a series of truly bizarre mistakes, seemingly navigating from one disaster to another.

Hiring fan favourite Kevin Keegan to only undermine and drive him out was soon followed by appointing Joe Kinnear as Director of football. Even St James’ was re-branded as the Sports Direct Arena, a buy them cheap and sell they high transfer policy introduced and another local hero, Alan Shearer, mistreated following our first relegation in a near 25 years. Popular manager Chris Houghton was given the boot and another relegation sealed last season. A tenure of pantomime and ridicule has been endured by Newcastle fans, who rightly, doubt Ashley is capable of instilling success at a football club. 10 years has seen a 5th placed finish but two relegations.


A new found determination?

Ashley gave a rare interview at the end of the 2014/5 season after NUFC stayed up by the skin of their teeth. He famously declared he would not leave the club until the won a trophy or finished in the top 4. It was this ambition that fans have craved, with the previous mistakes appearing to point to Ashley wanting to use the club to promote his other business interests.

To be fair to Ashley, he followed up his side of the bargain in the 15/16 season. He stepped away from making football decisions directly after clearly being under qualified to do as outlined above. He invested £55m on new players, one of the biggest highest spends in Europe that season. The season was of course a disaster as we were relegated but it was Ashley’s choice as Lee Charnley as MD that was to blame this time. Putting faith in others was the right thing to do but placing it in  Charnley was his latest mistake. Charnley hired Steve McClaren, who plundered the transfer money given to him and somehow managed to send us down into the Championship.

Although relegated last year, it was the first time Ashley was not solely to blame. He then backed the club financially to return to the top flight. As owner it is ultimately his fault we have been relegated twice but he does appear to be becoming more determined to succeed. Hiring and keeping Rafa has reinforced this.

Be careful what you wish for?

There is no doubt Newcastle fans have endured more misery than most during the Ashley era. Even recently, news of the tax probe days after celebrating promotion is typical Newcastle. It is hard not to look at Manchester City and Chelsea and wonder why we got this billionaire owner instead.

However, for every Chelsea, there are clubs like Leeds United, Aston Villa, Birmingham and arguably Sunderland who have been put in far worse positions by their owners. NUFC are on a far better financial base than when Ashley bought the club, which we do have to be grateful for when you look at the mess at cubs like Glasgow Rangers. There are certainly owners who have done more damage to English football than Ashley. Our season in the Championship was a tour of some really poorly run clubs; Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest being prime examples.

The future – can Mike finally get it right?

Ashley has clearly made mistakes and massive ones at that. He has however, showed signs of learning from them. He has learned on the job, which although frustrating that someone so incompetent bought us in the first place, he is showing signs of a brighter future ahead.

He has stabilised the club financially and stepped back from football decisions. He is also finally beginning to invest money in the club, which will only be strengthened by the new TV deal. Ashley has also finally appointed a truly world class manager in Rafa Benitez. We are back in the Premiership but for the first time since he bought the club arguably, with genuine hope. Let’s hope it continues.


About Simon Riddlesden

Lifelong Newcastle United fan and East Stand season ticket holder. Observations from a supporter who has followed NUFC during Champions League participation and through relegation, taking me from Milan to Scunthorpe.

86 thoughts on “Mike Ashley: Better the devil you know?

  1. There’ll be plenty of change at clubs like Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea in the summer. I’m sure there’d be some players surplus to requirements at those clubs who could help us out.


  2. Stuart: its their wages though man. Jesse Lindgard is on 100k a week. He would be our highest paid player if we went for him. Yes, Jesse Lindgard, 100k a week. 5 point 2 million a year. Jesse Lindgard.

    I think we can forget about buying any established players from the current top 6. Maybe a loan or somebody at the end of their contract like Carrick.


  3. I said the other day as well that Theo Walcott is on 150k a week. Even Arsenal and Man U’s sh!t players are out of our reach.

    We don’t want to become Sunderland either – buying up all the Man U has-beens.


  4. And if you don’t think Walcott is Sh!t have a look at his goals and assists and what he HASN’T won with Arsenal and England.


  5. Hang on. Walcott was injured for the 2014 FA Cup final so he only has one more than NUFC since 1955. The one he got was against Villa as well so that should come with asterisk.

    * against ShIt team.


  6. Eric – you may mock but I would take Walcott in a heartbeat – as I would a number of players that Stu is suggesting.
    Maybe Walcott is not a realistic option, but we’ve been linked with Delph from City before and I would certainly take him.
    There is a suggestion we are interested in 3 from Chelsea – Atsu, Loftus Cheek and Ake – all of which I would take.
    Callum Chambers from Arsenal is another that has been mention and he would be an upgrade on Hanley IMO.

    All of these are realistic options and their wages would fit our wage budget.


  7. Sharpy: I would take any of the ones you suggested on loan. I won’t mock you, I am only half serious on Walcott as I think he is equal to or better than what we have. He is not good enough to start for a Champions League team though – well, next year Arsenal will not be a Champions League team anyway.

    Lucas is the one I would buy from the top 6 and I doubt he is on ridiculous wages like Lindgard is. If we paid him the same as Shelvey I wouldn’t mind that.

    What I am suggesting is that to buy from the top 6 is out of our realm at the moment and we have to set our sights lower because we cannot afford it. That means looking at Spain and Germany, and I will say it, also France.


  8. And I will say this again. We are only allowed 2 Premier League loan players so Rafa will have to be very smart about who he chooses.


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