Mike Ashley has spoken out about all things NUFC in an explosive interview with the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel – discussing takeovers, transfers Benitez’s exit and Bruce’s arrival.
Firstly, the Sports Direct tycoon discussed his 12 years at the club, accepting he’s made some ‘proper mistakes’ (the understatement of the century!):
‘I’m a negative to that football club,’
‘It’s not a secret. I don’t feel sorry for myself. It is down to me, not Newcastle. I give myself one out of five in some aspects because I made proper mistakes, and football isn’t a very forgiving place. I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot; I blew my own leg off.
‘People would look at me and think I’d gone temporarily insane. They didn’t know what I was doing. Will I be there, first game of the season? Maybe.“
The NUFC owner then moved on to Rafa.
Here’s what he’s had to say about the former boss, with him critical of the Spaniard’s exit, believing it was “impossible” to keep him at the club as he decided to put ‘money first’:
‘If you come out and say the things he did you would think it was football club first, Rafa second, money third. I’d say it was money first, Rafa, then the club last. He took the totally soft option, took the money and went to China. That disappoints me. If he’d gone back to Real Madrid, or a top six club in the Premier League, I get it. But it was about money and all he had to do was say that from the beginning.
‘My view always was we had to keep Rafa. For my own personal safety we had to keep Rafa. I thought he had us offside, he had us cornered, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, I’ve been totally out-manoeuvred, I probably shouldn’t own a football club, it’s ridiculous, but I’m a big boy.
‘Yet every time with Rafa it was impossible – there was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 per cent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.
‘I’m not disappointed in him as a manager – he did an excellent job. It puzzles me why any fan thinks I wouldn’t want him. I’m not the thickest person on the planet. Why wouldn’t I want excellence? Why wouldn’t I want this manager? Accuse me or many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.
‘At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract. That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy. So if you really want me involved, I need time from you, too. And that was the idea. I did it before with Alan Pardew.
‘Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.’
Ashley then spoke about his relationship with Rafa over the final 6 months of his time on Tyneside, discussing a deal the club had lined up for Joelinton – a move that Rafa refused to sanction much to Mike Ashley’s dismay:
‘We delivered Rafa’s number one target in January, Miguel Almiron, but Hoffenheim wouldn’t sell Joelinton. Then in February they said we could get him early, but it would cost £40m. He was a name we had discussed with Rafa, and our recruitment people had him top of their list. I thought it was one of those that would keep drifting away, but no, we had it done.
‘I was so excited to tell Rafa we’ve got another one coming, but when Lee Charnley, our managing director, had the conversation, his view was that he didn’t want to commit to the transfer until he knew what his position was with the club next season. And I didn’t get that. Is this the bloke who had given it to me for the last 12 months?
‘Proper given me bucketfuls – which I may or may not deserve, but I don’t deserve it on this one, because I’ve done it. I’ve got his first choice, Almiron, and this other player who was so exciting we thought he’d be out of our range. When we first sat down with Rafa, we didn’t think we would pay this much for a player. We’d never done that before.
‘From there, the relationship deteriorated very quickly. I was personally very disappointed, and that’s putting it politely. I was freaked out. I’m thinking, “I clearly don’t understand anything about football” because I’m all for celebrating and going mad and suddenly it’s, “No – you’ve got to sort my deal out first.” So we had another few weeks of correspondence and then it wasn’t just his deal, it was that he thought the £40m for Joelinton wasn’t worth it. It’s too much and the club shouldn’t spend it.
‘And very occasionally, I get to be me in this world. So here’s the deal. I’ll pay £20m of it personally. Nothing to do with the club. Above and beyond the budget. Rafa valued him at £20m. So that’s what would come out of the club budget. The rest, £23m – I’ll pay. And he still didn’t sign it off. Looking back, I think he knew for a long time he was going to China because it was like we couldn’t do anything. Joelinton was the test.
‘Why on earth would you not want that? As a football manager, with all the things you have said, why wouldn’t you want Joelinton? It wasn’t even as if it was him or Salomon Rondon. And we told him that. We just wanted Joelinton secured.’
I don’t get Mike on this one.
If Rafa’s in charge of transfers then why is Ashley so concerned that Benitez didn’t want him? It almost suggests he believes he knew better than a world class manager who’s won the Champions League!
Ashley then went on, praising the Spaniard’s work over his three full seasons at the club, but claiming that he couldn’t have done more to keep him – a comment I’m sure most Newcastle fans will contest!
‘He did an amazing job,’
‘Promoted, first year tenth, 44 points – next year, 45 points. Now we’ve got a solid base to build up and the firepower to have a go. “Right Rafa, it’s over to you – hold on, he’s gone. Where’s he disappeared to? What’s happened there?”
‘Rafa talked about things he knew we couldn’t do and then, when we were in a position to finally do them, and launch the big surprise – no. It’s not the money he asked for that upsets me. What if we hadn’t got Joelinton? People don’t realise Rafa had the say and we couldn’t conclude the deal while he was still our manager. When he left he knew we were signing Joelinton. So he can’t say we lacked ambition.
‘I’m saying this now because you have to draw a line. Otherwise people are entitled to keep asking – August, September, October, November, why did Rafa leave? I’m not here to defend myself. I’m here to defend Newcastle United; because Newcastle United could not have done any more to keep Rafa Benitez. I can look anyone in the eye and say that. It was impossible to do more.’
Ashley then discussed his two-hour visit to the training ground this week, claiming he almost gets ‘carried away’ when he becomes involved in the football side of matters:
‘I go to the training ground, hot day, all lovely – you can’t help getting carried away. I’m like, ‘What can I do to help? Can we get another one in? What’s he (Joelinton) like, is he fast?’
‘It’s one of the amazing things about owning a football club, the way you get caught up. It’s like someone has put something in your coffee. You look around, you want to lift the place, hit the ground running. I hope we’re not finished at Joelinton.’
‘What I fear, from the club’s point of view, is to make a promise and then something goes wrong,’
‘It’s a big issue of reputation for the club because of my ownership. If that happens, people think we were never serious, that it’s a stunt. If we get something wrong, or it doesn’t happen for whatever reason, it becomes worse than not doing anything at all.’
More bizarre comments. He clams he gets carried away and wants to hit the ground running, yet he says he ‘hopes’ we’re not finished signing after Joelinton. ‘Hopes’? How can a man claiming that he wants to help act like he hasn’t got the power to make SURE new signings come in over the next two weeks?
Ashley then speaks out about money in the game, with him attempting to explain why the club will struggle to properly compete while he’s in charged – using Spurs’ £45m shirt deal as an example:
“That is many, many times what Newcastle can get. We’re not anywhere near that – nobody is, outside the top six. And I’m being told Liverpool could get £100m for the same deal.
‘So just on technical kit sponsor alone, we could start more than £90m behind them, in one year, on one sponsorship. Now add the rest of it up and you’re starting £300m behind Liverpool, or £400m behind Manchester United. To keep up with that? It would wipe me out. I’d be gone. I wouldn’t even be able to afford a season ticket – and it wouldn’t take long.
‘It is so much bigger than when I got involved. I thought at the time I could put in £10m, £20m and it would make a big difference. And it would have done. Now – it’s nothing.
‘Put in £10m and it’s a joke. OK, that’s how the market is. But it’s not something I can afford, and it’s not something Newcastle can afford while I own it. The over-riding reality is that I am just not wealthy enough to own Newcastle. I genuinely believe you need £1billion. People say £500m but I’d bet anyone that these days you can’t do it for that. Not to compete at the very top.
‘Manchester City can afford to have an ageing team; they can afford to just write players off. How can we do that? It’s not possible. Therefore you have to go for the best young players and hope they develop that little bit and become world-beaters.
‘That is our principle and it hasn’t changed for many years. But to compete, I need someone to take Newcastle off me who literally wants to put in £1billion.’
This then brought Ashley on to takeover talk – a subject Newcastle fans have wanted to hear more on for several months / years now!
Sadly, his comments do little to lift our spirits on that front. He claims he’s ‘not a believer any more’ and stating there are ‘no offers’ on the table, with him even suggesting that his new mental state is ‘I think I could own this football club forever’:
‘So I have to assume I will stay running this football club. There are no offers. Define an offer. I’m not a believer any more. Peter Kenyon convinced me last Christmas that it was going to get done. I’m never doing that again. I think I could own this football club for ever. That is my new mental state. The reality is with these deals that once it gets out, if it’s not done, it’s probably not going to get done.
‘The day someone buys Newcastle, they’ll do their due diligence – and finished. It will happen like Manchester City. By the time the media find out, it’s already complete. There’s no need for a delay with Newcastle. It is, honestly, a very well-run football club.
‘The last bid, the one from UAE, he’s a prince and he’s got £38bn or £100bn, all these numbers — well, why would you even care what you’re paying then? What difference would £10m either way make? You would want speed, you would want certainty, you would want the keys and to get on with it.
‘I will not stand in the way of Newcastle United. I will not stop that, if it happens. If such a person comes along I will think I’ve done quite a good job and I will want to keep going to watch them. I’ll keep a box, because my parents will demand it. Every time there’s a story that I’ve sold, I get the phone call. “You haven’t included our box in the sale?” When you own a football club, the whole family are in.’
That was the original plan. Fun. Family. Friends.’
Ashley then discussed his first few years at the club, claimed he approached it as a ‘football fan’ – but soon learned he had to be ‘realistic’:
‘I started off from the wrong premise.
‘I wanted to enjoy myself and I should have gone with a different concept from the opening gate. But if you’re a football fan, and you can have Kevin Keegan as your manager – well, it’s very exciting, isn’t it? And I’m a bit of an excitable bloke and I loved it, I found it amazing that he was ours.
‘But you very quickly learn that you have to be realistic. Kevin had nothing but good intentions for the football club. He would never do anything wrong, you’d never find some nasty agent lurking in the background on a deal.
‘But this was modern Newcastle, building for the future, and he wanted these older players that he knew. That wasn’t what we needed. But do I regret how it ended? Why wouldn’t I? I don’t have a bad word to say about Kevin. I didn’t have the right people around the football club at the time and that wasn’t fair on him.’
He then accepted that he’s managed the club badly at times, but insists that not everything has been a result of his mistakes.
That said, he refuses to accept the ‘Where’s the money gone?’ claims from fans, saying he’s been guilty of a lot of things but not taking money out of the club:
‘I accept I’ve managed it badly at times. It’s my fault. Certain things aren’t, but some are. And the fans are very unforgiving about the mistakes in the early years.
‘Building it again, they don’t give me much leeway. People say it’s only a business now, but I don’t think I run it solely as a business, because a business has to make money. I’m accused of having no ambition, but if that was so I could just take money out of the football club.
‘I could say to Lee Charnley, our managing director, I’ll have £10m, £12m. But a good custodian will make every penny count. No interest, no repayments. So in that way I’m a good custodian. Being there when disaster strikes and we go into the Championship and we need someone to write a cheque to put into the football club, I’m good – no question. If we’re talking PR, it’s the exact opposite. So on financial stability, producing a professionally run football club, proper accounts, proper cash flows, proper accountability – five out of five, very good. On PR – very bad.
‘You know, some of the fans don’t even believe the accounts. “Where’s the money? You’ve got it somewhere.” What are you talking about? How do I fiddle this? It’s like asking if I’m on drugs. Don’t be bloody idiotic. I don’t do drugs. Everything else I might be guilty of. Were you out drinking the other night? More than likely.
‘But you can put any accountant on our books and it’s whiter than white. I’ve felt like challenging the fans on that sometimes. I’ll pay and you can have an independent auditor come in and review us. But will you please stop saying these things? I’m guilty of a lot, but not that.’
If this is the case, where on earth has the money gone to after we’ve gained over £120m during the last two Premier League seasons? Because we’ve certainly not spent it on new players!
On the subject of players, Ashley then spoke out about the ‘mistake’ he made setting Perez’s release clause at £30m, also insisting that he has no intention of selling Sean Longstaff:
‘We didn’t want to sell Perez, but had no option once Leicester reached that figure,’ he explained.
‘These clauses are the highest you think the player will accept, so he can’t batter your door down and demand to be sold for £10m. I don’t care what people say, it’s very difficult to keep a player when they want to go. The age of slavery is dead. But we’ve learned our lesson on release clauses from here.’
‘The message we want to put out is that Sean Longstaff is not for sale. If you’ve got one like Sean – keep him.’
Finally, Ashley spoke out Steve Bruce’s appointment – stating he was one of the managers named on his three-man shortlist for the job.
He believes Bruce is an amazing choice for the job given his passion for the club and will to succeed at St James’ Park, stating he was ‘shocked’ to see the negative reaction to his arrival as a result:
‘Someone with a lot of passion for the club counts a lot in my book,’
‘For me, Steve is an amazing choice because, England aside, there is no other job for him. This is his dream. What I want the fans to understand is that, in him, they have someone who absolutely cares. He’s not worried about his expenses, all that c**p. He wants to talk about Newcastle. I get excited by that.
‘I expected the negative reaction to Rafa leaving, I thought it would be very bad. But I was shocked by the reaction to Steve. He doesn’t deserve it. He’s one of their own. I don’t think the fans quite realise what they’ve got because I’m hoping he’s the one.
‘There’s been some hurtful stuff, that he was our 11th choice. Actually, we had a short-list of three and Steve was one of them. His only worry was how soon he could start. I’m not a football expert, I don’t get involved, I’ve got a car but I’m not the driver. And now I’ve got a manager saying, “Let me get on with it. Just let me get on with it – I won’t let you down”. I’m thinking, “I’m definitely having that”. He gets it. He comes in: “The cups? Yeah, we go for them”.
‘Certain things I haven’t got right. I used to think our Premier League finish was more important. But where can we realistically go with this top six? The cups are the best of it. And it’s great to have a conversation with someone who is so passionate for Newcastle United. I know I’m an eternal optimist but with what we’ve got now at the football club, something might be possible.
‘And you can’t believe how that would make me feel. I divide life into snowballs and dominoes. Snowballs are very positive, rolling down the hill, getting bigger, gathering momentum. Dominoes are like – oh my God, when is this going to stop? And I’m hoping this is a snowball.’
So much to take in it’s untrue.
For me this is riddled with lies and a little all over the place at times, with him being pretty inconsistent and almost threatening to contradict himself.
I for one look forward to a response from Rafa and the BZG – two groups who may have VERY different tales to tell.
What do you make of Ashley’s comments folks?