What is Mike Ashley’s ambitions for Newcastle United? After countless debates down the pub, discussions on fan sites, blogs and forums, I had resolved that this question was to be firmly placed in the category of “Life’s Unanswerable Questions” along with such classics as “What is the meaning of Life?” and “Is there a God?” and “If there is a God, why does he seemingly hate Newcastle United Fans?”
After making astute signings in the summer of 2011, with the likes of Cabaye, Santon and Ba added to the ranks of what comprised of an already decent squad, followed up by the January acquisition of Cisse and a 5th place finish in the league, many Newcastle fans thought that Ashley may have finally turned a corner (despite marring that season with ludicrous decision to rename St James’ Park as the Sport Direct Arena) and that a few smart summer signings could lead to a gathering of momentum that could finally see Newcastle United thrust itself forward and be back in the limelight again challenging (and cracking) the top four like we did back in the heady days of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson. Alas it was not to be, the signing of Vurnon Anita proved to be the only major outlay and many began the season with a deflated approach to the season bemoaning the opportunity that was missed. If Mike Ashley truly was ambitious then surely he would have made a more significant outlay in order to bolster our thin squad to cope with the demands of the Europa League?
We were told that slow and steady wins the race, that our 5th place finish was a welcome spike in the “5 year plan” and that the club would not over extend itself, that we were now financially stable and that we would not be held to ransom by other clubs – clearly a reference to Lille’s ludicrous (!) demands for an extra 1 million pounds for their international right back Mathieu Debuchy – so many fans were appeased and hopeful for the season that lay ahead and rumblings of Ashley’s lack of ambition for the club remained as such; mere rumblings.
However, a glimmer of hope in answering my question about Ashley came at the end of last season when he decided to keep Pardew in the manager’s job despite the fact that he overseen one of our worst seasons in Premier League history that included a dreadful away record in which we only defeated fellow relegation strugglers Aston Villa and QPR (and that was on the penultimate weekend) and a home record which saw such defeats to the likes of Reading, Swansea, West Ham followed by crushing defeats to Liverpool and our nemesis Sunderland who, before this season, hadn’t beat us at St. James’ Park in 13 years.
The final cherry on top of this cake was that we topped the long ball league ahead of the likes of West Ham and Stoke showing that in the midst of this terrible season, we were playing football that is inherently alien to the football that Newcastle United fans demand from their team, and that Pardew, as the proponent of this brand of football should have faced the chop for what can only be described as a disaster of a season.
This was Ashley’s chance to bite the bullet and replace Pardew with an ambitious forward thinking manager. There was rumours that Benitez could be tempted, Rene Gerard was also touted as a possible successor. What many fans simply wanted was an upgrade upon the brand of football that Pardew had been rolling out on a weekly basis and re-energise the squad with some continental management seeped in flair and creativity in the ilk of Pochettino’s Southampton, or Laudrup’s Swansea, and even, to a lesser extent, Martinez’s Wigan.
However, it was made very clear that Pardew was going to be the man to take us forward next season, that injuries and a small squad had hampered his ability to get the best from the team and that these mistakes were going to be rectified, despite the fact that Pardew got 5 new players in the January transfer window.
While many fans were not happy with this decision, the dust finally settled and we were looking forward to what gems Graham Carr would serve up for us this summer when Ashley decided to drop yet another bombshell on the unsuspecting Geordie faithful with the decision to appoint football relic Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, and in the usual gaffe ridden way, Joe took to the airwaves to announce this before the club, divulged Lambeezy’s (Llambias’s) resignation before it was official, and insulted the fans, the city, and some of the first team players all in one foul swoop. As if that wasn’t enough, he then took a swipe at club legend Alan Shearer all for good measure to cap off what was one of the worst week’s in football for any Newcastle United fan.
Personally, I thought the decision to appoint a Director of Football could have been very beneficial for Pardew and the club in general. Ashley had the chance to learn from his mistakes of a few years ago when he appointed Dennis Wise as Director of Football over Keegan and show his true ambitions by appointing a new Director of Football who understood the modern game, who had contacts with managers and agents both in England and on the continent, and who would help Pardew carve a team, nay a squad, capable of playing the fast flowing modern game we all long to see. Yet what he’s delivered is a dinosaur who has firmly established Newcastle United as the butt of everyone’s jokes.
Many thought his lack of summer investment was not a sign of his lack of ambition, nor was his decision to stick with Pardew despite a shockingly bad season. But if there was ever any doubt about what Mike Ashley’s plans are for this club then look no further than the decision to appoint his good buddy Joe Kinnear. Mike Ashley holds Newcastle United fans in utter contempt, that much is clear, but I could even put up with that if he dragged this club kicking and screaming towards the top end of the table. But in Ashley, Kinnear and Pardew we have our own modern day adaptation of the Three Stooges. Their brand of slapstick is making the collective football world laugh, but for Newcastle United fans the world over, it’s certainly no laughing matter.