Ian Rush: Profit and loss is the Ashley model for Newcastle failure
Last Saturday, minutes before John Carver ranted and raved at a Newcastle United team who fell apart at Leicester, a couple of Magpie fans held up a banner.
"We don't demand a team that wins. We demand a club that tries," it read.
And, for me, that statement got to the crux of Newcastle's problem. It isn't Carver, a decent man but one whose record of two wins and two draws from 15 league games isn't great. He cares about the club. Do the players?
They have to take the flak for what's going wrong. And so do the men who implement the club's philosophy. Not that long ago, that philosophy was to entertain. Kevin Keegan sent out teams to attack and to thrill. And they did, coming famously close to capturing the 1995/'96 league title before they fell short near the finish line.
The decade that followed wasn't quite as good but at least they had a go. The club tried. They spent big money on Alan Shearer. They bought Michael Owen from Real Madrid, Damien Duff from Chelsea. They made genuine attempts to improve year on year.
They came close, too. In the decade before Mike Ashley (right) became owner, they got to two FA Cup finals, two FA Cup semi-finals and five quarter-finals in the League Cup and FA Cup, as well as a semi-final and quarter-final of the UEFA Cup.
Plus, they qualified for the Champions League three times.
Under Ashley, however, there have been eight seasons, 16 domestic Cup campaigns and only one venture beyond the fourth round. Plus they made it to the quarter-finals of the 2012/'13 Europa League.
If this wasn't bad enough, their league form has also dipped.
After Ashley took over the club in 2007, Newcastle United have finished twelfth, eighteenth (relegated), first in the Championship, twelfth, fifth, sixteenth, tenth and who knows where they might end up at the end of this season?
The years which preceded Ashley's takeover saw them finish thirteenth, seventh, fourteenth, fifth, third, fourth and eleventh. Plus they had cup runs in those seasons. Their fans - who have been waiting since 1969 to celebrate the capture of a major trophy - had something to look forward to.
Now, the balance-sheet seems to matter more than the team-sheet. Over the last four years the club's published accounts have shown profits from each year, which, in one way, is good, as it has allowed £62.6 million to build up in the club's coffers.
Yet fans aren't that interested in profit-and-loss margins. They care about winning, about being entertained, about chasing trophies, about chasing a dream.
They don't want to hear an argument about how extra games in the Europa League could result in injuries piling up and in the side finishing down the table.
Newcastle's fans know they won't win the league.
So the best they can hope for is a run in the cups. Bear in mind the FA Cup has a huge tradition on Tyneside. They still talk about Jackie Milburn and the three cups they won in the 1950s. They want new heroes, new stories, now though.
And they are being made to wait. Such a brilliant, passionate, large fan base have been made to wait because of the club's philosophy. They'd love a run to a final, like Sunderland and Hull had last year, like Swansea, Bradford, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Birmingham and Wigan have had in recent years.
Instead, they are accustomed to mid-table finishes (in the good years) and third- and fourth-round exits. Once the club stood for all that was good about football in the north-east. Now it stands on the brink of relegation. Yet despite their dismal run, their eight successive defeats, they should have enough about them to get something out of their games against West Brom, West Ham and QPR.
But then what? Will they continue to strive for mid-table, continue to buy talented, unproven players, allow them to develop and then sell on for large profits?
You only have to look at their record under the Ashley regime to figure that one out. He bought the club in 2007 and in the 2008-'09 season James Milner and Shay Given were sold.
The following year saw Michael Owen, Damien Duff, Obafemi Martins and Sebastien Bassong go. Then it was Andy Carroll's turn, sold for £35 million, just before Jose Enrique was also sold to Liverpool.
In 2013, Demba Ba went to Chelsea; in 2014, Yohan Cabaye was offloaded to PSG and then last summer Mathieu Debuchy was sold to Arsenal.
As a business model, you have to say, 'hats off to Mike Ashley'. But football clubs are about trying to win, not just about trying to make money.
If Ashley wants to own such a special club, that I had the privilege of playing for, then he needs to invest more heavily. If he's not prepared to do that then he should let someone else have a go.
Messi will go down in history as a genius but Pele remains number one
Who is the greatest of all time? Pele, Maradona or Messi?
For me, it has to be Pele. He was perfect.
But after watching the way Lionel Messi destroyed Bayern Munich on Wednesday, he can justifiably claim to be one of the best players in the history of the game.
Yet in my eyes, he needs a World Cup medal before he is considered an equal of either Pele’s or Maradona’s - whose status as the best the sport has produced has been set in stone for decades.
Pele, scorer of 77 goals in 92 internationals, and the only man to hold three World Cup winners medals, is number one.
Think about what he achieved. On Brazil’s 1958 winning team he was scorer of the winning goal in the quarter-final, of a hat-trick in the semis and of two goals in the final – provided the Hollywood script, being at 17, the then youngest player to feature in a World Cup.
Then he came back in 1970 – after his personal disappointments of 1962 and 1966 – to reach a second World Cup final and redemption in Mexico City.
Significantly, that tournament was the first to be televised live around the globe – and the colour images of Pele attempting to lob the Czechoslovakian goalkeeper, Ivo Viktor, from the half-way line before he later sold the Uruguayan keeper, Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, an outrageous dummy – remain etched in my mind.
But so, for years to come, will be the damage Messi did to the Bayern Munich defence last Wednesday. Clearly, when we watch the little Argentinean, we are witnesses to the ultimate master of this sport.
Twice he has won the Champions League, twice the World Club Cup and on six occasions, La Liga. His return of 371 goals from 377 starts for Barcelona speaks for itself.
Maradona – his hero – finished his career with a vastly inferior record and has already been surpassed by the number of goals Messi has scored in international football. Yet Maradona is still regarded as Messi’s superior, chiefly because of what he did in 1986, when Mexico, again, provided the setting.
Neither Pele nor Maradona won the European Cup. Messi has. He could win it again this year. But the World Cup remains determines who is number one.