Jamie Carragher: Fans despair as Newcastle stuck on road to nowhere
Imagine trying to convince a top player to join Newcastle United. What would be the sales pitch?
Come and join us. The fans are depressed and constantly protesting against how the club is run; the manager has his hands tied in the transfer market and makes his frustration known every week; the owner wants to sell the club so does not want to spend any more money; the prospective owner keeps saying she wants to buy but does not seem to have the cash to do it (and we're not really sure what she'll do if she ever gets it); the squad is filled with Championship players; you'll spend the next six months fighting to keep us in the Premier League; and, if we get a few bad results, the manager might decide he has had enough and leave.
When Daniel Sturridge decided this was not an attractive brochure, heading nearer home to West Bromwich Albion instead, there were a few expressing their surprise.
"How could you turn down Newcastle for West Brom?" some asked.
The question should be what makes the current Newcastle set-up more appealing than West Brom?
There are circumstances in which Newcastle can be more alluring. Historically they have shown this with transfer coups such as Alan Shearer and Michael Owen.
They have a passionate support, a wonderful stadium and a world-renowned manager in Rafa Benitez.
But the best players look for more. They see the bigger picture - the vibe they get from a club.
There are three factors a player will consider before making his move - ambition, geography and finances.
Is it a club ready to win trophies or play in the Champions League? Can he see himself settling at the club and in the area? Will they pay more than clubs of a similar ilk?
Which of these boxes can Newcastle tick at the moment? What makes them more appealing than anyone else in the Premier League?
It is hard enough for a club so far north to go head-to-head with many of those based in what are perceived more 'attractive' areas of England - especially London - but when you see the kind of turmoil at St James' Park it makes it tougher.
There is little to give them an edge over rivals on and off the pitch at this point in their history. That is the cycle of despair they are unable to escape.
Without the owner they need, there is no realistic chance to progress. Without a realistic chance of progression, they will not get the kind of owner they need.
Throughout this transfer window, and in previous years, you hear of Newcastle trying and failing to sign players - Sturridge, Joe Hart, Tammy Abraham, Andros Townsend… on the list goes. Every year you hear Newcastle fans desperately craving top-class signings. Every year you hear of Newcastle fans desperately craving Mike Ashley to leave.
But what they really need - what new signings and a change at the top would really represent - is something far more precious.
The cruellest endeavour he - or indeed any owner - can partake in is to drain the supporters' hope.
Hope is the lifeblood of a football club. It is hope that makes 52,000 supporters go to St James' Park every week; it is hope that makes them support Benitez, seeing what he has achieved elsewhere and knowing what he can do with more financial support; it is hope that prompted supporters to unfurl the banner at the Burnley fixture last Wednesday evening, pleading with everyone inside that arena to never give up.
There was a time - and it may come again - when Newcastle fans saw their club as a top four club.
The talk was always about winning a domestic cup for the first time since 1955.
It has gone well beyond that now. It is no longer about restoring the era of Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson and playing in the Champions League.
The majority on Tyneside simply want to believe in their club again; to be able to stop worrying about going down, and to see a regime that can give them a team worthy of the venue and the jersey.
You expect to be disappointed when you see a team under-perform from time to time, but there is only so much heartbeak and disenchantment you can take.
It would be easy for me to list Ashley's multitude of errors since buying Newcastle - they have been well chronicled elsewhere.
I see Newcastle as I see Everton. A huge club - a pillar of English football - believing they can realise their potential with shrewd investment.
Last summer, Everton were among the biggest spenders in Europe.
I said at that time they had not signed one player who those above wanted and we have seen the results of that spree as they spent this week trying to offload many of their summer signings.
Despite that, the presence of Farhad Moshiri makes many fans believe better times are coming. Newcastle fans need to feel the same.
Many will argue Ashley was never interested in success. I find that hard to believe. The only way he could profit from buying the club was to see the team perform well. But he is certainly not interested now.
When Newcastle were last in this position, fighting relegation in January 2016, he sanctioned the signings of Jonjo Shelvey, Henri Saivet and Andros Townsend (first time around) for £29m.
He also paid to sack Steve McClaren and recruit Benitez (left). It did not stop them going down.
The businessman inside him has seemingly calculated it is wiser to keep his hands in his pocket this time. If he is going to sell, it will be someone else's problem.
I'm worried for them because I fear they will go down again. They have the best manager of those at the bottom, but a championship squad.
St James' Park should be one of the toughest venues in the Premier League for the visitors to get a result, yet Newcastle have the second worst home record this season, winning only three of 13 games.
They still have Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to visit Newcastle.
My hunch is Ashley and any potential Newcastle buyer are awaiting the value of the next TV deal before determining exactly how much the club is worth.
Perhaps the next fortnight will be the catalyst he needs to let go of the club and give the Newcastle supporters the hope they need.
Benitez cemented his relationship with the Toon army when he stayed after relegation in 2016. If they go down again, I doubt he will hang around this time.
But even if they stay up I am sure Benitez will not want another season like this.
The Spaniard knew what he was signing up to when he agreed to work with Ashley, but he won't tolerate this any longer. If Ashley stays, Rafa will have to go. (© Daily Telegraph, London)