Monday 19 March 2018

Newcastle slump to relegation as Mike Ashley's Champions League hopes fall flat

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley invested £80million in players last summer
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley invested £80million in players last summer

This was never supposed to happen again.

On May 24 last year, as Newcastle prepared for a final-day clash with West Ham which would decide their Barclays Premier League future, owner Mike Ashley gave a rare and impromptu television interview in which he promised to invest in the club in the search for success.

He said: "I shan't be selling the club until we win something. Not at any price. When I say win something, if we get in a position of Champions League, that equals winning something."

It is fair to say Ashley's words were received with a degree of scepticism by fans who had previously seen his regime embark upon a policy of buying cheap and selling high.

But in this case, he was as good as his word and handed over in excess of £80million in transfer fees alone.

However, a little less than 12 months on from Ashley's appearance before the cameras, his money has been wasted and Newcastle have dropped out of the top flight for the second time in his nine-year reign.

The club's demise represents the most recent chapter in a decline which has seen it fall from the days when it mounted genuine challenges for honours under former managers Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, through mid-table mediocrity into the ranks of the fatally dysfunctional.

Ashley, the sportswear magnate who invested £134.4million of his personal fortune to take charge during the summer of 2007, has borne the brunt of the ire which has engulfed St James' Park for much of the intervening period.

The treatment of Keegan, Alan Shearer and Chris Hughton, the reluctant manager who dragged the club back into the Premier League at the first attempt the last time relegation woe struck, has further irked supporters who initially welcomed the arrival of a billionaire owner.

The decision to rename St James' Park and swamp it in his Sports Direct company's logo, protests against the club bringing in pay-day lender Wonga as sponsor, and an inexplicable fascination with Joe Kinnear have done little to smooth the waters.

But for all that, Ashley is not solely to blame for the morass into which the club has dived headlong this season.

Managing director Lee Charnley, a relatively junior member of former chairman Freddy Shepherd's administration, was handed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the club some time ago, and he has serious questions to answer.

It was Charnley who dithered over the appointment of a replacement for departed head coach Alan Pardew in January 2015 - damningly his preferred options were Steve McClaren and Remi Garde - ultimately handing John Carver the reins with near calamitous consequences before turning to McClaren once again, and he who left it too late to give Rafael Benitez a genuine chance of pulling off a rescue act.

It was also Charnley who held the chequebook as Ashley's money was spent during the summer and in January. And although new blood did arrive at great expense, the left-back, experienced central defender and proven striker that McClaren craved did not.

Chief scout Graham Carr too has seen his stock fall alarmingly in the face of a poor recent recruitment record, although it is understood it is some time since one of his first-choice recommendations was taken up.

That said, McClaren simply did not make the most of his opportunity with his undoubted skills as a coach, failing to have the desired impact on an admittedly hideously imbalanced squad which, on paper at least, is capable of much, much more than it has produced, and the players who have under-performed so drastically must share responsibility for that.

Some are simply not good enough, others have been paralysed by fear and more have been accused of simply not caring.

It is a brutally toxic mix and one which has made a nonsense of Ashley's pledge to bring success to St James'.

Press Association

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