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Ashley's 13 most shockingly bad decisions in 13 years as Newcastle owner

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Thirteen years ago today, Mike Ashley purchased Newcastle United.

Fans of the Magpies have been left frustrated and often infuriated by the businessman’s decisions over the years since.

He has overseen two relegations and a stagnation in the club’s results on the pitch and has often been criticised for a lack of ambition and understanding of the club.

We take a look at the 13 worst decisions which have defined his time at the club.

1. Renaming the stadium

St. James’ Park is one of the most iconic stadium names in English football, but for Ashley it was not "commercially attractive".

In November 2011, it was decided the stadium would be renamed Sports Direct Arena, with the club outlining how it would "showcase the sponsorship opportunity to interested parties".

It was a universally unpopular move among fans, and when payday loan company Wonga.com bought the rights the following year, they confirmed that part of the deal would see the original title restored.

2. Allowing Benitez to leave

Newcastle’s appointment of Rafael Benitez as boss in March 2016 was the biggest and most significant signing of the Mike Ashley era. The Spaniard was not able to prevent relegation that season, but stabilised results and overachieved with a squad constructed on a budget.

Yet cracks between Benitez and Ashley became increasingly evident, meaning neither party made an effort to extend the contract and the Spaniard left at the end of last season. Steve Bruce has performed admirably in the role, but he lacks the experience and track record of Benitez - a winner of multiple league titles and European trophies.

3. Pardew’s eight-year contract

One of the most ill-judged decisions not just in Ashley’s era at the club, but in the Premier League era. It is striking that Pardew’s long-term contract - penned in September 2012 - still has not officially expired.

A ludicrously rash decision from the club after an impressive burst of form under Pardew, Newcastle dropped from 5th to 16th and by December 2014, Pardew was gone with over 70 percent of his deal still remaining. His last three league victories have come with three different clubs - Crystal Palace in 2016, West Brom in 2018 and this year’s sole victory in his stint with ADO Den Haag.

Kevin Keegan sits alongside Mike Ashley

4. PR own-goal over Keegan

Keegan’s return to the club in January 2008 was the perfect antidote following the dismissal of Sam Allardyce, who had never won over fans.

Coming early in the Ashley era, it was viewed as a clever PR move - totally unexpected, it quickly garnered the mass support and expectation of fans.

Despite an eight-game winless opening, Keegan guided Newcastle to safety but the following season he and Ashley fell out, with the boss saying he was not afforded sufficient funds. It coincided with reports of the owner losing out significantly on the stock markets. Keegan - adored by fans - then stunned the club by handing in his resignation, with fan discontent with Ashley starting to grow.

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5. Un-Wise appointment

A major part of Keegan’s grievances was his perceived lack of control over the club’s transfer activity and this was fuelled by the presence of Dennis Wise.

The former Chelsea captain was appointed as an as Executive Director in January 2008 and was never a popular figure among the fanbase, perpetuating the divide between Keegan, the fans and the board.

Tasked with identifying young players to sign and improving the club’s strategy, both Wise and Ashley came under huge pressure from the fans to quit. Unlike Ashley, the former midfielder did just that in April 2009.

6. Bringing in Joe Kinnear

Following Keegan’s exit, Newcastle made another shock appointment - but one that did not generate excitement among the fanbase. Kinnear had not been in a managerial role in four years and not been in the Premier League for a decade.

Things turned sour very quickly as his introductory press conference was filled with expletives including attacks on the assembled press, while he later decide to only give interviews to local reporters.

Kinnear managed just four wins in 22 games and left the club in a perilous position before he fell ill and required a heart bypass operation.

Alan Shearer was brought in but could not salvage the situation as the club were relegated in May 2009, with Kinnear’s contract expiring. Fans thought his unsuccessful stint would be his last involvement with the club, they were wrong.

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear

7. Bringing in Joe Kinnear…again

Staggeringly, Kinnear was brought back to the club four years later as a Director of Football.

Even more surprisingly, he announced the appointment himself during a Talksport radio interview in June 2013 - the club confirmed the news later that month - in which he gave a car-crash performance. Kinnear listed off a series of accomplishments which were littered with significant factual inaccuracies, before mispronouncing the names of several Newcastle players.

Kinnear oversaw two transfer windows and did not make one permanent addition to the first-team squad (well, apart from Olivier Kemen - who never played for the club), and left in February 2014. Why he was ever brought back has yet to receive a meaningful answer.

8. Downing a pint

In August 2008, just over a year into his rein - Ashley retained a significant level of popularity which would quickly evaporate in the coming months and years. Back then, he still felt comfortable enough to mingle with the Magpies fans, as was the occasion for a trip to Arsenal.

TV cameras spotted Ashley drinking a pint of beer, which he gulped down in one. The action contravened Premier League licensing rules stating that alcohol may not be consumed in sight of the pitch

A club statement somewhat unconvincingly explained: “Michael was offered a drink which he was told was non-alcoholic and he took it in good faith.”

It may not have been the most significant of offences, but it demonstrated poor judgement and his early attempts to win popularity among the fans.

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9. The 2008/09 season

Ashley’s unseemly alcoholic consumption kickstarted a series of events that led to the club being embarrassed both on and off the pitch.

Keegan resigned, Chris Hughton stepped up for three games (and three defeats), Kinnear replaced Hughton, Kinnear was then replaced by Hughton (one win in six games) before Shearer (one win in eight games) replaced Hughton.

The managerial instability and lack of long-term planning culminated in relegation and ending a 15-year spell in the top division.

10. Rejecting Mohamed Salah chance

Back in 2011, an Egyptian teenager was in discussions over a ‘dream move’ to Newcastle United which ultimately never came to fruition.

As outlined by the Chronicle, Mohamed Salah’s exploits with local side El Mokawloon had caught the eye of the Magpies scouting department.

It is unclear why the move collapsed, but the prevailing thought is that Newcastle failed to pay a modest loan fee. Salah later moved to Basel, before arriving at Liverpool via Chelsea, Fiorentina and Roma.

11. Rangers conflict of interest

In October 2014, Ashley owned an 8.92% stake in Rangers International Football Club (RIFC) - the controlling company of Scottish club Rangers. His attempts to increase this to 29.9% were rejected by the Scottish FA due to conflicts of interest with his Newcastle ownership.

Just like at Newcastle, there were mass fan protests against Ashley in the blue half of Glasgow and the debacle further delegitimised his ownership in the eyes of Newcastle fans and onlookers. He sold his entirety of shares in the Scottish club in 2017.

Mike Ashley and Steve McClaren

12. Appointing Steve McClaren

This was another managerial appointment that made little sense. The former England boss was sacked the previous season by Championship side Derby County after their form fell off a cliff late in the season, perhaps partly due to his links to St. James’ Park.

There was little logic in handing out a three-year contract (with an option of extending this to an eight-year deal, bringing back unhappy memories of Pardew) and the 2015/16 was a disaster right from the off.

Newcastle did not register a Premier League win until 18 October, with McClaren sacked in March. Benitez was his successor, but the club could not be saved from a second relegation of the Ashley era.

13. Signing Joelinton…for £40million

There is little doubt that the Brazilian forward has talent, but it is hard to justify the Magpies smashing their club record transfer fee to land him from Hoffenheim last summer.

He impressed last season for the German club - with 11 goals to his name - in his one and only campaign at the top level, but stylistically he just did not fit into Steve Bruce’s side’s attack at all.

With just one goal in 25 Premier League appearances to date, fans are largely sympathetic of his struggles, but he symbolises bad business from a deeply unpopular owner.




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