Who’s to Blame?

Mike Ashley has chopped and changed the supposed structure of the board at Newcastle United several times and used this as a means to separate himself from the unpopular decisions he has made at the club.

Then again he has accepted responsibility for all that has gone wrong, admitted that he does not have the ability to run a club and apologised for his atrocious record.

On occasion he has both accepted responsibility in the same interview as he argues that the board make the decisions.
It is important to ticket sales that Ashley portray his disastrous tenure at the club as a learning curve.  As if he will do better in subsequent seasons given patience.  The pattern of calamity is too consistent for that to be the case though.  The lack of ambition, the sub-par appointments, the disinterest in achieving anything but promotion are all by design.

July 2019
In an interview with the Daily Mail Ashley confusingly accepts responsibility for the errors of the past, insists he doesn’t get involved, and  reveals he is the one that informs the manager of a deal that’s been done in principle.

“I’m a negative to that football club,  it is down to me. I give myself one out of five in some aspects because I made proper mistakes, and football isn’t a very forgiving place. I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot; I blew my own leg off.  People would look at me and think I’d gone temporarily insane. They didn’t know what I was doing.”

“I don’t have a bad word to say about Kevin. I didn’t have the right people around the football club at the time and that wasn’t fair on him.

“So I accept I’ve managed it badly at times. It’s my fault. Certain things aren’t, but some are. And the fans are very unforgiving about the mistakes in the early years.  I’m not a football expert, I don’t get involved.  Certain things I haven’t got right. I used to think our Premier League finish was more important. But where can we realistically go with this top six? The cups are the best of it. 

“I was so excited to tell Rafa we’ve got another one [Joelinton] coming, but when Lee Charnley, our managing director, had the conversation, his view was that he didn’t want to commit to the transfer until he knew what his position was with the club next season. And I didn’t get that. Is this the bloke who had given it to me for the last 12 months?  Proper given me bucketfuls – which I may or may not deserve, but I don’t deserve it on this one, because I’ve done it. I’ve got his first choice” – Source

August 2017
Ashley speaks to Sky Sports about whether he is portrayed fairly or not. He accepts he deserves most of the criticism he gets, but paints a picture of someone getting serious decisions wrong then handing it off to others, rather than someone satisfied and persisting with many of his own decisions that infuriate fans most.

“I actually understand how cross the fans were. If I was a fan, would I have been as upset as they were? I would probably have been worst! It wasn’t acceptable what happened at Newcastle United Football Club, but of course I never did it on purpose. There was no gain for me at all to get certain things wrong that I did in those times.

“I probably rushed in too early. The first thing, when we let Sam Allardyce go, I was probably too keen to get going and make a difference, and I was a bit naïve about how football worked, I thought football was better regulated than it was. I was a little bit shocked at quite how football was more like the wild west. I could never imagine the money that people like Sky would pay for football. I still can’t believe the sums that are paid. I thought the difference would be to get the academy right, the training ground, the fans’ prices, the new generation of fans coming through, and building the football club from the ground up. That was where I thought I could make a difference, because I thought I could put in the time and the money. But now, let me think of an analogy; let’s say football was a bicycle back then, it’s now a Formula One car going along in the outside lane. It is so different from when I bought the club.

“Criticism is a funny thing, because I think if you want to be something, create something or make a difference in any walk of life you have to be hugely self-critical. There’s a reality. I think the majority of criticism I deserved, because I did really get some serious decisions wrong, albeit not deliberately, but that’s a fact of life, because I get the time-frame wrong. People ask me what I’d do differently in football, I’d actually think more short term. I wouldn’t try building something for five, 10 years’ time, when in actual fact the landscape has completely changed. Therefore your medium or long term views never come into play because it has changed too much by the time you get there.

“Say a player comes up for £15m and we want him, it will be OK, because they say this player will supposedly ‘come and embrace the club, and leave everything out there on the pitch’. But actually that isn’t the case, you can get a lot more out of a trainee, or, for example, a young Andy Carroll, because they’ve got so much passion and want to get that place in the team, and in fact they do leave everything out on the pitch. So football is a very, very strange industry to get your head around. 

“[I was] very naïve in the beginning. In the middle I thought I was just about beginning to get my arms around it a little bit, we had a manager on an eight-year contract [Alan Pardew], had the finance right, we were talking about investing in the training ground and the academy, we had a strategy, buying the better young talent that’s available and developing. That was around 2013, 2014, I thought we were going along quite well, and then within 18 months the wheels have come off, like a game of snakes and ladders, and we went from square 98 all the way down to about square 92!

“The first thing you feel [when you don’t get it right] is stupidity, because as soon as you know the hindsight of something, you know that was actually the wrong thing you were doing. For example, I thought it was the right thing to do to generate as much money as possible for Newcastle, so when people say to me: ‘Whatever you do, in interviews do not talk about changing the name of St James’ Park!’ Well I’m me, and I’m going to talk about making an error, and I should not have changed the name of St James’ Park. I should not have done that. Football is not all about making money and reinvesting it into football clubs, it has a very strange balance to it. I wanted to get naming rights, get money in and invest it into the club. The reality is, the vast majority of the Geordie fans would rather have the name of St James’ Park and finish maybe one or two places lower in the table, because they want to keep it special. You begin to learn that the special side of Newcastle maybe means a little bit more than the ultimate end performance on the pitch. 

With Sam, I apologise to him, I was too hasty. Probably a little bit too eager to get started myself. With some of the others I did have a big input as to who we brought in. With Alan Pardew, I didn’t actually know him before football at all, and I thought he ended up being very good. I thought I was very unfair to Chris Hughton, who got us promoted, I don’t think I gave him enough time. And then of course you’ve got the Joe Kinnear era, Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer. 

“Alan Shearer came in at the time when he was probably the only person on this planet who could keep Newcastle up. He did an absolutely fantastic job in everything else but the odd result not going his way. It was a hair’s breadth, or a bad refereeing decision away. I genuinely thought that was the right thing to do for the football club. In a way, I would have done my job at Newcastle if we’d got one of the club legends in place, staying up, going forward and rolling on that strategy. Everybody else blames everybody else, but I totally agree with the appointment, and I was probably the man who said let’s go for the safer pair of hands in the Championship with Chris Hughton. I think Kevin Keegan is an outstanding individual, and also did his best at the club. It wasn’t always easy for Kevin at the football club, we didn’t have that structure around that we should have had to support him, with the signings and everything else, and I will take responsibility for that. So Kevin, I apologise for that. 

I actually loved being totally involved in it. There was this absolute high point under Alan Pardew in the last game of the 2011/12 season when we could have finished third. We could then be in the Champions League, then have the money, start investing, and we would be rolling. Now I feel more like the passenger on the top floor of the bus, sitting at the front looking out of the window. I really have plus/minus negligible effect on what happens at the club regarding the football side.

“I want to start with the academy, I want to be able to produce Andy Carroll’s. I look at Southampton and their academy, and that I think could be done. Not like Leicester, as I said I don’t believe that could happen again. But Southampton, the academy, bringing them through and making it a priority for the football club. This would be my dream, to say to people, we always put in an academy player, a mantra for the club, that we give the academy players the first opportunity to get in. – Source

May 2016
When Newcastle were relegated for the second time under Ashley he fell short of apologising, but promised to reflect on the lessons of it:

“I am writing to you in the immediate aftermath of the relegation of our Club – a bitterly disappointing outcome for all of us.   Newcastle United rightly has a proud and long tradition of competing at the highest level and I therefore understand and share the pain that supporters will be feeling at this difficult time.  Many of you have expressed strong views about what we could have done differently. I respect those views but I would like to reiterate that it has always been my intention to try to achieve the very best for Newcastle United.   We invested heavily in the squad over last summer and again in January, but we have been unable to secure Premier League status despite the recent efforts of the team under the formidable stewardship of Rafa Benitez.  I’ve said in the past that when I take on a challenge I am prepared to go through both good times and bad. There can be no doubt that relegation is a terrible blow but I want to assure you that the Club will now be doing everything it can at all levels to try to ensure a swift return to its rightful place in the Premier League.  We have done it before – we can do it again.  In the meantime, I thank the fans for their passionate support, in particular for Rafa and the team at recent fixtures , both home and away.  Clearly it is now time for a period of careful consideration whilst we reflect upon the lessons that need to be learned from the last 12 months to restore this great Club to the very top flight of English football.” – Source

It was left to Lee Charnley to be the one to apologise

“Tonight we are devastated at our relegation from the Premier League, as I know every single person connected to this football club will be.  I want to thank all of the fans for the support you have shown for the Club you love throughout the season, in spite of this massive disappointment and underachievement.  Your support throughout has been magnificent, but I want to pay particular thanks for the incredible backing you have given to Rafa and the team during the latter part of the season. Nothing more could be asked of you and I am truly sorry we have not given you the outcome you deserve. 

“I also want to thank every single member of staff here. This Club is their livelihood, but they are fans too. To go through the threat of relegation last season and then to suffer a worse fate this time around has been very hard for them. I know that each and every one of them has done whatever they could to help us out of the situation we now find ourselves in.  We know that supporters want to know what the future holds and will want to hear more from us as soon as possible. The process of scrutinising what went wrong and planning for what is to come has already begun. 

“Right now, of course, Rafa and the team must prepare for the final game of the season but after that, please rest assured we will communicate more fully with supporters.” – Source

June 2015
After the appointment of Steve McClaren the club announced a new board that did not include the owner, which publicly distanced him from the running of the club, but fooled nobody as to who was making decisions

Newcastle United has today announced changes to its Board of Directors.  Head coach Steve McClaren, chief scout Graham Carr and club ambassador Bob Moncur have today been appointed to the Board, joining managing director Lee Charnley.  Mike Ashley has relinquished his position on the board along with finance director John Irving, who is leaving the Club.

Newcastle United becomes the only club in the Premier League to have its head coach on its Board of Directors, a move which the Club feels adds significant strength to it.  

Managing director Lee Charnley commented: “This is a very positive step forward for the Club and I am delighted that Steve, Graham and Bob will join me on the board.  It was particularly important for us that the head coach also became a board member in order to gain a full understanding and appreciation for the Club and its operations as a whole, not just the football side. In Steve we have an individual who embraced that responsibility. Graham and Bob’s passion for the Club is beyond question and I believe given the collective skills, knowledge and experience, together, we are incredibly strong. Whilst, of course, we all have our individual primary duties, there is a huge common desire for the Club as a whole to move forward and succeed.” – Source

May 2015
Prior to the final game of the 14/15 season against West Ham, before we knew if the club would be relegated to the championship, Mike Ashley gave an interview to Sky Sports (via client of Keith Bishop PR, David Craig).  Asked who was to blame for the club’s poor season:

Who is responsible? The manager, the fans, players or does it stop at your door?
My door.
What about appointments of managers and so on?
It is Lee Charnley and the football board that make those decisions, as it was Derek Llambias who brought in Alan Pardew. I will not be picking the next manager – it is not what I do.  My job is to make sure that they have the maximum financial resources and it is their job to get the best pound for pound value out of those resources. – Source

October 2009
While negotiating with Bary Moat over the sale of the club, Ashley was quoted in the press as stating how things would be managed if he were not to sell and he was categoric about being in control, despite saying he had no idea how to ruin a club in the same interview.

“I never said I was an expert in football clubs. I tried my best. But I accept my best was woefully short.  If I keep the club I will have the final say on players. I am the one who has to fund the club.” Source

May 2009
Ashley apologised for the club being relegated

“SEEING Newcastle United relegated from the Premier League has been a catastrophe for us all. I fully accept that mistakes were made during this and previous seasons and I am very sorry for that. I would like to say sorry to our magnificent supporters who have turned up in their thousands, home and away, up and down the country and who have given the team amazing backing throughout. And I would also say sorry to all of the Club’s hard-working staff, who have gone about their jobs all year long.” – Source

September 2008
After Keegan’s departure and in a statement announcing the club was for sale Ashley discussed his responsibility and who makes decisions

“I am very conscious of the responsibility that I bear in owning Newcastle United. Tough decisions have to be made in business and I will not shy away from doing what I consider to be in the best interests of the club. This is not fantasy football.” – Source

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