A history of public acrimony against and subsequent apologies towards previous managers

August 2019
In an article for the Athletic, Rafa Benitez responded to claims from the club that they could not have done more to keep him and he moved for money.

“People in Newcastle have been talking about my decision to move to China without knowing what happened behind the scenes during my three years at St James’ Park. I haven’t wanted to say too much about that — I’ve encouraged supporters to get behind Steve Bruce and his new team — but I’ve been made aware of what Lee Charnley, Newcastle’s managing director, claimed in the club’s match programme last weekend and I think it’s important I address that.

“I tried to do my best every day, even staying when we went down to the Championship and saying no to other offers — bigger offers than the one I recently accepted with Dalian Yifang, by the way. If I was only interested in moving “for money”, as Charnley stated, I could have done it much earlier.

“Over my long career, and especially in my time at Newcastle, I’ve always shown commitment to my club, its city and its community and I’ve done it with professionalism and honesty. Newcastle’s board had a year to sort out my contract but, when we met after the end of last season, they didn’t make me an offer I could accept. They told me they didn’t want to invest in the academy or the training ground — if they like, I can explain the reason why Mike Ashley refused to do that.  Their idea of a project was a policy of signing players under 24 and, in my opinion, the budget available was not enough to compete for the top 10.

“After that meeting, I knew they would not come back with a serious offer and, when it arrived, 19 days later, it was for the same salary as three years earlier and with less control over signings. Charnley’s comments in the programme about having a deal agreed for Joelinton in February explains a lot that I couldn’t understand at that time. After three years of unfulfilled promises, I didn’t trust them.

“When we finished 10th in the Premier League in our first season back, all players and staff were paid a bonus — aside from my coaching team. That felt like a punishment for me not signing an extension. So, by the end, I knew there would not be a proper offer and they knew I was not signing. I couldn’t explain that in public because I was not allowed to talk to the press without their permission, so I was waiting until late June, like every fan, hoping there would be good news about Newcastle’s prospective takeover.

“On Sunday morning, I switched on my television in Dalian and there was a documentary about Alan Shearer being shown. Can you believe that? It’s true. I saw joy in the faces of Newcastle fans after every goal. I didn’t need the reminder, because I was there so recently, there with all my heart, but it made me think again about that history and potential. And it made me consider something else: what would an 18-year-old Newcastle supporter think about his club now?” – Source

In programme notes, Lee Charnley insists the reason Rafa Benitez left Newcastle United was for money

“We understand and expected the disappointment that Rafa’s departure caused.  We strongly believe we went beyond what could reasonably be asked in order to keep him.  But let’s be clear, he moved to China for money.  The offer he received was too tempting.  We understand that and there is nothing wrong with that.  It was not something we could compete against.  We wish him well for the future and thank him for all he achieved.” – Source

July 2019
In an interview with the Daily Mail Mike Ashley blames the greed of Rafa Benitez for his departure

“I expected the negative reaction to Rafa leaving, I thought it would be very bad.
If you come out and say the things he did you would think it was football club first, Rafa second, money third. I’d say it was money first, Rafa, then the club last. He took the totally soft option, took the money and went to China. That disappoints me. If he’d gone back to Real Madrid, or a top six club in the Premier League, I get it. But it was about money and all he had to do was say that from the beginning.

“My view always was we had to keep Rafa. For my own personal safety we had to keep Rafa. I thought he had us offside, he had us cornered, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, I’ve been totally out-manoeuvred, I probably shouldn’t own a football club, it’s ridiculous, but I’m a big boy.

“Yet every time with Rafa it was impossible – there was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 per cent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t. 

“I’m not disappointed in him as a manager – he did an excellent job. It puzzles me why any fan thinks I wouldn’t want him. I’m not the thickest person on the planet. Why wouldn’t I want excellence? Why wouldn’t I want this manager? Accuse me of many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.

“At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract. That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy. So if you really want me involved, I need time from you, too. And that was the idea. I did it before with Alan Pardew.
Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.

“We delivered Rafa’s number one target in January, Miguel Almiron, but Hoffenheim wouldn’t sell Joelinton. Then in February they said we could get him early, but it would cost £40m. He was a name we had discussed with Rafa, and our recruitment people had him top of their list. I thought it was one of those that would keep drifting away, but no, we had it done.   I was so excited to tell Rafa we’ve got another one 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, Almiron, and this other player who was so exciting we thought he’d be out of our range. When we first sat down with Rafa, we didn’t think we would pay this much for a player. We’d never done that before.

“From there, the relationship deteriorated very quickly. I was personally very disappointed, and that’s putting it politely. I was freaked out. I’m thinking, “I clearly don’t understand anything about football” because I’m all for celebrating and going mad and suddenly it’s, “No – you’ve got to sort my deal out first.” So we had another few weeks of correspondence and then it wasn’t just his deal, it was that he thought the £40m for Joelinton wasn’t worth it. It’s too much and the club shouldn’t spend it.  And very occasionally, I get to be me in this world. So here’s the deal. I’ll pay £20m of it personally. Nothing to do with the club. Above and beyond the budget. Rafa valued him at £20m. So that’s what would come out of the club budget. The rest, £23m – I’ll pay. And he still didn’t sign it off. Looking back, I think he knew for a long time he was going to China because it was like we couldn’t do anything. Joelinton was the test.   Why on earth would you not want that? As a football manager, with all the things you have said, why wouldn’t you want Joelinton? It wasn’t even as if it was him or Salomon Rondon. And we told him that. We just wanted Joelinton secured.

“He did an amazing job, Promoted, first year tenth, 44 points – next year, 45 points. Now we’ve got a solid base to build up and the firepower to have a go. “Right Rafa, it’s over to you – hold on, he’s gone. Where’s he disappeared to? What’s happened there?  Rafa talked about things he knew we couldn’t do and then, when we were in a position to finally do them, and launch the big surprise – no. It’s not the money he asked for that upsets me. What if we hadn’t got Joelinton? People don’t realise Rafa had the say and we couldn’t conclude the deal while he was still our manager. When he left he knew we were signing Joelinton. So he can’t say we lacked ambition.

“I’m saying this now because you have to draw a line. Otherwise people are entitled to keep asking – August, September, October, November, why did Rafa leave? I’m not here to defend myself. I’m here to defend Newcastle United; because Newcastle United could not have done any more to keep Rafa Benitez. I can look anyone in the eye and say that. It was impossible to do more.” – Source

August 2017
Mike Ashley talks about letting managers down in the past during an interview with Sky Sports

You inherited Sam Allardyce, there have been several managers since. How much input have you had on that process?
It depends which manager. 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. 

Two of the names that stand out there are two club legends in terms of playing career, Shearer and Keegan. Was it the right thing to do to appoint them, in terms of the dream, but in reality the expectation was too great?
Personally I don’t think for either of those individuals it was too much for them. 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. – Source

February 2011
Derek Llambias responds when Shearer, as a pundit, questions the sale of Andy Carroll

“Do I care what Alan Shearer has to say? When he ran this football club [in 2009] we were relegated after picking up just five points from his eight games in charge.” – Source

October 2009
When Kevin Keegan won his employment tribunal he released a statement, including these quotes on his position as manager

“The Tribunal’s decision makes it clear that I did have the final say on transfers and the Club’s allegation that I did not, which was publicised widely at the time of my resignation and subsequently, was simply untrue.  The Club admitted to the Tribunal that it repeatedly and intentionally misled the press, public and the fans of Newcastle United.  Contrary to the public statements made by the club at the time they did not do all that they could to retain me at the club. In particular they refused to acknowledge that I was entitled to the final say on transfers. This left me in a totally untenable position.  A number of the allegations made against me by the club at the hearing, in order to support their £2 million claim against me, were totally without foundation and should never have been raised in the proceedings.” – Source

May 2009
Mike Ashley statement following relegation

“Bringing Alan Shearer back to Newcastle United was the best decision I have made.  Alan and his staff did all they could to try and keep us up in the short space of time they had. Talks are now ongoing between us about how we can take this club forward again.” – Source

March 2009
Derek Llambias talking to the NUSC about Keegan’s departure

“We kept our heads below the parapet so that nobody would shoot us…we weren’t prepared for the force of Kevin leaving. The backlash was so huge we thought we’d just back off and let everybody calm down…although it didn’t really happen” – Source

September 2008
NUFC statement following Kevin Keegan’s departure

●It is a fact that Keegan was allowed to manage his duties without interference.
● It is a fact that he agreed not to talk to the media in relation to the acquisition or disposal of players.
● It is a fact that Kevin Keegan worked within that structure from 16th January 2008 until his resignation.
● It is a fact that Kevin Keegan, as manager, had specific duties in that he was responsible for the training, coaching, selection and motivation of the team.
● It is a fact that NUFC is a business and operates, like all businesses, with financial constraints.
● It is a fact that NUFC’s financial constraints inform its transfer dealings.
● The board of NUFC have responsibility to ensure that the club is able to meet its commitments which include the wages and the transfer fees for players.’


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