A Saudi-led consortium has completed their takeover of Newcastle United, bringing Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership of the north-east club to an end.
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The £300m takeover of Newcastle United has officially been completed, with a Saudi-led consortium ending Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership of the club. Sky Sports News’ Keith Downie reports
Here, Sky Sports News north-east reporter Keith Downie reflects on 10 key moments that shaped Ashley’s time in charge of Newcastle…
Buying clubs and pints
Mike Ashley bought Newcastle United in May 2007 from Freddy Shepherd and Sir John Hall for £134m. He did no due diligence on the club and was unaware it was £100m in debt.
It was a surprise move at the time, with the retail tycoon branching out into the world of football club ownership. His time in charge was popular to begin with and he was often seen drinking with supporters at away matches.
Ashley even travelled with fans to arch-rivals Sunderland and stood with them in the away end wearing a Newcastle replica kit. Sunderland refused to welcome him to their corporate box due to his choice of attire and this went down a storm with the Newcastle faithful.
In August 2008, he was pictured live on television drinking beer with travelling fans in the away end at Arsenal. Ashley was spoken to by police and a Newcastle club statement later claimed the beer was non-alcoholic.
Return of King Kev
After sacking Sam Allardyce, Ashley further endeared himself to the Toon Army by replacing ‘Big Sam’ with club legend Kevin Keegan.
In January 2008, Keegan arrived on Tyneside for his second spell as manager in a blaze of glory – fans descended on St James’ Park to greet Keegan with Ashley by his side.
At this stage, Ashley could walk on water as far as Newcastle fans were concerned.
But Keegan’s second spell on Tyneside was to be short-lived and he was gone within nine months. Keegan struggled with the influence of director of football Dennis Wise, who had been instructed to bring in young players and sell them at a profit.
Keegan resigned in September, having earlier claimed to have been sacked in a meeting with Wise and managing director, Derek Llambias.
Keegan later won a court case for constructive dismissal and Ashley was made to pay him £2m. As far as the fans were concerned, the damage was done.
From Keegan to Kinnear
Joe Kinnear was appointed as interim manager to replace the departed Keegan. This was a hugely controversial move by Ashley and fans saw it as his way of getting back at them after they had turned on him over the departure of Keegan.
By that point, Ashley had put the club on the market after the fans demanded he sell up. The appointment of former Wimbledon and Luton boss Kinnear – who hadn’t managed in the top flight for almost a decade – was seen as the final straw.
Kinnear swore 70 times in one press conference and refused to speak to the national media again, unhappy with their line of questioning.
Newcastle were battling towards the foot of the table under Kinnear and when he had to step down due to heart trouble, Ashley knew he had to appoint someone of stature in an attempt to stave off relegation.
He turned to another club legend – Alan Shearer.
Shearer the saviour?
Golden boy Shearer was brought in with eight games to play in the 2008/9 campaign, in a bid to beat the drop.
He inherited a squad struggling for form and despite Ashley allowing him to bring in his own backroom team, he was unable to spend money, with the transfer window being closed.
Shearer was unable to keep Newcastle up for the fans and for Ashley, winning only five points from those eight games in charge.
Ashley decided he was not cut out for the Championship either and appointed Chris Hughton as boss instead.
Ever since, club legend Shearer and owner Ashley have never seen eye-to-eye. Ashley even renamed the bar attached to the stadium that had been named in honour of the Magpies’ all-time leading goalscorer.
None of that helped his diminishing reputation amongst the fans and Shearer has long been a severe critic of Ashley’s on Match of the Day.
The name game
In October 2009, Ashley changed the name of St James’ Park to incorporate his chief business interest, Sports Direct.
Ashley said he did this because he was attempting to bring in investment through new sponsors.
Newcastle fans were outraged at the thought of their club losing its heritage and they campaigned for this not to happen.
But in a divisive move, Ashley eventually re-branded St James’ Park ‘sportsdirect.com @ St James’ Park’ until the end of the season.
Two years later, it was re-branded Sports Direct Arena in another temporary measure, to the disgust of supporters.
St James’ Park later returned to its original name but Sports Direct branding remains plastered throughout the stadium.
‘The Cockney Mafia’
Under Alan Pardew, Ashley splashed out on a clutch of French-based players and Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League in 2011/12.
The likes of Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy, Demba Ba and Moussa Sissoko all arrived for big money. Things calmed down on Tyneside as a result and the following season saw a foray into Europe, with a run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
But despite this, the appointment of Londoner Pardew was not universally popular and many eyebrows were raised when he was handed an eight-year contract in September 2012.
Pardew, like Wise before him, was seen as another member of the “Cockney Mafia” and fans turned on him when results started to fall away.
However, Ashley eventually made money from Pardew when Crystal Palace poached him in January 2015.
His opening season apart, Ashley has never been one for craving the spotlight.
In recent years, he’s made only sporadic visits to St James’ Park and is more likely to be seen at away matches. He’s conducted very few interviews either, despite supporters asking for greater communication from above.
In April 2015, as Newcastle faced a must-win match to avoid relegation on the last day of the season, Ashley conducted his first TV interview for years.
As the players warmed up to face West Ham in front of an anxious St James’ Park crowd, Ashley vowed he “would only sell when we lift a trophy or qualify for the Champions League.”
Since then, he’s partaken in two further TV interviews – one with Sky Sports in 2017 entitled “Ashley Speaks Direct”, and another with Sky News the following year when he claimed he was close to selling the club after another 12 months on the market.
Ashley’s chief plan as the years rolled on was to buy young players and sell them on at a profit.
We have seen this policy enjoy great success, with the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Gini Wijnaldum, Demba Ba and Ayoze Perez.
However, there have also been a lot of flops over the years – Remy Cabella, Florian Thauvin and Emmanuel Riviere springing to mind.
What Ashley had never done – until recently – was break the club’s transfer record. Supporters longed for the day they could break the £22.5m signing of Michael Owen from August 2005.
It looked like it was never going to happen under Ashley’s stewardship, until he splashed out £40m on Brazilian striker Joelinton in July 2019, followed by the recent £25m capture of Joe Willock from Arsenal.
Rafa the gaffer
Rafa Benitez was brought in by Ashley in March 2016 in an attempt to keep the club in the Premier League, following an awful start to the season under former England manager Steve McClaren.
Supporters took to the Spaniard straight away and bought into his ethos, despite the style of football not being great on the eye.
Benitez failed to keep Newcastle in the top flight but Ashley handed him a three-year contract after the fans serenaded the former Real Madrid manager on the final day of the season, having already being relegated.
Benitez and Ashley endured a fractious relationship, with the former feeling Ashley failed to show ambition in the transfer market.
In the end, Benitez proved to be too big a manager for a club run in the way it was under Ashley, and his contract ran down without either party getting back around the table.
There was outcry on Tyneside when Ashley lost the Champions League winner to China.
Finally sold to Staveley and PIF
A deal fell apart in July 2020 when the consortium walked away after the Premier League asked to prove separation between the Kingdom of Sauda Arabia and the consortium.
Since then, there has been an impasse as Mike Ashley then tried to bring the consortium back to the table and legally challenge the Premier League blocking the takeover.
The Premier League reached a compromise with the consortium instead of going to independent arbitration after the consortium proved separation.
The resolution between beIN Sports and the KSA over TV piracy was the other main issue, meaning Ashley’s controversial 14-year tenure has finally drawn to a close.