Summer of discontent: Mike Ashley running Newcastle into trouble again


It could be worse. No matter how bad it feels today, Newcastle United haven’t yet been relegated, Yohan Cabaye hasn’t yet been bundled into a minibus and whizzed down the A1, and St James Park, the last time we checked, hasn’t yet been rebranded as Big Mike’s Throbbing Wonga Bowl. Oh, and Sunderland lost. But that’s about as good as it gets for Newcastle supporters.

Just as Arsenal’s fans had long foreseen their opening day humiliation, the foot soldiers of the Toon Army had been bracing themselves for this tonking since the fixtures were announced. They know from bitter experience that chaotic summers, shattered power structures and boardroom lethargy are the key ingredients of a recipe for relegation. They know that when the players either look like they don’t want to be there or look like they don’t deserve to be there, that the gaping, fetid maw of the Championship is opening up beneath them. They’ve seen this movie already.

The decline of this team is extraordinary. Just 15 months ago, they were trotting out against Everton in the knowledge that a win, and a bit of help elsewhere, would be enough to secure a place in the Champions League. Then they built on that near miss by buying Vernon Anita, a handful of youngsters and a nice throw for the sofa, marked down in price because it was shop-soiled. Unsurprisingly their threadbare squad, exhausted by European travel, had their pants pulled down repeatedly and only stayed up because of the four wins in six that followed a long overdue recruitment drive in January.

What was owner Mike Ashley’s solution? To undermine his floundering manager with a spectacularly unqualified director of football. Joe Kinnear is a man who divides opinion, in that people either think he’s awful, or really awful. The modern director of football is a diplomat, softly spoken, ideally boasting a knowledge of numerous foreign territories, prepared to tread stealthily through the shadows, quietly doing deals. Kinnear is as diplomatic and softly-spoken as a grizzly bear with a fork stuck in his paw.

He has displayed no detailed knowledge of foreign territories and precious little of his own. Far from quietly doing deals, it appears from the outside his only input so far has been to clatter around disrupting, delaying or destroying them. Newcastle have brought in just one player in this summer, Loic Remy, injured and out on bail until September after being arrested on suspicion of rape. Brilliant.

You could make the very reasonable argument that Manchester City look like a glorious football team and that Newcastle will not be the only club to be obliterated at the Etihad this season, but it doesn’t hide the fact that the Magpies were absolutely wretched on Monday. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is clearly not a full-back, Mathieu Debuchy is supposed to be a full-back but has thus far displayed little evidence to support the claim. Cheick Tiote, who used to break up the play and then give the ball to someone better, now appears to believe that he’s something more refined and delicate, like a guard dog who wants to enter Crufts.

Most football fans have the security blanket of knowing that a new manager might bring a change of fortune, but at Newcastle they can be fairly sure that they know who the new manager will be. Kinnear is on record as having said that he’d only ever be a director of football if it was a prelude to a coup in the dugout. Poor Alan Pardew has been looking over his shoulder all summer.

Believe it or not, there are a few things that Ashley has done well at Newcastle. He took on the debt, sparing the club from ruinous interest payments. He resisted the temptation to have a fire sale after relegation and gambled on the squad to bounce straight back. He is investing in the youth academy in an attempt to gain the EPPP ‘Category 1’ status that will enable them to pilfer young footballers on the cheap. But he’s got it wrong this season and he needs to have a radical rethink before it’s too late.

Newcastle host West Ham in the Premier League this weekend - check the latest odds here.

Read more from Iain Macintosh.