It's been many months since the last time we've heard the words "Ashley Out!" at St. James Park and it's not surprising, considering the club's financial and league position these days, but are we all ready to finally accept him as one of our own?
There’s no denying the controversial owner, 48, has made mistakes in the past, e.g. the appointment of Dennis Wise as ‘Director of Football’ or unfairly sacking Chris Hughton, but he has certainly redeemed himself by appointing (what turned out to be) the Barclay’s Premier League and LMA Manager of the Year 2011-12 and subsequently getting us back into Europe with a team most pundits barely expected to finish in the top half.
Relegation to the Championship in May 2009 was, without doubt, Newcastle’s darkest moment of the 21st Century and is one of the main reasons we despised Ashley so much.
However, instead of wallowing in self-pity and crumbling as a football club as so many others have done (Bradford, Coventry and even fellow north-easterners Middlesbrough), he saw an opportunity. An opportunity to get rid of the high-earners who valued their wages more than the club that paid it (Martins, Owen, Geremi, Duff etc.) and turn this group of players into a football club again, something Chris Hughton played a massive part in, and the decision to keep Hughton on went against everything the fans wanted.
Ashley could have easily signed a more experienced manager without the hassle of being criticised even more than he already was, but he saw a man who, like the players he had left in the squad, wanted to prove himself and fight for the club and this certainly worked out for everyone involved.
Our last two seasons in the Premier League have been far from quiet on the business front, with the sale of Andy Carroll, sacking of Hughton and renaming of the stadium at the forefront of most fans’ displeasure.
However, this time, most wrongs have been restored with the £35m from the Carroll sale injected carefully back into the club and Alan Pardew leading us to 5th place in the league, whilst the renaming of the stadium has fizzled out into a minor irritation and St. James’ Park still being the name on everyone’s tongues when referring to the Toon Army’s stomping ground.
Fans have come to expect the odd outrageous story on Sky Sports News about Ashley’s antics, but one thing he has learned is to keep the business and team separate.
Whilst previously, the staff on the business side of things often interfered with footballing matters (e.g. the signing of Ignacio Gonzalez and Xisco by Dennis Wise), Ashley has now learned to stick to what he knows best: making money.
Off the field, he and his staff have developed a well-organised business and, on the field, he has let staff such as John Carver, Graham Carr and Alan Pardew turn Newcastle United into a well-oiled footballing machine and who can show a disliking for the man who has made us, financially, the most well-run club in the Premier League and playing European football, something we haven’t seen since 2007?
Do you like Mike Ashley?