Belfast Telegraph

Newcastle squad left in the dark

With speculation in banking circles yesterday suggesting that there is fresh interest in China and America regarding a purchase of Newcastle United, the beleaguered Tyneside club tonight hosts Tottenham for what could be St James' Park's lowest crowd for a competitive match for 16 years.

It is understood that a sale could be completed as early as next week, though this would be conditional on the completion of due diligence. That process can last up to three months but if new owners are convinced that they can progress with a buy-out then Newcastle will at last feel as if they have bottomed out. Owner Mike Ashley has appointed bankers Seymour Pierce to sell the club on his behalf and their experience should add credibility.

That is needed internally as well as externally. Players and staff are said to be bemused and angry that a fortnight on from Kevin Keegan's departure and 10 days on from Ashley's decision to put the club up for sale, none of the owner's hierarchy have spoken directly to them about what is happening. Dennis Wise is expected at the training ground today but not to speak to senior players.

The sense of drift is threefold. There is the lack of communication and leadership from the top – caretaker Chris Hughton was unable to say yesterday if managing director Derek Llambias will be at tonight's match – and there is the unwillingness of supporters to pay money to watch an increasingly depressing scenario. Then there are results: Newcastle have lost their last three matches.

Yet beyond the customary platitudes, little is being said. "I've had no indication, we're just getting on with it," Hughton said when asked yesterday if there had been fresh contact from his superiors. "No, not at all. We spoke about it before weekend's game, so from that aspect, nothing's changed."

Asked if he was surprised by this state of communication, Hughton replied: "Anything that is above me as such is something that I can't control. All I can control is what I have in this group of players, a group of players who have been very good and have responded very well to the obvious problems that are there. That's all they can do.

"The only contact I've had is to thank me for the job I'm doing and to just continue. There are things I can't speak about."

Steve Harper, Newcastle's longest-serving player – he was signed by Keegan in 1993 – tried to put a humorous face on the disarray. "We know as much as you and that is probably done deliberately," Harper said. "I would love to know who the next manager is because I would have a few quid on him but I genuinely know as much as you."

If Newcastle are not to alienate fans further then they need victories. It is believed less than 15,000 tickets have been sold for tonight. There were 25,000 for the visit of Portsmouth in the League Cup two seasons ago but there was torrential rain that night. That was the lowest attendance since 14,000 saw a first-round League Cup-tie against Mansfield in August 1992.

l The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, admits he is stunned by Uefa president Michel Platini's attack on him in an interview with a French newspaper. Platini said: "I like to talk about football, him [Wenger] about business. We must stop with Wenger and all that." Platini then said he hoped video assistance for referees would never come into football, adding: "It would make me happy that Arsène Wenger never sees it." Wenger said: "I am stunned by the aggressive content of Platini's words."

Belfast Telegraph


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