Newcastle will never prosper under Ashley, says Keegan
Anyone who's anyone has had their say on Newcastle's latest self-inflicted turmoil this week, apart from Kevin Keegan.
Tyneside's "Messiah" put that right yesterday, and considering his acrimonious history with Mike Ashley, his conclusion as to where the root of the problem can be found was somewhat predictable.
"You'll never get stability when you have Mike Ashley and [managing director] Derek Llambias running the club," Keegan insisted as Alan Pardew prepares to take charge for the first time with this evening's Premier League visit by Liverpool.
In a no-holds barred verbal assault on the Newcastle owner, Keegan added: "Ashley has made no secret that he wants to sell Newcastle, and the best day will come when someone buys it from him and runs Newcastle like the club should be run."
Keegan's passion for the club he played for and managed on three separate occasions is seemingly undiminished in the two years since he resigned in protest at the club's transfer policy under Ashley. He added: "The club can never go anywhere under them, it can't go anywhere, I promise you that." Many would disagree with claims of inertia. It threatens to go backwards.
Keegan was Ashley's first managerial appointment at St James' Park, the populist choice to replace Sam Allardyce in January 2008. Just eight months later he was gone, amid claim and counter claim, the upshot of which saw him awarded £2m for constructive dismissal in October 2009. The £25m he had wanted for lost earnings and "stigma" damages, suggested some supporters, betrayed his true feelings towards a club which risked going into administration had the 59-year-old's claim proved wholly successful.
His experience puts him in a position to sympathise with Chris Hughton, sacked as manager earlier in a week that has also seen Newcastle turn down West Ham's £1.25m bid for midfielder Joey Barton. "I don't understand the decision to get rid of Chris," Keegan said. "I lived with these same people for eight months, I didn't understand them then and I don't understand them now. I don't think many of the fans do.
"When a man buys a club like Ashley did and he knows as little about football as he does, he's likely to make these sort of mistakes and still think he's doing OK. When you get the fans saying it's the wrong decision, when you get the players saying it's wrong and the press saying it's wrong, it tells you that the decision is the wrong one.
"The news won't have come as a total surprise to Chris, having worked with the people he had been working with for the best part of two and a bit years. He knew what he was dealing with. It's almost impossible to work in that environment, and that's why I take my hat off to him for getting on with it for as long as he did. He hung in there, and did a great job under difficult circumstances, with very little investment."
Keegan has more than a passing acquaintance with Pardew, who he expects to be given a fair hearing by supporters, who he insists should grind their axe with Ashley and Ashley alone. He added: "Alan's a good lad, I know him well. He's dedicated and he works very hard. The sad thing is he's getting off on the wrong foot through no fault of his own.
"Any criticism will be levelled at Llambias and Ashley, because it's their decision. The fans would be wrong to pick on Alan. If results don't go well then they may start to voice discontent, but Alan is just the meat in the middle of the sandwich."
The departed Hughton, who turns 52 today will be in the players' thoughts as they look to stem a five-game winless run that has seen them drop into the bottom half of the table.
"We've accepted what's happened and we're concentrating on getting a good result against Liverpool," captain Kevin Nolan said. "I speak for all the players when I say we're disappointed to see Chris leave, it's no secret that everyone was saddened to see him go. It's been a tough week but we have to put it behind us and move on." It's advice Keegan would do well to follow.