John Barnes has defended Mike Ashley and says Newcastle United supporters are “a little bit bizarre” for opposing the owner.
Newcastle suffered relegation to the Championship for the second time in Ashley’s reign when Sunderland defeated Everton on Wednesday.
The club’s demotion is sure to fuel further discontent directed at the Sports Director founder from the stands at St James’ Park.
But Barnes, who played for the Magpies between 1997 and 1999, questioned the reasons behind the owner’s lack of popularity.
“The thing about it is Ashley has been very supportive in terms of the money he’s given them. The whole idea of them [the supporters] against Ashley is a little bit bizarre,” Barnes told Omnisport at the Show Racism The Red Card charity match.
“I know that maybe he’s not a Geordie and in terms of the relationship he has with them it may not be a harmonious relationship but in terms of putting his money where his mouth is, they’ve signed players and I think that’s all you can ask for a chairman to do. He also sees the potential that Newcastle have if you can get it right and is willing to put money in.”
Barnes believes Ashley deserves credit for investing in players and choosing not to interfere in team selection, although the ex-England international acknowledged he is not familiar with all aspects of the situation on Tyneside.
“Obviously from the fans’ point of view there is this animosity towards him, which they will know better than me because I’m not up there. But in terms of you wanting an owner of a football club to support you and give you money to spend and not have a hands-on approach in terms of picking the team, which he doesn’t do.
“I don’t know whether it’s necessarily Ashley or the people he’s actually put in charge, but I’m sure from Ashley’s point of view, if you’re just looking at Ashley and not the people he’s put in charge, he’s given them money and he’s not picked the team and he’s not told them who to sign, so, obviously they will know better than me, but that seems to be a strange situation.”
Barnes also tipped his former club to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
“Can Newcastle come straight back up? Absolutely,” he said.
“You can see now with Burnley coming back up, you look at Hull – they’ve won 3-0 away so they look like they’ve got a chance of coming back up,” he added, referring to the Tigers’ victory away at Derby in the first leg of their play-off semi-final.
“The teams that go down now have a very big advantage over the teams already in the Championship, so therefore Newcastle would be overwhelming favourites for me to come back up and I have no doubt they will.”
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