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Ashley puts troubled Newcastle up for sale

SoccerNews in English Premier League 14 Sep 2008

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley announced Sunday he wanted to sell the troubled English Premiership football club.

Ashley, a self-made billionaire, has become a hate figure with many of the north-east side’s supporters, who blame him for the resignation of popular manager Kevin Keegan.

“I am putting the club up for sale,” Ashley said in a statement on Newcastle’s website.

“I hope that the fans can get what they want and that the next owner is someone who can lavish the amount of money on the club that the fans want.”

Ashley and executive director Dennis Wise have become the targets of fans’ anger, with many Magpies supporters saying they are responsible for not allowing Keegan the kind of control over transfers enjoyed by the likes of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Keegan, a folk hero at St James’ Park having played for Newcastle and previously managed them in the 1990s, quit 10 days ago and on Saturday thousands of fans staged demonstration outside the north-east club’s ground, demanding Ashley and Wise quit.

Those protests came before and after Newcastle’s 2-1 defeat at home to Premier League newcomers Hull City, a match where neither Ashley nor Wise were seen at St James’.

Ashley, who made his fortune by creating the Sports Direct chain of stores, bought Newcastle for more than 134 million pounds in May 2007.

In a lengthy statement, he insisted he’d put the club on a sound financial footing but stressed he was no longer prepared to endure abuse from supporters.

“I have really loved taking my kids to the games, being next to them and all the fans.

“But I am now a dad who can’t take his kids to a football game on a Saturday because I am advised that we would be assaulted. Therefore, I am no longer prepared to subsidise Newcastle United.”

He added: “I don’t want anyone to read my words and think that any of this is an attack on Kevin Keegan. It is not. Kevin and I always got on. Everyone at the club, and I mean everyone, thinks that he has few equals in getting the best out of players.

“He is a legend at the club and quite rightly so. Clearly there are disagreements between Kevin and the board and we have both put that in the hands of our lawyers.”

Newcastle, for all their fans think them to be a ‘big club’ haven’t despite their passionate support, won a major trophy since 1969.

And although Ashley is wealthy is by most standards his fortune is not equal to that of Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich or the consortium from Abu Dhabi which marked its recent takeover of Manchester City by spending a British record 32.5 million pounds to sign Brazil star Robinho.

“I have backed the club with money. You can see that from the fact Newcastle has the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League,” Ashley said.

However, he added: “It has to be realised that if I put 100 million pounds in the club year in year out then it would not be too long before I was cleaned out and a debt-ridden Newcastle United would find itself in the position that faced Leeds United (who suffered a financial meltdown after reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League).

“My plan and strategy for Newcastle has to be different. Arsenal is the shining example in England of a sustainable business model. It takes time.”

“I have listened to you,” Ashley told fans. “You want me out. That is what I am trying to do but it won’t happen overnight and it may not happen at all if a buyer does not come in.”

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