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Toon fans want Ashley in the noose

Even for a club that specialises in crisis, Newcastle United sunk to a devastating new low last week. As the transfer window closed no Magpie fan could have envisaged such a traumatic week lay in wait. Kevin Keegan had told supporters to judge him on midnight at Monday as he threw down the gauntlet to billionaire owner Mike Ashley to back him with some big spending.

But the only incomings - despite the £12m recouped after the sale of James Milner to Aston Villa - were Uruguayan Ignacio Gonzalez and young Deportivo striker Xisco. Keegan asked for neither, and may never have heard of them too if reports in certain quarters are to be believed.

Tuesday brought with it high noon and a two-day stand-off John Wayne would have been proud of. At the end of a tumultuous week Keegan again walked away from the club and Mike Ashley's regime - which began with so much promise - now lies in tatters, with the notoriously loyal Toon Army now declaring open warfare on their own club.

And now the mud-slinging has started in earnest. Keegan, speaking through the League Managers Association, said he had no choice to leave after the club broke its promise to let him have the final say on the players coming in and out.

Rather than furious attempts at extraction from the St James' Park-sized hole they've dug the club's hierarchy now appear hell-bent on entrenching themselves further by issuing a terse and patronising statement that reads more like an angry teacher ticking off an irritable child for disrupting the classroom.

Ashley, who said he bought the club to 'have some fun', was pictured doing just that on Wednesday night in a New York club, reportedly running up a bar tab in excess of £125,000 just hours before the news Tyneside had been fearing was confirmed.

This is proof, if any were needed, that the man consistently referred to as a 'savvy and ruthless businessman' has some serious issues when it comes to judgement. Perhaps the beginning of the end for Ashley - whose reign surely has become untenable - was right at the start. It was his crucial failure to undertake a process of due diligence - an opportunity to pore over the club's finances prior to purchase - that set the tone for his stint in charge.

Immediately upon takeover he was confronted with an outstanding debt of around £100m, and in an instant, any hefty transfer kitty disappeared.

His next move was to make some transfers of his own as he installed a new, continental-style chain of command, one the club insist Keegan was informed about before he agreed to take the job. In came Dennis Wise, Jeff Vetere and Tony Jiminez, all charged with scouring the globe for young talent and stocking up the ranks of Newcastle's academy.

Jiminez, previously a season ticket holder at Chelsea, has a recent background as a 'super-agent' and made his millions through property deals. Vetere was lured from Real Madrid after previous spells scouting for Charlton and West Ham, but it was the appointment of Wise that really hit the headlines.

He was disliked on Tyneside from his playing days, and always singled out for abuse when he appeared at St James' Park. Now he was earning big-money in a role that many believed would undermine Keegan.

He wasn't to be based in Newcastle, or to attend many games, he would remain in the south - as would Jiminez and Vetere - and attend board meetings held at the offices of Ashley's chairman, Chris Mort, in London - a development which didn't sit all too comfortably with the Toon Army.

Wise upon his appointment said: 'I'm here to help Kevin as much as possible with bringing young players through and also recommending certain players to him. He'll say yes or no. He has the final word, no-one else. I'm not going to do things like bring players in behind his back - I'm not into that.'

After Mort returned to his law firm, he was replaced by Derek Llambias, a man who had been managing an exclusive London casino. His presence only served to deepen relations between board and manager.

The extent of the breakdown in communication became clear over the summer when the manager's requests for players were largely ignored. Of the new arrivals it is thought only Danny Guthrie was Keegan's choice.

Wise clearly grew increasingly influential, to the point where he alone is thought to be in charge of who comes and goes. As his power grew Keegan's dwindled, to the extent that he fired an ultimatum to Ashley - him or me. Ashley's decision unleashed fury on Tyneside. As the drama unravelled, Newcastle fans could hardly believe their eyes. Many fans dreamed of a new dawn when Freddy Shepherd's circus left town but it seems Mike Ashley has brought with him an even bigger set of clowns.

He left Keegan with a threadbare squad, and didn't even allow him to select the players he imagined would take the club forward. Yet even despite the disputes, the Magpies had started the season brightly. What happens next depends on Ashley. He is believed to have been rattled by the irate reaction Keegan's departure has stirred. There are known suitors circling and if he can recover his losses he may well sell up. But if he is stubborn, and attempts to ride out the storm the future could grow increasingly bleak for the club, as the battle between boardroom and terraces rumbles on indefinitely.

The one appointment that could save his skin is Alan Shearer, but he has already ruled out taking a post which offers so little control over transfers. Newcastle's fans are still too bitter about Keegan's demise to focus on who his replacement will be. In truth, few care at present.

The majority are intent on making sure Ashley is the next man to follow King Kev through the St James' Park exit door.


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