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By ESPN Staff
Sep 14, 2008

Ashley: Newcastle are for sale

Billionaire Mike Ashley has confirmed he wants to sell the Newcastle United just 16 months after staging a £134.4million takeover. Ashley and his executive director (football) Dennis Wise have borne the brunt of a furious backlash from supporters in the ten days since manager Kevin Keegan walked out in protest over the club's transfer policy.

• The full statement from Mike Ashley

Thousands staged demonstrations outside St James' Park before and after yesterday's embarrassing 2-1 Premier League defeat by Hull demanding that Ashley sell up and that Wise be removed from his post.

They could now get at least one of their wishes after the sportswear magnate revealed that he is ready to listen to offers.

In a lengthy statement, Ashley said: "I am not stupid and have listened to the fans.

"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.

"I am putting the club up for sale. I hope that the fans 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 snapped up the Magpies after launching successful bids to buy out first the Hall family's holding in the club and then chairman Freddy Shepherd.

There was delight on Tyneside at the time as the fans settled back and waited for the cash to start flowing from a man with a personal fortune estimated at £1.9billion.

They were celebrating again when, after sacking manager Sam Allardyce just eight months into his reign, Ashley pulled off a sensational coup by persuading Keegan to return.

However, it was only after gaining control of the club that the tycoon realised the full extent of its debts, and he has since invested a further £110million to address both that situation and the recruitment of new signings.

His blueprint for lasting success was to run the club as a business, and that meant not over-extending it financially.

Ashley said: "I knew that the club would cost me money every year after I had bought it. I have backed the club with money.

"You can see that from the fact that Newcastle has the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League.

"I was always prepared to bank roll Newcastle up to the tune of £20million per year, but no more. That was my bargain.

"I would make the club solvent. I would make it a going concern. I would pour up to £20million a year into the club and not expect anything back.

"It has to be realised that if I put £100million into 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.

"That is the nightmare for every fan. To love a club that over-extends itself, that tries to spend what it can't afford.

"That will never happen to Newcastle when I am in charge. The truth is that Newcastle could not sustain buying the Shevchenkos, Robinhos or the Berbatovs.

"These are recognised European footballers. They have played in the European leagues and everyone knows about them. They can be brilliant signings.

"But everybody knows that they are brilliant and so they, and players like them, cost more than £30million to buy before you even take into account agent commissions and the multi-million pound wage deals.

"My plan and my strategy for Newcastle is different. It has to be.

"Arsenal is the shining example in England of a sustainable business model. It takes time. It can't be done overnight."

It was to that end that Ashley appointed Wise, vice-president (player recruitment) Tony Jimenez and technical co-ordinator Jeff Vetere to scour the world for young, undiscovered talent.

They identified the likes of summer signings Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez and Xisco, but Keegan's fury at his lack of control over that recruitment mission, and the sale of James Milner and efforts to offload Michael Owen, Joey Barton and Alan Smith, ultimately led to his departure.

However, Ashley insisted he never had a problem with the 57-year-old, with whom he has held talks over a possible return this weekend.

There have been rumours since Ashley arrived on Tyneside that he would look to move the club on quickly, and several potential buyers have been circling for some time.

Indian businessman Anil Ambani has publicly ended his interest after failing to get a response from the club, although that may not be the end of the story, while Chinese billionaire Xu Rongmao has also been linked with a bid.

But Ashley is adamant that he will not sell to anyone he believes cannot give the fans what they want.

He said: "If I can't sell the club to someone who will give the fans what they want, then I shall continue to ensure that Newcastle is run on a business and football model that is sustainable.

"I care too much about the club merely to abandon it.

"I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. I have listened to you. You want me out.

"That is what I am now trying to do, but it won't happen overnight and it may not happen at all if a buyer does not come in.

"You don't need to demonstrate against me again because I have got the message.

"Any further action will only have an adverse effect on the team. As fans of Newcastle United, you need to spend your energy getting behind, not me, but the players who need your support.

"I am determined that Newcastle United is not only here today, but that it is also there tomorrow for your children who stand beside you at St James' Park."

  • The full statement from Newcastle owner Mike Ashley:

    I have enjoyed sport since I was a boy. I love football. I have followed England in every tournament since Mexico '86. I was there to see Maradona and his hand of God. I know what it means to love football and to love a club. I know how important it is to other people because football is so important to me.

    My life has been tied up with sport. It was the passion that I felt for sport that helped me to be successful with my business. That success allowed me to mix my passion and my business.

    I bought Newcastle United in May 2007. Newcastle attracted me because everyone in England knows that it has the best fans in football. When the fans are behind the club at St James' Park, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is magic.

    Newcastle's best asset has been, is and always will be the fans.

    But like any business with assets the club has debts. I paid £134million out of my own pocket for the club. I then poured another £110million into the club not to pay off the debt, but just to reduce it.

    The club is still in debt. Even worse than that, the club still owes millions of pounds in transfer fees.

    I shall be paying out many more millions over the coming year to pay for players bought by the club before I arrived.

    But there was a double whammy. Commercial deals such as sponsorships and advertising had been front loaded.

    The money had been paid up front and spent. I was left with a club that owed millions and part of whose future had been mortgaged.

    Unless I had come into the club then it might not have survived. It could have shared the fate of other clubs who have borrowed too heavily against their future. Before I had spent a penny on wages or buying players Newcastle United had cost me more than a quarter of a billion pounds.

    Don't get me wrong. I did not buy Newcastle to make money. I bought Newcastle because I love football.

    Newcastle does not generate the income of a Manchester United or a Real Madrid. I am Mike Ashley, not Mike Ashley a multi-billionaire with unlimited resources. Newcastle United and I can't do what other clubs can. We can't afford it.

    I knew that the club would cost me money every year after I had bought it. I have backed the club with money.

    You can see that from the fact that Newcastle has the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League.

    I was always prepared to bank roll Newcastle up to the tune of £20million per year but no more. That was my bargain.

    I would make the club solvent. I would make it a going concern. I would pour up to £20million a year into the club and not expect anything back.

    It has to be realised that if I put £100million into 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.

    That is the nightmare for every fan. To love a club that over-extends itself, that tries to spend what it can't afford.

    That will never happen to Newcastle when I am in charge. The truth is that Newcastle could not sustain buying the Shevchenkos, Robinhos or the Berbatovs.

    These are recognised European footballers. They have played in the European leagues and everyone knows about them.

    They can be brilliant signings. But everybody knows that they are brilliant and so they, and players like them, cost more than £30million to buy before you even take into account agent commissions and the multi-million pound wage deals.

    My plan and my strategy for Newcastle is different. It has to be.

    Arsenal is the shining example in England of a sustainable business model. It takes time. It can't be done overnight.

    Newcastle has therefore set up an extensive scouting system. We look for young players, for players in foreign leagues who everyone does not know about. We try and stay ahead of the competition. We search high and low looking for value, for potential that we can bring on and for players who will allow Newcastle to compete at the very highest level but who don't cost the earth.

    I am prepared to back large signings for millions of pounds but for a player who is young and has their career in front of them and not for established players at the other end of their careers.

    There is no other workable way forward for Newcastle. It is in this regard that Dennis [Wise] and his team have done a first class job in scouting for talent to secure the future of the club.

    You only need to look at some of our signings to see that it is working, slowly working.

    Look at Jonas Guttierrez and Fabricio Collocini. These are world class players.

    The plan is showing dividends with the signing of exceptional young talent such as Sebastein Bassong, Danny Guthrie and Xisco.

    My investment in the club has extended to time, effort and yet again, money being poured into the Academy.

    I want Newcastle to be able to create its own legends of the future to rival those of the past. This is a long-term plan. A long-term plan for the future of the club so that it can flourish.

    One person alone can't manage a Premiership football club and scout the world looking for world class players and stars of the future. It needs a structure and it needs people who are dedicated to that task. It needs all members of the management team to share that vision for it to work.

    Also one of the reasons that the club was so in debt when I took over was due to transfer dealings caused by managers moving in and out of the club.

    Every time there was a change in manager, millions would be spent on new players and millions would be lost as players were sold. It can't keep on working like that. It is just madness.

    I have put Newcastle on a sound financial footing. It is reducing its debt. It is spending within itself. It is recruiting exciting new players and bringing in players for the future.

    The fans want this process to happen more quickly and they want huge amounts spent in the transfer market so that the club can compete at the top table of European football now.

    I am not stupid and have listened to the fans. 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. I am putting the club up for sale.

    I hope that the fans 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.

    This will not be a fire sale. Newcastle is now in a much stronger position than it was in 2007. It is planning for the future and it is sustainable.

    I am still a fan of Newcastle United. We, my kids and I, have loved standing on the terraces with the fans, we have loved travelling with the away fans and we have met so many fans whose company we have enjoyed. We have absolutely loved it, but it is not safe any more for us as a family.

    I am very conscious of the responsibility that I bear in owning Newcastle United. Tough decisions have to be made in business and I will not shy away from doing what I consider to be in the best interests of the club. This is not fantasy football.

    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 the players. He is a legend at the club and rightly so.

    Clearly there are disagreements between Kevin and the board and we have both put that in the hands of our lawyers.

    I hope that all the fans get to read this statement so that they understand what I am about. I would not expect all of the fans to agree with me.

    But I have set out, clearly, my plan. If I can't sell the club to someone who will give the fans what they want, then I shall continue to ensure that Newcastle is run on a business and football model that is sustainable.

    I care too much about the club merely to abandon it.

    I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. I have listened to you. You want me out. That is what I am now trying to do, but it won't happen overnight and it may not happen at all if a buyer does not come in.

    You don't need to demonstrate against me again because I have got the message.

    Any further action will only have an adverse effect on the team. As fans of Newcastle United you need to spend your energy getting behind, not me, but the players who need your support.

    I am determined that Newcastle United is not only here today, but that it is also there tomorrow for your children who stand beside you at St James' Park.

    Mike Ashley.

    Sunday 14th September 2008

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