Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is not a popular man at St James’ Park. There have been numerous protests against him staged by supporters. Former manager Rafa Benitez has criticised him. Many on Tyneside simply want him to sell the club and leave.
However, despite all this, Ashley remains the owner of the Magpies. He hired Steve Bruce to replace Benitez this summer, and the club broke their transfer record to sign Brazilian striker Joelinton for £40 million. However, the new Premier League campaign hasn’t started well for the club, who have so far suffered two defeats – against Arsenal and newly-promoted Norwich City.
However, Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson has spoken out in defence of Ashley. Merson said, “no one else has put their money into the club. Only Mike Ashley has put his money in, and he’s not saying ‘I’m not selling, I’m going to ruin this club and take it wherever I want.’ But no one else has come forward with the money. Sooner or later, you’ve got to go ‘lucky it is for Mike Ashley, otherwise where would we be?’”
Merson’s argument falls down when he claims that ‘no one else has come forward with the money’. As reported by the Telegraph, an approach was made by the Bin Zyayed Group earlier this year. Ultimately, though, no takeover materialised. Ashley has had multiple opportunities to sell the club, but has not yet managed to find anyone willing to meet his asking price.
Under Ashley’s watch, Newcastle have been relegated from the Premier League twice. They have gone from being regulars in European competition to top flight survival fighters. In this time, they have also been left behind by rivals who were consistently willing to spend more on transfers. Fans’ frustration with Ashley is easy to understand, and Merson’s misguided defence of the owner is unlikely to convince many.