Newcastle owner Mike Ashley wants blood after last season's trauma - and it won't stop with managing director Derek Llambias
Owner has not forgiven those who forced him to spend £40m on relegation struggle and Joe Kinnear is his way of fighting back
There are 40 million reasons why Mike Ashley has stopped listening to anyone who was at St James' Park last season: £40m is the amount Newcastle United have spent since they finished fifth in the Premier League at the end of the 2011-12 season. That is how much it cost the club's owner to endure a season spent fighting relegation.
He felt all campaign that the Europa League was a waste of time and money. He felt all season that there were too many excuses and not enough reasons for such a spectacular nosedive in form and results from the previous year, and to add insult to his financial and the team's physical injury, the deals for Moussa Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa were accelerated from this summer's transfer plans.
The two signings are reckoned to have cost around £15m because of the need to keep the side in the Premier League. Ashley was pressurised by those inside the club to bring them forward and the transfers were not supposed to cost anything like that.
Sissoko would have been available for nothing this summer if Newcastle had waited, but such was the gravity of their situation that Ashley, who made a rare appearance to watch the side lose at home to fellow strugglers Reading on 19 January, had to act.
Newcastle had to overspend to save their necks. Club insiders claim £33m was spent in that crazy month on fees for transfers, signing-on agreements and agents, when five French players – Mathieu Debuchy, Massadio Haïdara, Yoan Gouffran, Yanga-Mbiwa and Sissoko – arrived on Tyneside.
More than £7m in total had been spent on the deal to sign Vurnon Anita in the previous transfer window. Papiss Cissé, again on the recommendation of chief scout Graham Carr, managing director Derek Llambias and manager Alan Pardew, had arrived six months before Anita, for £9m. His goalscoring form – 13 goals in 13 games – pushed Newcastle to the brink of the Champions League. All that investment and, in particular, the January spending spree were not supposed to create a team barely good enough to stay in England's top division.
For that, blood had to be spilt on to the St James' carpets. Llambias fell on his sword this morning, announcing his resignation in a brief statement. He had been Ashley's lieutenant, the man who championed the hugely controversial changing of the name of club's ground, the man who pushed for the Wonga shirt sponsorship to be accepted, despite huge reservations around the city.
Llambias was the Sports Direct eyes and ears in the North-east. It is now believed he offered his resignation more than a week ago. In the rambling rhetoric of Joe Kinnear's radio interview were hidden certain truths. Llambias's unwillingness to accept the appointment of the former Wimbledon manager was one of them.
After a weekend of bombshells (Fabricio Coloccini promising Pardew he would stay, the claim and then denial of Yohan Cabaye being in Monaco for a medical, Kinnear's announcement he would be director of football, Pardew's determination not to be forced out) came one from Llambias. He was no longer on board with Ashley. Llambias, the former Fifty Club casino manager, the Newcastle owner's drinking partner, could not follow Ashley's path any longer. That in itself is dramatic enough.
Now Carr's future is uncertain. Carr, who is 68 and lives in Northampton, was flown with his wife to Ashley's mansion in Majorca last summer. He was stunned when the offer of an eight-year deal was put to him. At that point Ashley thought he had discovered the magic formula for a football club. Carr, with a huge list of contacts, could unearth talent on the cheap. He could do no wrong.
On Monday, as he pushed for the signing of the Brazilian defender Douglas, a deal that was supposed to happen last summer, the new structure kicked in. Carr had been overruled. With that, there was a realisation of the size of change taking place at the club. His future at this point is unresolved.
Only Pardew has vowed privately to fight on. His position is more complex. This time last year his reputation was at its peak, his rejuvenation after spells at Southampton and Charlton restored. He was Manager of the Year then. His eight-year deal, along with that of his staff, came three months after Carr's, in September last year.
Since then, his standing has plummeted. Ashley was not impressed when, towards last season's finish, Pardew said everyone at the club – including the owner – needed to accept blame for the way things had gone.
His pay-off, were he to be fired, would be hefty. Ashley had to pay Sam Allardyce and his backroom staff more than £4.5m when he was sacked in 2008. Kevin Keegan cost £2m when he successfully sued for unfair dismissal.
Now, it is Kinnear who is the eyes and ears of Ashley inside the training ground. Pardew's authority has been undermined substantially by his presence. Kinnear has called the shots verbally so far. If he steps on the toes of Pardew and the Newcastle first team he is contracted to manage, then another legal battle awaits.
Ashley's antics: Toon controversies
January 2008: Wise arrives
Ashley names Dennis Wise executive director, putting manager Kevin Keegan in an uncomfortable position. Keegan resigns eight months later, prompting protest by Newcastle fans, who call Ashley and Wise the "Cockney Mafia".
September 2008: Kinnear's first coming
Appoints Joe Kinnear interim manager and he wins just four of his 18 games before Alan Shearer takes over in April 2009.
November 2009: Stadium name
Renames the ground the sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park Stadium, sparking anger from supporters, who label the idea a "nightmare".
December 2010: Hughton sacking
Sacks manager Chris Hughton, even though he guided the club back to the Premier League the previous season.
October 2012: Sponsorship deal
Club sign a controversial sponsorship deal with pay-day loans company Wonga, causing outrage among fans and local politicians.
French connection: The stars Carr took to Newcastle
1. Yohan Cabaye
Signed from French club Lille for £5m on a five-year deal in June 2011. The midfielder has scored 10 goals in 60 games for Newcastle.
2. Cheick Tioté
Ivory Coast international signed from Dutch champions FC Twente in August 2010 for £3.5m and has won rave reviews in midfield.
3. Hatem Ben Arfa
Initially signed on loan from Marseilles in August 2010 and made the move permanent in January 2011.
4. Papiss Cissé
Signed from Bundesliga club Freiburg on a five-and-a-half-year deal for £10m, the Senegal striker has scored 21 goals in 50 games. Carr also picked out French players Sylvain Marveaux, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Moussa Sissoko.
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