Mike Ashley: I'm wedded to Newcastle and relegation would not mean divorce

Ashley backed new manager Rafa Benitez to keep the club in the top flight

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The Independent Football

The owner of Newcastle United, Mike Ashley, has said that he would not consider selling the club – even if they are relegated from the Premier League this season.

In the wake of Sunday’s 1-1 draw with local rivals Sunderland at St James’ Park, Ashley, speaking in a rare media interview with Sky News, also backed new manager Rafa Benitez to keep the club in the top flight.

The founder of Sports Direct, being interviewed at the company’s headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, was asked whether Newcastle would stay up. “Oh, now you are really asking me some questions,” said Ashley, who two weeks ago sanctioned the sacking of Steve McClaren and his coaching team to bring in Benitez.

“How confident? I am going to say we have the right man in the job. If there’s any chance of us staying up, let’s hope Rafa can do the business and keep us up there.”

When asked if he was committed to Newcastle even if they dropped back into the Championship again, Ashley said: “Yes, I’ve got no choice. I am wedded to Newcastle, like Sports Direct. They’ve got me and I’ve got them, that’s just the way it is.

“It’s disappointing [not beating Sunderland] because I personally want to win every game. It doesn’t matter who they are playing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly, but yesterday I wanted us to win, so I am a little disappointed. But it’s not a disaster.”

A Newcastle fan who ran on to the St James’ pitch to celebrate with Aleksandar Mitrovic after the Serbian’s late equaliser on Sunday has been given an interim football banning order.

John West, 35, of County Durham, has been charged with going into the playing area of a designated football match, according to Northumbria Police. There were 20 arrests, four of them inside the stadium, in connection with the game, which passed off largely without incident.

Meanwhile, former Newcastle midfielder Jonas Gutierrez is suing the club for £2 million over the way he was treated after his year-long battle with testicular cancer.

The Argentine left St James’ Park at the end of last season after the club chose not to offer him a new contract when his estimated £50,000-a-week deal expired.

It is thought he has made a claim under the 2010 Equality Act, which relates to discrimination against employees because of mental or physical disability. Reports suggest that the case is due to be heard today at an employment tribunal in Birmingham.

Gutierrez has said he was very bitter at the treatment he had received from the club.

“I won’t be able to forgive the way I’ve been treated,” said the 32-year-old, who now plays in Spain for Deportivo La Coruna.

“I don’t think it was the right time, nor the circumstances, and I think at times like that you should look  after the individual, the player.”