Mike Ashley yesterday handed Joe Kinnear the reins to run Newcastle United so that the billionaire Sports Direct owner can gain a tighter control over his football club. Kinnear has signed a three-year contract as his position as the club’s director of football was finally confirmed.
The move, which the 66-year-old revealed himself on Sunday, has cast huge doubt over the position of the first-team manager Alan Pardew, who is now fighting for his future.
Kinnear met Pardew yesterday for the first time since the shock change was announced to talk through the amount of power that he will hold at the club in his new role as director of football – the first Ashley has appointed since Dennis Wise in 2008.
Pardew is not prepared to have his authority over first-team matters challenged. He knows he must tread a careful path with Ashley so bullish, but he is wary of any encroachment on the first-team operation, which he is contracted to manage.
A brief club statement just before noon confirmed that when Kinnear had been talking about the significance of his role on that front, at least, he had remained fairly accurate.
“Joe will report directly to the club’s board as the senior executive in charge of all football-related matters,” it read. “Chief scout Graham Carr and manager Alan Pardew will report in to Joe.”
That is seen as the most forcible sign yet of the annoyance Ashley felt with the club’s performance last season and the way Newcastle flirted with relegation to the Championship.
Sacking Pardew would cost the Newcastle owner a considerable figure, and it would come less than 12 months after he handed him an eight-year contract. Instead Kinnear has been sent in to act as Ashley’s eyes and ears inside the club’s Benton training ground and at St James’ Park. Kinnear will have offices at both facilities in a move that is now seen as a clear – and calculated – flexing of the owner’s muscles.
Kinnear has been sent in as a troubleshooter to shake the club up after they finished fifth bottom of the Premier League, 12 months after finishing fifth, and after January’s investment in players that was claimed to be around £30m.
The pair have maintained a friendship since Kinnear was manager at St James’ Park and Ashley’s trust in the former Tottenham Hotspur defender is such that he believes there will be a quick identification of problems. He likes the blunt style of Kinnear, who will report back to the owner on areas he believes are weak and departments that can be improved.
Carr’s will now be expected to report direct to Kinnear. For Pardew there has been a clear dilution of his powers with yesterday’s confirmation. He has been left isolated in his coaching role, with so much authority passed to Kinnear.
There remains the real possibility that Kinnear could succeed Pardew. Bookmakers have cut the odds about that happening to 7-2 although, given the reduced role for the first-team manager at the club, Kinnear may now see that as a backward step. He has already said he has the authority to determine the style of play, who the club signs and who the club sells.
Significantly, there was no comment from the manager on the statement released by Newcastle to confirm Kinnear’s arrival. The acknowledgement came from Derek Llambias, who Kinnear has claimed resigned 10 days ago (this has been denied by those inside the club). Llambias said: “The board are pleased to welcome Joe back to the club. Joe has many years of experience working within the game, and this experience will be of great benefit to the club in achieving our objectives over the coming seasons.”
One of Kinnear’s first acts could be to try to push through a deal for Brazilian defender Douglas, who came close to moving to the club last season. He is available for nothing after his contract expired at FC Twente. Kinnear must also present a list of possible centre-forwards after Andy Carroll, who he said on Monday he was still interested in signing, moved to West Ham for £15.5m yesterday.
Steven Taylor became the first Newcastle player to speak about the appointment. “Joe was great for me when he was manager and I really enjoyed playing for him ,” he said. “We were in a great position under Joe in the league until he got ill and it was after that things went wrong. Joe wears his heart on his sleeve and he tells it as it is and I think he is someone that Newcastle exactly need.”
Kinnear, who had an unsuccessful spell as manager at Newcastle in the 2008/2009 season, is currently having offices at both the training ground and at St James' Park sorted out for him. He has already admitted he will go to all of Newcastle's games. Apart from his role as manager at Newcastle, he has held only one other post in the game since 2004, a spell as manager at Nottingham Forest that ended when the club were 22nd place in the Championship.
The Newcastle Evening Chronicle's front page today had the headline, 'What a joke.' The Newcastle United Supporters' Trust released a statement of their own, registering their disappointment with the appointment. "The lack of clarity surrounding the issue has done no favours for the image and credibility of Newcastle United and its vast army of supporters," it read.
"We believe that it needs to be made clear where exactly Joe Kinnear fits into the management structure of Newcastle United and reassurance given to supporters that key roles of personnel such as Graham Carr are not going to be undermined."
Kinnear, during his Talksport interview on Monday night, had hit back at criticism from supporters.
"I don't know what angle they've got," he had said. "If they want to sit down and argue with me... some are talking out of their backsides, a load of tosh. I'm not accepting it, as simple as that. I have certainly got more intelligence than them, that's a fact.
"You look at managers today over the last two seasons – the fans have feelings and if they aren’t happy with what is going on the manager gets the bullet. Unfortunately for them I’ve never been sacked in my life. So you know, look at my record, they keep saying to me, what did I do?
"Where have these people been, have they been on another planet? I have played in five cup finals, I have won the lot. I had over 400 games for Tottenham Hotspur, been manager of the year three times, I have travelled all over the world as a manager.