Alan Shearer was never going to succeed Kevin Keegan under the current regime at Newcastle United and the former Newcastle captain made sure of that last night with strong criticism of the structure of management introduced by the club's owner, Mike Ashley. Shearer described the director of football position as "dangerous", a description that will not have pleased Dennis Wise.
"A manager lives and dies by the players he can bring in and players that he sells," said Shearer. "If a manager can't do that, then is there any point in him being there? We have seen Kevin saying one day that he doesn't want to sell James Milner, then three or four days later James Milner is gone, albeit for a lot of money, £12m.
"But then Kevin also said judge me on Monday night, and he'd have thought, well, players are going to be coming in, probably big-name players and obviously that didn't happen. The two players who did come in were relatively unknown, Xisco being a promising player.
"I think that has brought it to a head. He has thought, can I live with this any more? Am I managing this football club? I think it is a dangerous trend when you go into a football club when a director of football is appointed, not by yourself – ie, not by the manager.
"I think the inevitable will happen and there will be a breakdown in communications. There can only be one person in a football club who is making decisions over players, ie buying them, selling them. You go and identify the player you want, and the chairman or chief exec goes and gets that player. If you want to sell a player, the same should happen. I think it is dangerous when a director of football is appointed."
Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association, voiced a similar view. "Having a director of football working on player transfers can only work when a manager has the final say on everything," he said. "At Newcastle there were three or four conductors of the orchestra."
Shearer's opinion will have been met with rousing cheers by Newcastle supporters and grimaces from Ashley and his circle at the top of St James' Park. Ashley's supposed discomfort only increases the belief that he is now receptive to offers for the club. It is understood Ashley recently rejected one offer for an outright buy-out, preferring as he has stated publicly to seek "partners", but his attitude towards a total sale may have changed in the drama over Keegan. From the City of London yesterday came the opinion that the club is being primed for a 100 per cent sale.
The potential difficulty in Ashley's partner model – similar to the one at Queen's Park Rangers – is that partners would need to be able to trust each other on major and minor issues. New investors without any relationship to Newcastle or Ashley could find that offputting.
When he bought the club last year Ashley paid £134m but, having failed to perform due diligence, he then discovered there was around £100m worth of debt run up by the overspending regime of Freddy Shepherd. Ashley himself has described his outlay on Newcastle as "£250m".
In the meantime the search for a new manager is on. Wise's Chelsea connection has led to Gustavo Poyet and Gianfranco Zola being mentioned, and Didier Deschamps. It is known Ashley praised David Moyes' work on a budget at Everton last season.
Newcastle fans were unsettled further with a report last night that Ashley spent Wednesday night drinking with a large group of friends at a club in New York – his bar bill allegedly topped £125,00 – while Keegan fretted over his future at St James' Park.