Newcastle takeover: 10 moments that shaped Mike Ashley's reign

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Mike Ashley
Image: Mike Ashley in happier times during his reign as Newcastle owner

Mike Ashley's 13-year reign as Newcastle owner appears to be nearing its end after a deal was agreed to sell the club to Amanda Staveley's Saudi-backed consortium.

Here, Sky Sports News north-east reporter Keith Downie reflects on 10 key moments that shaped Ashley's time in charge of Newcastle...

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Keith Downie has the latest on Newcastle's potential takeover

Buying clubs and pints

Mike Ashley's tumultuous Newcastle reign is coming to an end
Image: Ashley's tumultuous Newcastle reign is coming to an end

Mike Ashley bought Newcastle United in May 2007 from Freddy Shepherd and Sir John Hall for £134m. He did no due diligence on the club and was unaware it was £100m in debt.

It was a surprise move at the time, with the retail tycoon branching out into the world of football club ownership. His time in charge was popular to begin with and he was often seen drinking with supporters at away matches.

Ashley even travelled with fans to arch-rivals Sunderland and stood with them in the away end wearing a Newcastle replica kit. Sunderland refused to welcome him to their corporate box due to his choice of attire and this went down a storm with the Newcastle faithful.

In August 2008, he was pictured live on television drinking beer with travelling fans in the away end at Arsenal. Ashley was spoken to by police and a Newcastle club statement later claimed the beer was non-alcoholic.

Return of King Kev

Kevin Keegan
Image: Kevin Keegan returned for a second spell on Tyneside in January 2008 - but it didn't last long

After sacking Sam Allardyce, Ashley further endeared himself to the Toon Army by replacing 'Big Sam' with club legend Kevin Keegan.

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In January 2008, Keegan arrived on Tyneside for his second spell as manager in a blaze of glory - fans descended on St James' Park to greet Keegan with Ashley by his side.

At this stage, Ashley could walk on water as far as Newcastle fans were concerned.

But Keegan's second spell on Tyneside was to be short-lived and he was gone within nine months. Keegan struggled with the influence of director of football Dennis Wise, who had been instructed to bring in young players and sell them at a profit.

Keegan resigned in September, having earlier claimed to have been sacked in a meeting with Wise and managing director, Derek Llambias.

Keegan later won a court case for constructive dismissal and Ashley was made to pay him £2m. As far as the fans were concerned, the damage was done.

From Keegan to Kinnear

Joe Kinnear
Image: Joe Kinnear proved to be an unpopular appointment for the Newcastle fans

Joe Kinnear was appointed as interim manager to replace the departed Keegan. This was a hugely controversial move by Ashley and fans saw it as his way of getting back at them after they had turned on him over the departure of Keegan.

By that point, Ashley had put the club on the market after the fans demanded he sell up. The appointment of former Wimbledon and Luton boss Kinnear - who hadn't managed in the top flight for almost a decade - was seen as the final straw.

Kinnear swore 70 times in one press conference and refused to speak to the national media again, unhappy with their line of questioning.

Newcastle were battling towards the foot of the table under Kinnear and when he had to step down due to heart trouble, Ashley knew he had to appoint someone of stature in an attempt to stave off relegation.

He turned to another club legend - Alan Shearer.

Shearer the savior?

Alan Shearer
Image: Alan Shearer was unable to stop Newcastle suffering relegation from the Premier League in 2009

Golden boy Shearer was brought in with eight games to play in the 2008/9 campaign, in a bid to beat the drop.

He inherited a squad struggling for form and despite Ashley allowing him to bring in his own backroom team, he was unable to spend money, with the transfer window being closed.

Shearer was unable to keep Newcastle up for the fans and for Ashley, winning only five points from those eight games in charge.

Ashley decided he was not cut out for the Championship either and appointed Chris Hughton as boss instead.

Ever since, club legend Shearer and owner Ashley have never seen eye-to-eye. Ashley even renamed the bar attached to the stadium that had been named in honour of the Magpies' all-time leading goalscorer.

None of that helped his diminishing reputation amongst the fans and Shearer has long been a severe critic of Ashley's on Match of the Day.

The name game

St James' Park
Image: St James' Park has been branded with the Sports Direct name throughout Ashley's time at the club

In October 2009, Ashley changed the name of St James' Park to incorporate his chief business interest, Sports Direct.

Ashley said he did this because he was attempting to bring in investment through new sponsors.

Newcastle fans were outraged at the thought of their club losing its heritage and they campaigned for this not to happen.

But in a divisive move, Ashley eventually re-branded St James' Park 'sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park' until the end of the season.

Two years later, it was re-branded Sports Direct Arena in another temporary measure, to the disgust of supporters.

St James' Park later returned to its original name but Sports Direct branding remains plastered throughout the stadium.

'The Cockney Mafia'

Cockney mafia
Image: Newcastle fans show their displeasure towards the so-called 'Cockney Mafia'

Under Alan Pardew, Ashley splashed out on a clutch of French-based players and Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League in 2011/12.

The likes of Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy, Demba Ba and Moussa Sissoko all arrived for big money. Things calmed down on Tyneside as a result and the following season saw a foray into Europe, with a run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

But despite this, the appointment of Londoner Pardew was not universally popular and many eyebrows were raised when he was handed an eight-year-contract in September 2012.

Pardew, like Wise before him, was seen as another member of the "Cockney Mafia" and fans turned on him when results started to fall away.

However, Ashley eventually made money from Pardew when Crystal Palace poached him in January 2015.

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Former Newcastle defender Steve Howey on the prospect of a takeover

Camera shy

His opening season apart, Ashley has never been one for craving the spotlight.

In recent years, he's made only sporadic visits to St James' Park and is more likely to be seen at away matches. He's conducted very few interviews either, despite supporters asking for greater communication from above.

In April 2015, as Newcastle faced a must-win match to avoid relegation on the last day of the season, Ashley conducted his first TV interview for years.

As the players warmed up to face West Ham in front of an anxious St James' Park crowd, Ashley vowed he "would only sell when we lift a trophy or qualify for the Champions League."

Since then, he's partaken in two further TV interviews - one with Sky Sports in 2017 entitled "Ashley Speaks Direct", and another with Sky News the following year when he claimed he was close to selling the club after another 12 months on the market.

Transfer policy

Joelinton failed to hit the net against Norwich
Image: Joelinton has been Ashley's most expensive purchase at £40m, but has struggled to find consistent goalscoring form

Ashley's chief plan as the years rolled on was to buy young players and sell them on at a profit.

We have seen this policy enjoy great success, with the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Gini Wijnaldum, Demba Ba and Ayoze Perez.

However, there have also been a lot of flops over the years - Remy Cabella, Florian Thauvin and Emmanuel Riviere springing to mind.

What Ashley had never done - until recently - was break the club's transfer record. Supporters longed for the day they could break the £16m signing of Michael Owen from August 2005.

It looked like it was never going to happen under Ashley's stewardship, until he finally smashed it twice in the space of six months last year - first bringing in £21m Miguel Almiron and then £40m Brazilian striker Joelinton.

Rafa the gaffer

Rafa Benitez during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at St. James Park on May 13, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
Image: Rafa Benitez was adored by Newcastle supporters during his time at the club

Rafa Benitez was brought in by Ashley in March 2016 in an attempt to keep the club in the Premier League, following an awful start to the season under former England manager Steve McClaren.

Supporters took to the Spaniard straight away and bought into his ethos, despite the style of football not being great on the eye.

Benitez failed to keep Newcastle in the top flight but Ashley handed him a three-year contract after the fans serenaded the former Real Madrid manager on the final day of the season, having already being relegated.

Benitez and Ashley endured a fractious relationship, with the former feeling Ashley failed to show ambition in the transfer market.

In the end, Benitez proved to be too big a manager for a club run in the way it was under Ashley, and his contract ran down without either party getting back around the table.

There was outcry on Tyneside when Ashley lost the Champions League winner to China.

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Graeme Souness claims that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has wanted out of the club for some time and that supporters will welcome the news of the advanced takeover talks

Sold to Staveley?

Amanda Staveley in the stands during a Premier League match at St James' Park
Image: Amanda Staveley could finally be about to broker a deal to take over Newcastle

After first unsuccessfully putting Newcastle up for sale not long after buying it, Ashley again placed it on the market in 2017.

Businesswoman Amanda Staveley, who had played a key part in Sheikh Mansour's purchase of Manchester City years earlier, made a play to wrestle the club from his hands and Ashley was keen to sell.

However, a four-month power play ended with Ashley describing her attempts as a "complete waste of time".

Despite interest from a number of other parties, Staveley has returned to the table once more, this time with the finances of the Saudi Public Investment Fund behind her.

Ashley or Newcastle are yet to comment, but one source close to the deal has told Sky Sports News that an agreement is in place for Staveley's consortium to purchase the club for £300m, which is £40m less than what Ashley wanted a few months back.

Supporters are past the point of being desperate. We sit and wait to find out if Ashley's controversial 13-year tenure is about to draw to a close.

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