Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has revealed he would stand aside if a wealthier investor was interested in taking over – but does not expect to be inundated with offers.
A rare interview with Ashley was broadcast on Sunday, shortly after the Magpies were beaten 2-0 by Tottenham on their Premier League return, spanning the entirety of the businessman’s 10-year stint at the helm.
And while fans will surely have been interested in Ashley’s conciliatory words towards a number of former managers – including Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer and Sam Allardyce – as well as his regret over rebranding St James’ Park, his thoughts on the future created most intrigue.
Excerpts from the Sky Sports Premier League programme previously showed Ashley admitting the money available to boss Rafa Benitez was “not enough”, and the full broadcast showed him willing to entertain overtures from those who could provide more.
“I have got to make it crystal clear. I am nowhere near wealthy enough to compete with Manchester City and Chelsea,” he said.
“It is a wealthy individual taking on what is the equivalent of countries. I cannot and I will not.
“And that is why if someone wants to come along and take this seat and fund Newcastle with their nought on the end more than me, I will not stand in Newcastle’s way.”
The 52-year-old was quick to add that he was pessimistic about the prospects of such funding arriving and instead began looking to the future.
“One of the reasons I am doing this interview is that there are not many people out there who will actually stand up and do it,” he said.
“So Newcastle fans, we could be doing this together for a little while longer. We have the man in Rafa and let’s hope we can generate some funds and give Rafa some chance to get some building blocks going over the next couple of years.”
Asked if he might even bring up a second decade in charge, he said with a smile: “We will see.”
There was plenty of contrition in his appearance, starting with a mea culpa over his poorly-received decision to rename the stadium ‘Sports Direct Arena’, after his sportswear company, in 2011.
“The first thing you feel is stupidity, when you actually see the hindsight of something you know you shouldn’t have done,” he said.
“I should not have changed the name of St James’ Park. I should not have done that. I wanted to get naming right, get money for it and put it back into the football club.
“Actually, the vast majority of Geordie fans would rather have St James’ Park and maybe finish a place lower in the league because they want it kept special.”
As for some of his former managerial employees, he was largely in a generous mood.
On Allardyce, whom he sacked in 2008, Ashley said: “I apologise to him, I was too hasty.”
He also said of the man who brought Newcastle back into the Premier League in 2010: “I thought I was very unfair on Chris Hughton, who got us promoted, I don’t think gave him enough time.”
As for club favourites Shearer and Keegan, who failed to last under his regime, he added: “I don’t think for either of those two individuals that it was too much for them.
“It wasn’t always easy for Kevin at the football club. We didn’t have the structure around to support him with the signings and everything else and I will take the responsibility for that.
“So, Kevin, if I have let you down in any way I apologise.
“Alan Shearer came in at a time where he was probably one of the only people on this planet that would have kept Newcastle up. He did an absolutely fantastic job in everything else but the odd result not going our way.
“Never say never though, Alan, if you are watching.”