Mike Ashley

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Premier League Preview: Newcastle United v. Chelsea

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Chelsea visits surprising Newcastle United in a marquee match Saturday at St. James’ Park (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The hosts have scrapped their way to 26 points, five points both clear of the drop zone and back of seventh place. A draw at Wolves last weekend snapped a three-match league losing streak.

Chelsea maintains a five-point gap over Manchester United in its bid to claim a Top Four place, with the Red Devils meeting unbeaten Liverpool this week. The Blues are seeking back-to-back league wins for the first time since Nov. 9.

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Newcastle has had a fair bit of success against the big boys this season, beating Manchester United and Spurs while drawing Man City.

Christian Pulisic stole the ball en route to Marcos Alonso‘s late goal in a 1-0 win when the two sides met at Stamford Bridge in October.

Pulisic, of course, is still out injured for Chelsea and Lampard says the American could return near the club’s February break. Newcastle has electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin back in the fold after more than a month on the sidelines. Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey are also available.


Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle United: OUT — Paul Dummett, Dwight Gayle, DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Schar, Jetro Willems, Javi Manquillo. QUESTIONABLE — DeAndre Yedlin, Yoshinori Muto.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante, Pulisic. QUESTIONABLE — Marcos Alonso.


Probable lineups

Newcastle United: Dubravka; Willems, Clark, Lascelles, Fernandez, Ritchie; Hayden, Shelvey; Saint-Maximin, Joelinton, Almiron.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Rudiger, James; Jorginho, Willian, Mount, Kovacic, Hudson-Odoi; Abraham.


What they’re saying

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce on his meeting with owner Mike Ashley: “It went very well. We showed what we are trying to do, and he was fully supportive. We have plates spinning and hope to add to the squad by the end of the month. We have said that the targets have to improve us. He has been fully supportive of the remit. He agrees we buy quality not quantity. That has to be the mantra.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Newcastle’s many injuries: “It is still an opportunity, but this is vital. Every game brings challenges, going to Newcastle, the emotion of the crowd and they are an organized side. We won’t take it lightly. We have to take every game head-on. We don’t underestimate there. Bournemouth were down to the bare bones and we lost, it can bring out a different feeling. They have done very well and I don’t look at the bare bones.


Prediction

St. James’ Park has been a tough place to play, but the Blues shake off any travel to collect a 2-1 win over the Magpies.

Previous bidder back for another crack at Newcastle takeover

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British businessman Peter Kenyon, owner of American investment fund GACP Sports, is back for another attempt and purchasing Newcastle United.

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The group is attempting to put together a package of around $370 million to acquire the Premier League club from from longtime beleaguered owner Mike Ashley.

Kenyon, a former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive, failed in a previous takeover bid last year when he and a different set of investors were unable to raise the necessary funds.

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A 46-page brochure outlining Kenyon’s plan to purchase and remake the club was leaked to journalists in the UK on Thursday. The document can be viewed in its entirety, here.

While Kenyon is hardly a newcomer to the idea of buying Newcastle, Ashley is hardly a newcomer to the idea of selling — or, rather the insistence against selling — Newcastle. In the last 24 months, three approaches, including Kenyon’s first attempt, have ultimately failed due to Ashley not securing the financial package he desires.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

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The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Newcastle owner blasts Rafa Benitez for ‘money first’ attitude

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Newcastle owner Mike Ashley ripped former manager Rafa Benitez for an apparent “money first” attitude that he believes doomed any chance of a contract extension this summer.

Benitez, a fan favorite thanks to his sparkling resume and excellent results with very little to work with, departed the club this summer for Chinese side Dalian Yifang after lengthy negotiations for an extensions with Newcastle came to an end with no agreement. The Spaniard had stuck with the club through a season in the Championship and guided the Magpies back to the Premier League, helping finish safely in 13th last season.

However, Ashley says that Benitez did not, in fact, care about the club but instead cared only about money. According to the Newcastle owner, Benitez knew he had leverage in negotiations and hoped to use that to his advantage. “Every time with Rafa it was impossible,” Ashley said in a lengthy interview with the Daily Mail. “There was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 per cent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley even goes as far as to say he brought up the idea of an eight-year contract with Benitez, comparing the club to his other financial investments. “At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract,” Ashley said. “That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy.”

The Sport Direct CEO went on to say that he believes the deal with the Chinese club was already finalized and that Benitez simply stayed in negotiations with Newcastle for appearance. “Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”

Finally, Ashley rambles about the possibility of a deal for Hoffenheim striker Joelinton, saying that the 22-year-old was Benitez’s number one target, but when it came time for the Spaniard to sign off on the deal, he balked and wanted his own situation sorted before securing the player.

The Magpies owner is a disliked figure among Newcastle fans, and it’s likely that very little from Ashley can be taken at face value. Ultimately, whether what Ashley is saying is true or not, Benitez knew he had leverage based on positive results and wished to be compensated fairly for not just his results at Newcastle, but also for the pedigree of a Champions League winning manager to stay at a mid-table Premier League side. Benitez often talked in the media about having a long-term vision for the club, and ultimately Ashley proved at the negotiating table he was not willing to pay the price for that long-term plan, even if it meant spending more than the club had previously planned to maintain Benitez’s services.

Ashley: ‘Impossible’ to keep Benitez

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To hear Mike Ashley say it, Newcastle never had a chance.

In a long interview with the Daily Mail, Ashley stated multiple times that it was his intention to sign Rafa Benitez to a new contract, but Ashley contended that Benitez never wanted to stay. The Spanish manager announced in mid-June that he was leaving the Premier League club, and soon signed a lucrative deal with Chinese club Dalian Yifang.

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“My view always was we had to keep Rafa,” Ashley told the Daily Mail. “For my own personal safety we had to keep Rafa. I thought he had us offside, he had us cornered, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, I’ve been totally out-maneuvered, I probably shouldn’t own a football club, it’s ridiculous, but I’m a big boy.

“Yet every time with Rafa it was impossible – there was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 percent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley stated that in May, he had even tossed out the idea to his front office of signing Benitez to an eight-year contract, a move that’s practically unheard of in global soccer.

“At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract,” Ashley said. “That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy. So if you really want me involved, I need time from you, too. And that was the idea. I did it before with Alan Pardew.

“Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”

Ashley also provided some interesting insights into Newcastle’s signing of Brazilian striker Joelington. Ashley stated that Newcastle had been close to signing both Miguel Almiron and Joelington in January, only for Hoffenheim to say he wasn’t for sale. A month later, Hoffenheim offered Joelington to Newcastle but only for around $50 million. Ashley said he was prepared to pay that, but Benitez didn’t want to sign off on a signing if he didn’t know he would still be around.

On a bright note, Ashley did have kind words to say about Benitez’s time in charge.

“I’m not disappointed in him as a manager – he did an excellent job,” Ashley said. “It puzzles me why any fan thinks I wouldn’t want him. I’m not the thickest person on the planet. Why wouldn’t I want excellence? Why wouldn’t I want this manager? Accuse me of many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.”