So much of the Newcastle United soap opera has been played out in public that it is easy to be inured to Mike Ashley’s disregard of the club, though some of the new revelations in Kevin Keegan’s autobiography are on an entirely different level. What they expose, where Ashley and the fans of his football possession are concerned, is nothing less than contempt.
Keegan reveals the full gamut of indignities which Ashley and his stooges submitted him to in during his nine months back at the club in 2008. We are re-introduced to Tony Jimenez – the one-time former Chelsea match-day steward, who was somehow given the power to foist players on Keegan.
There is the story of how Jimenez told Luka Modric’s agent that the Croatian was ‘too light-weight’ for Newcastle and how he admitted he had never heard of Per Mertesacker.
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s contempt for the club has been taken to a new level
Kevin Keegan revealed just how badly Newcastle was run during his second managerial stint
There is episode of how Keegan, having been promised by Jimenez that Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger would be signed as a replacement for James Milner that summer, called the German club’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to be sure that an offer had actually been made.
It tuned out Jimenez had offered €5million (£3.4m in 2008) for the then 23-year-old and Keegan relates his cringe-inducing phone conversation with Rummenigge from a London hotel room. ‘Five million euros, Kevin! We killed ourselves laughing.’
Keegan describes how he left the German ‘chuckling at the other end of the line and rang off.’
Jimenez talked about going for Joleon Lescott, then an England international. Except he kept calling him ‘Julian.’ He talked about bringing in South American players who ‘nobody else knew about’ and turning them into multi-million pound assets.
Keegan was promised a 23-year-old Bastian Schweinsteiger in 2008, but the club’s derisory offer left Bayern Munich laughing down the phone
Keegan, as aware as anyone in football about the work-permit problems if these player had not featured in internationals, asked in one early meeting how they were going to get such individuals in. ‘We’ll fly them in, of course,’ said Jimenez.
Keegan was always forbidden from calling the boss by Derek Llambias, who took over as managing director after Keegan had been hired. So only when Keegan had walked away and taken the club to industrial tribunal – claiming that the imposition of Jimenez and the hopeless Dennis Wise as the directors of football represented constructive dismissal – did Ashley enter the narrative.
The autobiography provides an abundance of detail on the tribunal, not reported at the time. This included Ashley’s response to the three-man panel when asked why he had said in an interview with respected Newcastle fanzine ‘The Mag’ that final decisions of transfers were Keegan’s. Jimenez and Wise were there only to recommend players.
The interview – in which Ashley said: ‘I’m here to help Kevin – he has the final word’ – was even published on the club’s website and printed in the match programme for next home game.
Keegan started his second spell as Newcastle manager in January 2008 – but things quickly turned sour under the Ashley regime
Left to right: Club chairman Chris Mort with Jeff Vetere, Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez in 2008
‘I have never looked at the club website,’ Ashley replied. ‘And I have to be exceptionally bored to read the programme. You will get more sense out of the Beano.’
The examination of Ashley at the tribunal courtroom in London’s Fleet Street, broadened out into other examples of him speaking with utter disregard for the notion of truth.
In one interview, he had described a 2-0 win over Newcastle as his favourite moment since taking over the club. ‘It wasn’t,’ he told the tribunal. ‘It was when we beat Spurs 4-1. If you want to refer to dealing with the media as lying, then I would say ‘yes’, but I don’t think it’s lying in the true sense of the word.’
The tribunal panel – Philip Havers QC, Lord Pannick QC and Ken Merrett, Manchester United assistant club secretary – ordered Newcastle to pay Keegan £2m plus interest and costs. It accused Ashley of ‘repeatedly and unintentionally misleading the press, public and fans of Newcastle United.’
Sportsmail asked Keegan if he felt there should be more rigour and resource put into the Premier League’s work to ensure that those who buy clubs are committed to running it professionally.
‘I thought they’d got that,’ he said. ‘It’s a good idea but I’m afraid it should have been implemented a long time ago. You’re trying to shut a stable door.’
Newcastle fans hold up a ‘Sports Redirect’ Banner against Ashley at Selhurst Park last weekend
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