I have failed but I am wedded to the club: Ashley

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley

LONDON • Mike Ashley "regrets" buying Newcastle United and has admitted that his contentious ownership of the English Premier League football club has had "virtually nil effect".

However, the billionaire businessman has confirmed that he will not sell in the event of their relegation this season. "We're stuck with each other," he said.

In a rare interview with The Times at his Sports Direct headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, the sportswear retailer acknowledged that his nine-year spell at St James' Park has been a failure, with personal antipathy towards him from supporters forcing him to delegate day-to-day decision-making to Lee Charnley, the managing director.

While Ashley described Rafael Benitez, who was recently appointed as Newcastle's manager, as the "right man" to lead the club away from the bottom three - they are 19th in the 20-team table, three points shy of safety - he has yet to meet the Spaniard and claimed to have no involvement in the hiring of Steve McClaren's successor.

Under Ashley, Newcastle have become financially self-sufficient, but their £80 million (S$155.1 million) spend on new players since the end of last season, when they ensured their survival on the final day, has achieved little.

"I have had tons of fun, but do I regret getting involved in football? The answer is yes because I haven't been able to make the difference that I wanted to make in football," Ashley said.

FAILED AMBITION

Do I regret getting involved in football? The answer is yes because I haven't been able to make the difference that I wanted to make in football.

MIKE ASHLEY, Newcastle United owner, on whether he made a mistake buying over the club.

"I wanted to help Newcastle, I wanted to make it better, that's what I wanted to do.

"Whenever you buy a company you want to make that company better, perform better and fight above its weight. I haven't seemed to have been able to have that effect in football. I have had that at Sports Direct but not in football.

"To get a football club to be the best you have to get the sun, the moon, and the stars aligned perfectly. There is negativity around me as an individual at Newcastle, so the best thing was to make sure it was on solid ground and then step back and get them to self-manage Newcastle in the way that Sports Direct self-manages Sports Direct."

In their last published accounts, Newcastle were £129 million in debt to Ashley, but the 51-year-old has not charged interest on his loan and allows the club to run themselves.

He has twice put the club on the market, but insisted that he will not do so again.

"Newcastle and I are wedded like me and Sports Direct are wedded," he said. "Through good times and the bad and eventually we will have good times again."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'I have failed but I am wedded to the club: Ashley'. Print Edition | Subscribe