Friday 14 November ~
Compared to the excesses of the last few months, recent weeks at Newcastle have been blissfully quiet, with the exception of Joe Kinnear's outburst about “Mickey Mouse” referees. Yet this morning both Newcastle fans and the owners seemed to be cautiously optimistic that the club would be sold soon. Most importantly, the deal might even completed before the January transfer window. In case this all falls through, however, the current regime is also trying to improve its public image – Dennis Wise and Derek Llambias appeared at a schools community event this week, a far cry from touring the luxury hotel bars of the Gulf states hawking the club to potential buyers. Mike Ashley himself has ditched the Newcastle replica shirt and gone back to supporting Spurs – he was reportedly seen at their UEFA Cup tie against Dinamo Zagreb last week.
As we've said before, it is only to be expected that the “football dealmaker” extraordinaire, Keith Harris, should be optimistic about finding a buyer for Newcastle. Mr Harris is a busy man, this morning urging Liverpool and Everton to reconsider a groundshare, but he is also being paid handsomely to flog Newcastle on Ashley's behalf. So this morning's news that two separate American buyers are engaged in due diligence will mean nothing until a deal is complete. It is perhaps with this in mind that Ashley has prepared a contingency plan. Having been fairly fortunate in the way the interim period of Joe Kinnear has gone, with better results than many had expected, it seems that Ashley will give the former Wimbledon manager a one year contract if no sale is forthcoming.
It has been widely reported that Newcastle's game at Chelsea on November 22 is “D-day” for decisions on the club's future. At this point Ashley will be hoping to achieve some form of closure. With major players like Michael Owen, Steve Harper and Nicky Butt out of contract next summer and more high-profile figures likely to be targeted by other clubs, Newcastle's playing staff could be severely depleted in January. Especially if the ownership issue remains unresolved.
One such sought-after player is the sprightly Obafemi Martins. This morning his national team manager, Nigeria's Shaibu Amodu, told the striker he should be worried about himself “psychologically” and that he had to “stay away from the social vices”. Twelve miles to the south-east, Roy Keane may have used similar sentiments after dropping Pascal Chimbonda for reported disciplinary reasons. Ironically, the problems are rumoured to have begun after Chimbonda attended Martins’ 24th birthday celebrations.