SIR BOBBY ROBSON: Don't blame Ashley for Newcastle's decline
I never thought I'd feel sorry for Mike Ashley, but I do. He put his faith in the wrong men - and they have let him down badly. There can be no apology for some of Ashley's decisions. He pickedout-of-touch managers Kevin Keegan and Joe Kinnear, and his decision toappoint Dennis Wise as executive director of football was a completedisaster. But I have sympathy with him because, unlike a lot of big-timeowners, Ashley did not stick his nose in and interfere. All he did wasbring in who he thought were football people and trusted them to do theright thing. It is their fault, not his, that they wasted millions ofpounds on bad players. The irony is that whereas most owners are arrogant enough to come into football and think they know it all, Ashley has been naive. He has acknowledged his lack of experience in the game and given his employees a free rein. Wise, his cohort Tony Jimenez and Kinnear were all out of their depth and that is why the club are in such a mess and relying on an unlikely result at Liverpool today to keep their Premier League survival hopes alive. I remember asking Ashley soon after the club signed Kevin Nolan in January what homework had been done on the player? I wanted to know how many times he had been scouted and what reports had been done of him. Ashley shrugged, he genuinely didn't know the answer. I told him I'd be more careful about spending his next £4.5 million! Who would have thought such a successful businessman would be so trusting. My guess is that a lot of the recent signings at Newcastle have not been checked out properly. Wise thought Xisco was a good idea. So Ashley paid £5.7m for a striker who has gone on to score one goal all season. I don't know who recommended Fabricio Colloccini, but Ashley put his hand in his pocket for another £10m.Colloccini would have struggled to get into Newcastle's reserves a few years ago. When things started to get desperate in January, it seems the club started to listen a little less to Wise, and more to Kinnear. But the result was the same - more of the wrong type of player. Nolan lacks mobility in an important area of the pitch, just what Newcastle didn't need! Peter Lovenkrands was also signed. OK, he didn't cost any money, but that doesn't matter because he simply isn't good enough at Premier League level. One of the few good players left, Charles N'Zogbia, went to Wigan. Newcastle got Ryan Taylor in return. I know for a fact Wigan were delighted with the deal - they never rated Ryan as a Premier League-class player. None of these things were Ashley's fault, beyond the fact that he put the wrong people in the wrong positions and wrongly believed they knew what they were doing. The penny may have dropped now. Certainly the appointment of Alan Shearer was the right thing to do, albeit arguably too late. And, of course, I wish Kinnear all the best in his recuperation after an operation because nobody likes to hear of a fellow football man being unwell. Anyone mocking Alan for not turning things around yet doesn't understand what he's inherited. The only saving grace is that among the problems there are enough match-winners, Oba Martins, Mark Viduka, Damien Duff, Michael Owen, to try to keep the team up this season. But there has to be a massive turnaround in the summer if Newcastle are going to improve long term. The squad is unbalanced, it is short of legs and pace and it is no fluke they are in the bottom three. I hope Alan has the desire to see this job through, because I believe he has Ashley's confidence. In my view, Alan is the first person really worthy of the Newcastle hot-seat since I left in 2004. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in knowledge about the club and, more importantly, his knowledge of the game in general and his ability to communicate that knowledge and make positive decisions. I have watched in disbelief and near horror at some of the things that have gone on at Newcastle in the past year. I feel sorry for Ashley - I just don't think he understood what the game was all about. He has done the right thing in giving Alan a chance and I can only hope it's not too late. I wish Alan every success at Anfield. My heart and head are with him. Today sees the finish of the regular Championship season and, if there is one thing I would like to see changed before it kicks off again in August, it would be the number of loan players in the lower divisions. Teams can pick up to five loan players in one match and eight in a season. It has got ridiculous and I would like to see that reduced to a maximum of two loan players per team. Why? Because I think having loan players from the top clubs stunts the progress of the young players from the smaller teams and gives the league table a false impression. When Birmingham came into the Premier League a couple of seasons ago with Arsenal loan players Fabrice Muamba, Nicklas Bendtner and Sebastien Larsson, things looked rosy. Bendtner went back to Arsene Wenger and Birmingham got relegated. I know the young players of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool are very good, but having so many of them in your team is a short-term solution. It means the fans can't identify so much with the players out on the pitch. Too many are 'here today, gone tomorrow'. Clubs in trouble gamble on loan players. Norwich have eight at the moment - and they could still go down today. It's wrong. I believe it is something the authorities may look at in the summer and I hope they do. It will encourage the young players from Preston to Plymouth.
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