Pledge may weaken Rangers tie
Ashley’s desire to be Newcastle ‘winner’ may end Ibrox link
He said he would invest in the Tyneside club to ensure next season was more successful than the one just ended when the Tyneside outfit secured its place in the English Premiership in the final game.
Cynics will say that in view of Newcastle’s poor trophy winning record the sports retail billionaire will have to wait a long time before it wins something, though he said that his pledge includes qualification for the European Champions League.
The club’s financial position is certainly improving. It was recently named 19th richest club in the world by Deloitte. Revenue topped £100 million for the first time, and with a record £5.1 billion Premier League TV deal beginning the season after next it is likely to get even higher. Even the club that finishes bottom of the league will make £99m.
Despite this, Mr Ashley remains deeply unpopular on Tyneside. He has been under pressure to sell the club from fans who have boycotted games, which is likely to continue into next season if the team’s performance does not improve substantially.
He is also being pressed to lessen his ties with Rangers in which he retains an 8.92% stake and has an unpaid loan of £5 million. New chairman Dave King said last week there was no short term plan to repay the loan and said Mr Ashley deserves praise for keeping the club afloat, but he would be seeking Mr Ashley’s exit from the share register at some point.
Mr Ashley’s determination to bring success to Tyneside follows his gradual loss of control over Ibrox. He was forbidden by the Scottish Football Association from raising his stake to 29.9%, then saw his two key executives – Derek Llambias and Barry Leach – voted off the board.
While his loan remains outstanding, Mr Ashley will retain an interest in Ibrox, but he has a net worth of £3.5 billion, makin him the 22nd richest man in Britain. So the £5m owed to him by the new Rangers board may not be much of a priority.
A greater focus on Newcastle, particularly if the club performs better next season, may encourage him to walk away from Ibrox where his hopes of taking control are now firmly out of the question.