The Sports Direct entrepreneur's u-turn comes only 18 months after he bought the club, and only a short time after winning fans' hearts by bringing back King Kev, former boss Kevin Keegan, the man seen by many among the Toon Army as the club's ‘messiah'. Still, it didn't take long for the hopes of the club's put-upon fans to crumble.
Despite Ashley's impassioned support - regularly turning up on the terraces in the club's colours - it was his decision to impose upon Keegan a multi-tiered management system that led the famously volatile manager to quit two weeks ago, and had Keegan's loyal fans railing against Ashley's ‘cockney mafia'. So once again Ashley finds himself on the wrong side of stinging criticism from those with a vested interest in his ventures.
Ashley's record at Newcastle certainly failed to replicate the stunning success he's had at Sports Direct since opening his first shop in 1982. Helped by his straight talking, no-bullshit approach, he's now worth around £1.4bn. But once again, it's proven to be his relationship with stakeholders that has been his undoing. After taking Sports Direct public last year, pocketing £929m in one day in the process, he famously neglected to schedule shareholder meetings, called analysts morons and labelled the City a bunch of ‘cry babies'. Yet he's managed to outdo himself with the Newcastle fans. He now says he fears for his family's safety if he goes near the ground. The lesson for Ashley is perhaps to stick to single-minded pursuits, where the emotions of others don't come into play.
Ashley called for patience from the fans, emphasising that it ‘is not a fire sale', and that his successor will have to front up a decent pile of readies. This, he pointed out at the beginning of the week, may take some time. He has since been on a tour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, alongside the pint-sized wheeler-dealer geezer Dennis Wise, trying to find a buyer. (This conjures Only Fools and Horses-style images of Del Boy and Trigger sharing sheesha pipes with oil-rich Sheiks.) Didn't go too well apparently.
Earlier in the week there were rumours that Ashley was passing notes to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who owns Dubai's Zabeel Investments, offering to sell for $860m. By midweek these were being deemed ‘highly unlikely' by local sources. Looks like Ashley may have to drop his price, Rodney.