SO let’s start with the contradictions right at the heart of Newcastle United.
On September 27, 2012 Derek Llambias reflected on relegation and the darkest days of the Mike Ashley era by proclaiming the following: “I think we’ve done our off-the-wall. I think we’ve broken the back of all of that.” Nine months later, Joe Kinnear is on national television – without the PR department’s knowledge – in his new capacity as United’s director of football telling people that he knows more about football than anyone at the club.
Thumb through the cuttings from more recently, and we have Llambias again – this time responding to speculation that Alan Pardew’s job was under threat after the end-of-season summit in London: “There has been a great deal of speculation in recent weeks but our desire, as we announced back in September, is to bring long-term stability to this club.
“It’s up to us all now to work closely as a team to ensure next season sees us competing in the top half of the table again.”
Stability, it seems, equates to appointing a new layer of management at the club without even informing some of the coaching staff that have been handed an eight-year contract in this drive for consistency.
How about this one from March 28? “The model works. Not only is it viable as a business model, it’s also viable as a business on the field,” United’s MD said. A few weeks later, a director of football is tacked on to a “working model” to leave it looking unwieldy and awkward.
The last one is from Sunday afternoon. On live TV Kinnear, in the course of explaining how his birth certificate was held against him during his first stint, proclaimed: “One thing I didn’t realise is that Geordies are Geordies. They want people from that area to work for the club.”
From a club that has made such strident progress in re-engaging with supporters – and the appointment of the pro-active Lee Marshall as supporter liaison officer, along with cheap tickets, was helping on that front – it was a funny thing for a senior employee to say.
Few lazy stereotypes damage and demean United supporters more than that one; to hear it from their newest appointment was depressing and a retrograde step.
The challenge for Newcastle from here on in is to justify the startling inconsistencies in the message they have been preaching for 18 months and the appointment of Kinnear, a move that seems to fly in the face of the philosophy adopted by Ashley – and voiced by Llambias. It is a challenge as big as the Nepalese mountains that Kinnear once claimed to have flown over in his time as manager of that tiny principality.
The mood was calmer in club circles yesterday. Kinnear spoke to one or two yesterday and Alan Pardew, whose own voice has not been heard yet, was in touch too. Given the whirling tide of discontent among the supporters, perhaps they are sitting in the eye of the storm.
Quite how they explain all of this – when they eventually formulate a coherent and unified front – remains a mystery. For all of us who had been encouraged by the talk of stability, foundations and building blocks, this latest appointment seems to hark back to the days when Ashley was an unpredictable custodian who frequently made incorrect decisions.
Llambias has subsequently touched on that, admitting that both he and the owner were burned during their early days in the game. Now they are six years down the line but Ashley still doesn’t seem to have grasped that at Newcastle United, your public do matter. Of course you will never find a consensus among 52,000, and it would be folly to run a business on the whims of those who shout the loudest. Others who have trodden that populist path have found that you need to have the courage of your own convictions from time to time.
That is very different from a move like re-instating Kinnear, which seems to have been greeting with universal disapproval among Newcastle fans.
And these things matter, as Ashley should know by now. Maybe Chelsea were able to win the Europa League with an unpopular figurehead but Newcastle’s situation is very different. For a start, Rafa Benitez’s CV is beyond compare, along with Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad. United’s biggest asset over the barren decades has been the wit, wisdom and unwaning loyalty of their fans.
The signs were they were sold on Ashley’s stable progress (if not on the manager after last season) but all of that has been blown apart.
Once again, Newcastle’s fans are left to feel wearied by their own sense of outrage. A club to love and an owner prepared to listen from time to time doesn’t appear much of an indulgence.
For the last 48 hours, the only on-the-record comment has come from Kinnear. It is ironic that when other members of staff want to speak on behalf of the Magpies, they have to seek permission from the very top.
Kinnear seems to get free rein to preach. Just another contradiction in a baffling couple of days.