THE die was cast for Joe Kinnear’s incredible return to Newcastle United from the moment Alan Pardew sat down for his end-of-season briefing with Mike Ashley.
What was billed as a no-holds-barred meeting to thrash out the reasons for United’s slide into relegation trouble saw Pardew fight his corner against accusations of underachievement. The tone which was set before the QPR game – when he claimed Ashley must take some responsibility for the poor season – seemed to be maintained. There was a boldness about the manager, as well as an assurance that the team would do better next season. It has not, apparently, gone down well.
The summit ended 24 hours later with a short statement reaffirming United’s faith in Pardew, but Ashley harbouring a burning sense that something needed to change.
Many of the key figures at the club thought that was the end of it, but Ashley – the undisputed centre of power at St James’ Park – had other ideas. Sensing a need to reassert his control while also sending a shock message to the management, he seems to have begun making discreet enquiries. They didn’t go far beyond one of his closest friends in football.
Apparently reinforced by that statement, Pardew left for sunnier climes; John Carver too. Little did they realise that Ashley was planning his most spectacular shock yet – the reappointment of Kinnear to effectively act as his “eyes and ears” on the training ground. It feels like punishment for Pardew.
Because we can dress it up any way we like and still come to the same conclusion: this is a power-play by Ashley to reclaim some first-hand knowledge about the day-to-day running of the first-team squad. Kinnear may not have a say over selection, tactics or team strategy but his first and last call of the day will be to the owner. By confirming yesterday that he has not met Pardew yet he tacitly admitted that the pressure is right on the manager – and threw the whole management structure into complete confusion. After all, Ashley would not have added another layer of management if he was content with the way things were going.
It is telling that when the news was broken by ncjMedia journalists yesterday afternoon it shocked club employees. It quickly became apparent that this was an Ashley decision – and one that was right out of the 2009 playbook, too. To hell with the criticism or fans’ feelings, the owner had decided to go with his gut feeling whatever the damage.
It felt eerily reminiscent of the gut-churning shock of his first appointment. When I was first informed that he had the job at around 2.30pm yesterday, I was stunned into silence. The gnawing sense of a club embroiled in crisis – dormant since the wheels began to turn on the sensible revolution of Chris Hughton in 2009 – returned.
It did not take long for Kinnear to speak. He set out his apparently wide-ranging duties in an amazingly candid TV interview yesterday, asserting that he would have the “final say” on transfers.
The former Wimbledon boss is a remarkably frank character and a mischievous one, too. He takes great pride in “telling it like it is”, and during his last stint as manager once rang up this correspondent at 8am to let me know how well Ryan Taylor and Kevin Nolan had settled in. But he couldn’t resist a dig at Charles N’Zogbia for claiming he was going to Real Madrid – and then ending up at Wigan.
With the same sense of bluster he opened his public account yesterday, talking about how Geordies only want Geordies employed at Newcastle United – and blaming that for the way his first stint had ended.
That was a poor PR move on his behalf, as was his assertion that he would know more than anyone at Newcastle about football. Then came the sting in the tail – he would have the final say in transfers and may have to move out as many as “four or five”.
You almost had to rewind Sky Plus for another listen. The way Kinnear tells it, he’ll now be the most influential presence at St James’ Park – a slight upgrade on what The Journal understands his role will be. But then again Kinnear was known to get carried away in his public utterances the first time around, so until he has lunch with Pardew, which he claimed would happen today, it will be unclear.
The reaction of Newcastle fans was utter disbelief, mixed with anger. Some talked of cancelling season tickets and being “finished with the club”. It felt like all of the piecemeal progress of the last few years – put together painstakingly by a team of dedicated employees who sought out the soul of the club and tried to nourish it – was obliterated in one fell swoop.
After a poor season, there was an agreement that action needed to be taken. Perhaps a Director of Football was the way to go. But rehiring a man who has been out of the game for four years? It feels like a case of giving a job to someone you know, rather than someone best qualified.
It leaves everyone at the club fighting fires and sets the tone for a summer that will now be beset by talk of fan rebellion and exasperation at the club’s direction.
All of that stuff about United wanting stability and no longer making “crazy decisions” seems a long, long time ago. Fear, trouble and strife loom large on the horizon.