FORMER Newcastle chairman Chris Mort is prepared to return to St James’s Park to help rebuild Mike Ashley’s shattered regime if the club’s owner is willing to take the club off the market.
Although Mort left his position back in June, the lawyer who did so much positive work in acting as a mouthpiece for Ashley has still been attending United games this season with his family as a fan.
The Journal understands the 42-year-old “caught the Newcastle bug” during his time in the North East and, although he has a highly successful career with the Freshfields Law firm in London, he is willing to take on the challenge of leading the club again on a day-to-day basis.
Mort has spent much of the last few months working in America, but he is now back in England and has indicated to Ashley he could be persuaded to begin the difficult process of repairing the damage done by the controversial and sudden departure of Kevin Keegan following a row over boardroom interference in transfers.
Whether that would be enough to pacify the large number of supporters still incensed by Ashley’s behaviour, and the treatment of Keegan by the board he appointed to run the club in his absence, is open to debate. But it would be a step in the right direction at least given the respect Mort earned during his short time on Tyneside.
Despite being the man who fell out in such spectacular fashion with Keegan, managing director Derek Llambias, who took over from Mort earlier this year, has otherwise kept a low profile at St James’s Park.
The former casino boss has been efficient in his handling of the club’s affairs behind the scenes, but he has lacked Mort’s willingness to open lines of communication and has been tainted by the Keegan affair in the eyes of the vast majority of supporters.
However, while Mort would be willing to listen to any offer from Ashley to return in some capacity to the North East, he is not prepared to come if only for a short-term project. Instead, he would only come back if Ashley declared he wanted to return to the sort of long-term planning he insisted on when he bought the club in the summer of 2007 and took the club off the market.
That is a growing possibility with sources close to the takeover telling The Journal last night it is getting increasingly difficult to sell any sort of major business in the steadily worsening financial climate.
A City source said: “The credit crunch is enveloping every aspect of commercial life at the moment. Well run profitable businesses in relatively safe sectors are not finding buyers due to the absence of finance – it is going to be very difficult for those looking to sell football clubs.
“Therefore, personally I would be surprised to see Newcastle United Football Club sold in the near future but I may be proved wrong. There also appears to be a number of Premier League clubs up for sale – generally because owners are not willing or not able to continue to fund the clubs through the current recession.”
Meanwhile, Jose Enrique has earned a glowing report from Joe Kinnear even though United’s manager has made the purchase of a new left-back his main priority in next month’s transfer window.
Enrique has had his fair share of criticism since a £6m move from Villareal, but the Spaniard has shown a willingness to battle through difficult times and has not sulked about the club’s public pursuit of another full-back. And Kinnear is hoping the prospect of a rival next month will continue to inspire Enrique over the Christmas period.
He said: “The point is that Jose’s working hard on his game. We’ve got to get more from him week-in, week-out. At times, he had the pace to keep up with Lennon, and he’s never an easy player to play against. Lennon’s very direct, and it was mainly him who was whipping the crosses in, but Jose did well against him.”