IF the Football Association is to get to the bottom of what has happened to the England team during this dismal World Cup summer, perhaps they should request the presence of Mike Ashley at Wembley for a quiet chat.
When they instructed a commission to delve into the myriad problems of the national game, familiar faces stuck their head above the parapet.
Glenn Hoddle – out of management since 2007 – contributed his thoughts. Danny Mills dashed to have his say. Dario Gradi, whose relevance has waned in recent years, was another contributor.
Ashley is not a natural bedellow of these men. To many – most of whom reside here – he represents the ills of the modern game, presiding over a club which has given up on silverware and now stands completely divorced from the community which once held it closely to its bosom.
The uneasy relationship between club and community is a festering issue which shows no signs of being salved this summer.
What could this man possibly tell the FA they don’t already know? Alan Pardew infamously let slip last season Ashley “doesn’t understand how football works” – an admission which nearly cost him his job. Yet you don’t need an intimate knowledge of a five-man defence or overlapping full-backs to arrest the decline which caused England’s demise in Brazil.
If pressed properly, Ashley could give the FA some of the answers it needs as they sift through the wreckage of another wasted tournament cycle.
When the commission released its findings, the second paragraph of the FA press release contained a statistic which was stood out sharply.
There were just 66 players in the Premier League who were playing regularly and could be picked by Roy Hodgson for the World Cup.
The modest aim is to increase that to 90 by the time the tournament supposedly heads to Qatar in 2022.
It is an uphill battle and Ashley, having overseen a transfer policy which has benefited the French national team more than the Three Lions, could explain why.
You see, Ashley didn’t take over Newcastle with the sole intention of turning it into a branding exercise for Sports Direct.
He did it because his enthusiasm and passion for football had been fired by watching England.
An acquaintance once told me the sportswear tycoon spent time in Portugal at the European Championships of 2004 supporting the national team.
Three years later, he had wrestled control of the Magpies from Sir John Hall. It was not hatched as a scheme to turn United into the shell of a football club it is now, more a passion play intended to give a billionaire something interesting to do on a Saturday.
The seven interim years have been a chastening, educating experience for Ashley. He has made horrendous, bloody-minded decisions in the interim but the vagaries of football have played their part in the mess Newcastle has become.
Ashley might tell the FA a story whch played out in the autumn, when a senior Newcastle official met – by chance – someone in a similar position at MK Dons. They had spotted United’s scouting team at a few games and presumed there was interest in their midfielder Delle Ali.
Before a word was exchanged, a smile crossed the face of the League One official. He said: “Don’t even think about it unless you’re prepared to pay £4million. We know his worth.
A few months before, Newcastle had signed a job lot of France internationals for less than that. What chance has Ali in that environment? What chance has any Premier League club serious about investing in English talent got either?
Ashley’s intentions can be debated all day but his acumen cannot be. He is ruthless but unerringly successful in virtually everything he does - so what it is about English football which has so deflated him?
On the final day of the season at Anfield, there was a unfamiliar face among the sharp-suited Newcastle United party who bore witness to the final hours of a season which couldn’t end quickly enough on Tyneside. On closer inspection it turned out to be Ashley’s nephew, who was shadowing a few United staff, getting a feel for business before deciding which career path to take.
He was, apparently, razor-sharp. He was polite, popular and made a positive impression on the people he worked with during his time in the inner echelons at St James’ Park.
If Ashley has washed his hands of the club, sending a family member into the heart of the business is as a funny way to show it.
Then again, Ashley’s intentions with regard to Newcastle have never been crystal clear. I asked one person with a passing knowledge of the owner’s retail empire what he thought had gone on at St James’ Park in the past year and his opinion was what Ashley wanted more than anything was for the people he employed on Tyneside to get on with running it.
If it was in danger, he would intervene but because it had been ticking along nicely (from a balance-sheet perspective anyway) he adopted a hands-off approach.
An English owner who watched the national team employing an English manager at one of the nation’s biggest and best supported teams.
Itt is Greg Dyke’s dream ticket. It should have worked. Find out why it hasn’t and the FA might get a few ideas Mills and company could have missed.