The Agenda: Joe Kinnear era set Newcastle United back

Joe Kinnear was doomed to fail at Newcastle United, putting him in a position of power was damaging and wrong-headed

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire Newcastle United fans with a Joe Kinnear banner
Newcastle United fans with a Joe Kinnear banner

By the end, everyone at Newcastle had a Joe Kinnear tale.

There was the one where the director of football apparently tried to sign Gareth Bale in the summer the morning after a night out. The one where he boasted about his nights out with Diana Ross at Tottenham. The lost phone which, when recovered, had 200 missed calls from agents. Or the constant mangling of names, dates, times and people. Some were no doubt apocryphal – many, unfortunately, weren’t.

They sound funny when you take them in isolation but this is the problem with Kinnear’s unhappy, unsuccessful and highly damaging eight months as director of football at St James’ Park: the joke was always on the fans.

Within a few weeks of taking the role, he had lost his mobile phone. Contacts spoke of finding him difficult to reach in those early days. He nixed a deal for FC Twente defender Douglas and then suggested players who were injured as possible transfer targets.

He once said he’d ring Arsene Wenger – on a night when Arsenal were playing in the Champions League. He told a member of Newcastle’s staff from Yorkshire that it was good to have a local person working at the club.

In a role that would seem to require precision, a forensic eye for detail and a fierce work ethic Kinnear came up short. It was an unfair appointment on a man who was desperately searching for a route back into the game, but was never suited to the important position that Mike Ashley created for him.

It all sounds harmless enough but it wasn’t. Early attempts to launch the fans’ forum had to be mothballed after his appointment, which created untold controversy in a bruising summer.

Incredibly, Ashley did not inform club staff of the Kinnear decision before it was taken – leaving them to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath. Derek Llambias resigned soon after a meeting in the Orange Tree pub in Totteridge, North London, in which Kinnear had claimed he had been on the phone to several Premier League managers already.

Graham Carr, the club’s influential chief scout, had to be talked out of resigning.

An uneasy truce between club and supporters that had been fused by a fifth-placed finish and improved communication from Llambias was completely broken. Kinnear had not been a popular figure as manager but his reputation in the eyes of supporters had been sullied by comments made subsequently that seemed to insult them and misunderstand everything about the club.

Now back on the payroll, he gave two interviews that effectively doomed his reign to failure before it began. First on Sky Sports News he said he was the ultimate authority at Newcastle, which pricked the ears of those who had previously held the power at the club. Then in a disastrous evening interview with Talksport he mispronounced the names of players. It left many gobsmacked and turned any supporters prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt squarely against him.

In the event, his contribution was a combination of being completely incapable of delivering what he had promised and opening the door to the sort of agents who had been driven from St James’ Park previously. The number of wildly inaccurate transfer links that were simply a case of a player using Newcastle to improve their status seemed to increase.

Kinnear consulted men he knew like Ronny Rosenthal and Mick Harford but Newcastle do things differently these days. They have a small number of trusted agents that they operate with, yet Kinnear was a new factor in the mix. Understandings were undone; deals made that much more difficult. Yohan Cabaye and his representatives were scathing about the way Arsenal’s interest was handled and his dissatisfaction was one of the reasons for the France midfielder’s wildcat strike. Newcastle simply couldn’t do the kind of slick, skilful business they had done in the previous 12 months because Kinnear didn’t have the tools to do it. The corporate world of football, where Llambias had been starting to gain traction, was not suited to a man who had always been a garrulous storyteller as a manager.

There had been concerns in the coaching room before the season started that Kinnear would interfere but they proved completely unfounded.

There was an office for him at St James’ Park but he didn’t make it to the training ground. He offered no contribution to the way the club played, made no demands on who played and did not cross into the playing side of things at all.

It was a small mercy but not what he was intended to do. He was supposed to take a look at the Academy, one of Ashley’s biggest bugbears at Newcastle. He wants players coming out of the club’s youth system but it is not happening and Kinnear’s remit was to include that.

In the event, January passed Kinnear by. Manager Alan Pardew didn’t speak to him for around 10 days after the West Ham defeat. His sole meaningful contribution – a quote attributed to him by Sky Sports – was to claim no one would be leaving Newcastle, which was news to those in the club who had been expecting a Paris Saint-Germain bid for Cabaye from the moment a third party purporting to represent the club had told them there would be one early in the month.

It was a matter of time before he left and the only surprise yesterday was that it had come so soon.

The one unanswered question is why Ashley appointed him in the first place.

A combination of wanting to jolt the club – and Pardew – out of the slumber of last season was the motivating factor and the fact it was Kinnear was down to the fact he trusted him. Ashley doesn’t trust many people in football and wanted someone he could relate to.

It was a shambolic and wrong-headed decision at precisely the wrong time. The one saving grace is that it has been corrected before the club sleep-walked into a potentially make-or-break summer.

Time will tell whether this move is the beginning of something, but it feels like it might be the start of a new chapter. Changes, finally, might well be afoot at St James’ Park.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer