Amidst the chaos and recriminations at Ibrox, some of the major shareholders have been studiously quiet. One of them is Mike Ashley.
The Express reported speculation that Mr Ashley saw his future perhaps as being at Rangers and not at Newcastle.
He is a hugely successful businessman, not known, normally, for wasting money. If he wanted to invest to increase his holding then this would be an investment to make money, either directly or via promotion of his Sports Direct business. Sports Direct has, after all, acquired the naming rights to Ibrox Stadium (or so we were told in March).
As the Express said, with its article focussed on Newcastle rather than Rangers:-
NEWCASTLE supporters made their feelings clear at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road on Sunday by unveiling a banner declaring: ‘Support the team, not the regime’.
And it has emerged they might get their wish to see Mike Ashley leave their club as the controversial multi-millionaire continues to develop his interest in Rangers, who Newcastle will play in a pre-season friendly at Ibrox next Tuesday.
Ashley is now the third-biggest shareholder in Rangers with an 8.9 per cent stake as the club work their way back to the Scottish Premier League following the financial collapse last year which sent them into the fourth tier of league football north of the border.
Ashley’s huge Sports Direct leisure company have a deal with the club to sell their official merchandise which they won off rival JJB Sports, owned by Wigan chairman Dave Whelan.
Ashley also secured a deal last March for the naming rights to the 51,000-capacity Ibrox stadium, although he has yet to announce his plans over any name change.
It all points to an increased interest in Rangers, and close associates of Ashley say it is the enormous potential the club enjoys which he finds appealing, despite their ignominious fall.
Ashley is acutely aware of the merchandising and commercial possibilities at a club which could still call on average gates of about 43,000 last season, despite the fact they were playing largely part-time opposition.
Newcastle fans have one eye on Ashley’s close ties with Rangers, as his unpopularity is such that the vast majority would happily see him sell up and move north of the border.
While Ashley has pumped in the region of £200 million of his fortune into Newcastle, he continues to make baffling decisions which alienate him from supporters – his latest and most bizarre appointment was that of 66-year-old Joe Kinnear as director of football.
Steve Wraith of Newcastle United Football Club Fans United believes Ashley will depart the North-east in much the same way he arrived in 2008.
“It wouldn’t surprise anyone connected with the club to see Mike Ashley go as rapidly as he came in,” said Wraith. “And let’s face it, he wouldn’t be buying an interest in Rangers just for the sake of it. He has put his marker down at Ibrox and it may only be a matter of time before he regards that as a better option than Newcastle.”
Wraith says that Ashley was beginning to win over fans when Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League 15 months ago, but since then has made some oddball decisions which have injured his reputation.
“He has been hurt by the criticism which has come from fans, but appointing Joe Kinnear is just mind-blowing,” said Wraith.
“He has got rid of Derek Llambias and replaced him with Kinnear, who is considered a comical appointment by the rest of the football world.”
Ashley has yet to make any public announcement regarding his involvement with Rangers, hardly surprising bearing in mind he has yet to speak to the media since taking over Newcastle five years ago.
One wonders how an Ashley move to take over Rangers would be perceived by the fans.
By all accounts Mr Ashley leaving Newcastle would make him more popular there than at any time since he arrived!
And bearing in mind his apparent fetish for appointing Joe Kinnear, then the loquacious Irishman sitting in the Blue Room giving interviews would more than make up for Mr Ashley’s well-known public silence!
Posted by Paul McConville