There is certainly never a dull moment at Newcastle United and with owner Mike Ashley in charge, supporters in the Northeast have seen some unusual moving and shaking over the last few years. The appointment though of former manager Joe Kinnear to the role of director of football is, even by the standard of Ashley’s antics, baffling to say the least.
Newcastle fans, and quite possibly manager Alan Pardew himself, would be forgiven for wondering what’s going on as they find themselves scratching around amongst the disbelief and bewilderment for a reason to be positive about this latest twist. Without wishing do disrespect the abilities of Joe Kinnear, this is an appointment that reeks of agenda, smacks of déjà vu and it seems “captain Ashley has turned on the seatbelt light, we’re about to run into some turbulence.”
The whole phenomenon of a director of football is something that has gradually crept into British club operations from abroad where a senior man, operating above the touchline means the traditional manager’s role is more that of head coach. This new ideology has been greeted with suspicion by both managers and fans alike. The main worry being that the director will interfere with team matters, to the extent that it hampers the manager’s ability to do his job. The fears of course, are often justified and in search of a previous example, we should look no further than Tyneside itself.
Back in 2008 Ashley’s popularity was at an all-time high with the Toon support due to his appointment of club hero Kevin Keegan for a second spell as manager. He had however, also recently appointed former Chelsea captain, Dennis Wise to the director of football role. Before long rumours were circling that Keegan was unhappy with Wise meddling in team matters. He resigned by September, openly citing the interference as a reason and saying players were being bought and sold against his wishes.
So what of Joe Kinnear and his track record? The Irishman has of course, had a good degree of success as a manager. Most of this success though was with his Wimbledon crazy gang back when the Premier League was just a spring chicken two decades ago. His spell at Luton Town could also be regarded as a positive one but the majority of Magpies’ fans will be wondering how in touch Kinnear can possibly be with the modern game due to a couple of lengthy health-related absences.
Now 66 years old, Kinnear is linking up with Ashley at Newcastle for a second time, albeit in a different role. His last spell, replacing Keegan as manager, was mediocre in terms of results and ultimately cut short by his own health problems. It was however packed with controversy and included an infamous foul mouth rant by the Dubliner, aimed at a journalist form the Daily Mirror. What on Earth can we expect this time around?
Directors of football usually downplay their appointment on arrival. Clubs issue statements justifying the position and there is much talk of strengthening links between the manager and the board. The language used is all about supporting, guiding, administering and advising. In general the explanation of the role is vague and maximum effort is made to avoid ruffling the manager’s feathers.
Joe Kinnear though wasn’t beating about the bush. He was making it clear that he would be not only involved in decisions about transfers, but having the final say. It’s hard to know when Pardew first heard of the appointment but here was Kinnear was claiming in his phone interview, that he planned to sit down for lunch with the manager, openly admitting at the same time that he had not yet spoken to him, while effectively announcing on national TV that he would be taking away some of the boss’ responsibilities. The whole thing was just bursting with the aura of a truly public undermining and the hallmarks of a Mike Ashley stunt.
The agenda? Newcastle had a cracking 2011/12 season under Pardew and Ashley rewarded the manager with an unprecedented eight whole years of contract. Now here we are one year on and Newcastle toiled badly last season, Mr Pardew’s stock is lower and his contract still seven years away from a severance free ending. If Mike Ashley fancies another change in manager he will need Pardew to quit rather than sack him.
What makes the whole thing even more audacious is that one Joe Kinnear was installed as director of football at Luton Town in 2001. Almost immediately after appointment, Kinnear demoted the manager and took control of the team himself. Alan Pardew of course will be immune from anything quite so obvious and drastic but you would forgive him for thinking that there is something sinister afoot.
As we wait for Pardew to comment, Newcastle fans can sit and wonder what the future will hold regarding Kinnear’s impact on how the club will operate in the summer transfer market. Perhaps Kinnear will bring experience and a great assistance to the current manager and perhaps Mr Ashley is being shrewd beyond our comprehension. The potential twists and turns in this plot are mouth-watering for a neutral onlooker. Despite all the uncertainty we can rest assured that the immediate future at United will be far from the mundane.