Newcastle owner Mike Ashley says nothing, spends nothing

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley in the stands
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley in the stands

MINUTE by minute, hour by hour. Time passed, slowly and frustratingly.

But nothing happened at Newcastle United.

Five years to the day since Kevin Keegan walked out of the club over disagreements about transfer policy, the club spent precisely nothing.

Two in, three out. And one of the “ins” was 16-years old when he signed.

And the window’s closing late last night left a sense of foreboding on Tyneside, not to mention anger.

Foreboding at what the new season holds for their club. And anger at the lack of ambition shown by owner Mike Ashley.

Disillusionment was also felt.

United, let’s be clear, only narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League last season.

After the club secured its top-flight status with a win at Loftus Road on the penultimate weekend of the campaign, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said: “We need to have a stronger squad, and be stronger in terms of depth.”

But United’s squad isn’t stronger. It’s weaker.

Steve Harper, Danny Simpson and James Perch have left.

And the only arrivals have been Loic Remy, on loan, and midfielder Olivier Kemen.

The fact that Yohan Cabaye stayed at St James’s Park isn’t a victory in itself.

Director of football Joe Kinnear had a lot to say when he was appointed as director of football at Newcastle.

Kinnear talked about having contacts in football across Europe.

Supporters were understandably sceptical about what someone who had been out of the game for so long could bring to the role.

At the time, the 66-year-old told SportMail: “Tell the fans I’m there, and I’m going to make their team better than it is now, that’s for sure. That’s my message to them.”

But the team isn’t better, is it?

Ultimately, however, the buck stops with Ashley, and Ashley alone.

The club will benefit financially this season from a huge increase in broadcast revenues. Elsewhere, some of this money has been invested in players.

Not at United. Not under Ashley.

Newcastle’s balance sheet looks strong. The club is in rude financial health.

Yet United spent a £2million on Remy’s loan fee and an undisclosed amount on Kemen. They also banked a reported £750,000 for Perch. Supporters had expected a far bigger spend.

Ashley’s ambitions for the team on the field remain a mystery, as he never speaks. Off the pitch, the club’s improving finances mean he has clawing back some of his investment.

The £29m cash advance Ashley gave the club after relegation four years ago is being paid back – the figure now stands at £18m. An interest-free loan of £111m is yet to be repaid.

Ashley’s Sports Direct retail chain also benefits from advertising around the stadium. St James’s Park will again be full more often than not this season.

And supporters will again turn up more in hope than expectation.

Newcastle, undoubtedly, have a strong starting XI. But the squad lacks depth. Injuries and suspensions are inevitable in football, but the club looks ill-equipped to cope with a significant number of absentees.

United should stay up, but beyond that, what does Ashley want?

What Newcastle fans want is a team capable of challenging for silverware – and for Europe.

That, unfortunately, looks a forlorn hope