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13th Jan 2019

Rio Ferdinand’s defence of Mike Ashley displays complete lack of empathy for fans

Both Rio Ferdinand and Richard Keys have completely misjudged the Newcastle United situation, showing a lack of empathy with football fans

Reuben Pinder

When Richard Keys is on your side of the argument, you must know you’re in the wrong

There is a scene in BBC sitcom The Thick of It in which Minister Nicola Murray suggests that people could be “inspired out of poverty.” It is of course a substance-less idea, purposefully outrageous for comic effect, quite rightly met with derision by the 5 Live presenter who is interviewing her. There was a similar atmosphere of bemusement in the BT Sport studio on Saturday night, when Rio Ferdinand suggested that Newcastle United fans should be grateful to the club’s owner Mike Ashley for his part in getting the club promoted. But, sadly, this was not a sitcom.

As Ferdinand passionately rambled on, defending Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle, hoping that the more he leaned forward, the more sense his points would make, his colleagues looked increasingly unconvinced. Joe Cole stayed quiet, not wanting to completely embarrass his friend with a simple question, but Jake Humphrey challenged Ferdinand to explain his argument.

“When they went down, he spent £50m of his own money to get them up,” he said. “By the way, please say thank you for getting Rafa Benítez in! They’re lucky to have him!” Ferdinand said.

“I understand Mike Ashley. Why is he going to spend more and more money – millions and millions of pounds – when he’s actually looking to sell the club? He’s got them to a point now where they’re back in the Premier League and they’re consolidating to a certain extent.

“He’s not going to go spend his own money. You wouldn’t go spend your own money now knowing you were trying to sell something unless you knew you were going to get that back.”

Not only was Ferdinand factually wrong on several points, he is coming at it from completely the wrong angle. But let’s start with the facts.

Ashley did not spend £50m of his own money to bring the club back to the Premier League. In the summer of 2016, when the Magpies were relegated for the second time in seven years, Ashley sold the club’s three best players – Moussa Sissoko, Gini Wijnaldum and Andros Townsend – recouping more than £50m in the process. It was the club’s money that was reinvested, made through sales.

Secondly, Benitez’s appointment was not the result of Ashley wooing the Champions League winning coach. He approached the club, not vice versa, because despite what Rio would have you believe, historically Newcastle are a big club, not a ‘yo-yo’ team.

They have become a yo-yo club under Ashley’s leadership due to the austerity measures he has implemented. Ashley should be thankful to the fans – and to Rafa – for continuing to support the club in spite of everything he has done. It’s not rocket science.

Ferdinand has denied accusations that his views are skewed because of his business arrangements with Sports Direct, but it makes his position even more questionable. If he actually believes what he said, he has displayed a shocking lack of empathy with football fans all around the country whose clubs are being poorly run.

And now to Keysey. It should be less surprising that a man who doubted the science behind goal line technology has come out with a bad take, but its lack of logic is the most astonishing aspect of his defence of both Ferdinand and Ashley.

“Well said Rio,” he said on Twitter. “If Rafa loves Newcastle as he says – spend some of his own money. He’s got enough. Management is about teamwork – why should it always be Ashley? Buy it. It’s still for sale. They’re in the bottom 3 & Rafa is responsible. He picks the team.”

I’m not sure what outside factors might be clouding Keys’ judgement, but it is deliberately obtuse to suggest that a football manager forks out his own money to fund transfers or buy the club. Were such problems so easily resolved, then surely Keys should just have bought Sky following “banter-gate”.

Ferdinand would be wise taking a look around and seeing who else is on his side of the argument. It should lead to a rethink of a position which betrays downtrodden Newcastle fans even further.