Mike Ashley throws curveball as injury-hit Newcastle close in on transfer breakthrough

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley is looking to have a greater input into Newcastle United’s transfer business – as the club closes in on a transfer breakthrough.

The club’s owner has watched the Championship leaders’ last two games.

Ashley sat next to chief scout Graham Carr at the recent FA Cup tie against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.

Carr had full control of the incomings and outgoings at St James’s Park up to last summer.

And the 72-year-old had been tipped to leave the club when Benitez committed himself to United in the wake of relegation, but, surprisingly, he stayed on.

Carr, crucially, has maintained a close relationship with Ashley, who was also at Saturday’s 2-1 win over Brentford at Griffin Park.

The result saw the club return to the top of the Championship.

Benitez had asked for a number of assurances on recruitment and finances before committing himself to the club.

Newcastle’s manager oversaw a profitable summer for the club – United made a £30million-plus surplus in the last transfer window – but the club is yet to make a breakthrough this month.

Ashley, understood to be reluctant to spend big in this window, has had a series of discussions with the club’s hierarchy over the past fortnight.

Newcastle are considering a move to bring Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend back to St James’s Park, while one bookmaker has slashed the odds on Everton’s James McCarthy joining the club.

Ashley – who saw 33-year-old substitute Daryl Murphy, signed from Ipswich Town last summer, score United’s winner against Brentford – reportedly wants a renewed focus on younger players with a sell-on value.

Ashley allowed Benitez and managing director Lee Charnley a free hand last summer, when Carr had a more peripheral role in the club’s recruitment.

And their efforts in the transfer market were lauded by supporters.

However, it has been reported that Ashley wants Carr to have a “direct role” in all future recruitment.

Benitez will face the media today ahead of tomorrow night’s third-round FA Cup replay against Birmingham at St James’s Park.

The 56-year-old will be questioned about the club’s efforts in the transfer market – and the influence of Ashley and Carr on recruitment.

Benitez options have been decimated by a series of injuries and the departures of Diame, Christian Atsu and Chancel Mbemba to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Benitez – who lost Dwight Gayle, Isaac Hayden and Vurnon Anita to injury at Griffin Park – is looking at midfielders and wingers.

The injuries to Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic have also left Benitez with just one fit striker – Murphy.

Meanwhile, a weakened United Under-23 side lost 3-1 away to Swansa City last night.

Rob Elliot, Stuart Findlay, Dan Barlaser, Jamie Holmes, Luke Charman and Yasin Ben El-Mhanni were all left out of Peter Beardsley’s squad and could instead be involved against Birmingham.