Miles Starforth: Mike Ashley’s taken a BIG gamble at Newcastle

Lee Charnley and Mike Ashley
Lee Charnley and Mike Ashley
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Mike Ashley, we know, likes a gamble. And he’s taken another one.

Rafa Benitez got what he wanted last summer after committing himself to Newcastle United in the wake of relegation.

Ashley also got a nice surprise – a £30million-plus profit. But Benitez didn’t get what he wanted in last month’s transfer window.

United’s manager wanted a midfielder and a winger. He wanted to cover all bases.

Ashley, however, didn’t want to spend this month, and the club’s attempt to do loan deals came to nothing.

And as Newcastle fans waited for news on the club’s efforts to sign Andros Townsend, third-placed Reading moved to within three points of the club.

That’s too close for comfort, though Benitez’s side have two games in hand.

United fans, and maybe Benitez, had expected some of last summer’s profit to be made available to Benitez this month.

Why not? After all, Ashley had made it clear that Benitez didn’t have to sell the big names he inherited at St James’s Park.

Yet Benitez and managing director Lee Charnley did sell and the club banked tens of millions of pounds.

So why didn’t Ashley sanction a cash move for Townsend or Everton midfielder James McCarthy?

It’s hard to know what Ashley is thinking.

Benitez, we know, deals with Charnley, and not Ashley. We also know he set out a strong case for more acquisitions to strengthen a squad which was found wanting during Jonjo Shelvey’s five-game ban.

If Shelvey picks up another ban, or is injured, then Newcastle supporters – and Ashley – will have cause to worry.

United simply aren’t the same team without him.

Back to Ashley. His view seems to be that United have the best squad, and best manager, in the Championship.

Ashley left Charnley and Benitez to it last summer, but he started asking questions before the January transfer window opened.

The club’s billionaire owner has maintained a close relationship with chief scout Graham Carr, and the pair watched the club’s third-round FA Cup tie against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.

Up to Benitez’s arrival, Carr had control over the club’s incomings and outgoings. Benitez now has the final say.

The relationship between Benitez, Carr and Ashley is an intriguing one. Ashley and Carr speak. But Benitez does not deal directly with Ashley.

Elsewhere, Newcastle’s rivals, notably Brighton, strengthened. United stood still.

Benitez doesn’t want any negativity clouding the second half of the season, and it’s unlikely he’ll make a strong public statement in the wake of the club’s failure to strengthen.

However, it seems he was surprised by Ashley’s reluctance to release funds.

As for outgoings, Benitez said he expected only one player to leave during the transfer window. And that’s what happened.

Tiote is due to travel to China in the next 48 hours after agreeing terms with Shandong Luneng, the club Papiss Cisse joined last year.

Benitez left the midfielder out of his squad for the weekend’s FA Cup tie against Oxford United pending the move. However, the deal will not be formally completed until the 30-year-old, out of contract in the summer, travels to Jinan.

Tiote – who has made only a fitful contribution for the past couple of injuries – made his final appearance for the club earlier this month in Newcastle’s cup replay against Birmingham.

The other move involved Krul, who, briefly, visited England for talks with Watford yesterday.

Krul ended the day at AZ Alkmaar, where he will stay for the rest of the season.

Whether Krul’s future lies at United or not, he needs games, and the 28-year-old – who hadn’t featured for loan club Ajax in the first half of the campaign – should get them at the AFAS Stadion.

Krul’s ability isn’t in question, and he loan should give him the chance to prove his fitness after a difficult 15 months.

Benitez faced the media yesterday ahead of tonight’s home game against Queens Park Rangers.

The 56-year-old seemed relaxed. He’s seen it all before. Benitez gave little away after admitting he had “no news” for the gathered journalists, though it made it clear he would not walk if he didn’t get what he wanted.

In this case, no news wasn’t good news.