Mike Ashley must sell club to stop Newcastle United's frustrating decline
Newcastle United legend Rob Lee says Mike Ashley must sell up or the Magpies risk never being seen as a big club again.
Lee spent a decade on Tyneside, patrolling the midfield under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson as United regularly finished in the top six.
There were also two FA Cup finals at Wembley, and a semi-final appearance in which Lee scored against Chelsea as Newcastle pushed the top sides for honours.
Since Ashley took ownership of the club, however, they have gone backwards on the pitch, with two relegations and just one European qualification.
Newcastle are flirting again with relegation this term, and Lee says Newcastle no longer look or feel like a ‘huge club’.
“It’s been in decline for such a long time,” he said.
“Mike Ashley sometimes takes one step forward and then three giant steps backwards.
“It’s time now for a change. We need someone else to take the reins.
“Newcastle is a huge club but it doesn’t feel like a huge club. It doesn’t feel like people want to play for it anymore and that’s a shame.
“It’s a great club and it’s got great fans.”
Lee, who is returning to the region in May for a talk-in, admits he sometimes struggles to comprehend the extent of decline at a club he made more than 300 appearances for.
“I’m extremely frustrated,” he said. “When I first joined Newcastle we had Kevin Keegan and Sir John Hall driving the club, and Freddy Shepherd, and at a rate of knots.
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“The trip to the summit went so quick – from almost being relegated to the old Third Division to getting into the Premier League and then challenging Manchester United and Arsenal, and trips into Europe.
“We just seem so far away now.”
Ashley’s reluctance to spend big on transfer fees has become a major bone of contention for Newcastle fans who had become used to the club trying to sign big-name players.
The club’s record signing remains the £16million they paid Real Madrid for Michael Owen in 2005, with Alan Shearer’s then-world record transfer of £15million in 1996 still not bettered by the Ashley regime.
Less than £40million was spent last summer to prepare the squad for life in the top flight after promotion, while January saw three players brought in - all on loan - as United again decided against spending any money.
For Lee, seeing the likes of Bournemouth and Huddersfield able to spend more than United is staggering, never mind the Premier League big boys which Newcastle used to compete with.
“There seems to be a huge gulf,” he added. “You have to push on.
“There’s no point Newcastle getting into the Premier League and keeping the players they have got that got you there.
“Sometimes you need better players.
“I still find it amazing that our record signing is still Michael Owen.
“Bournemouth have spent more than us, Watford have spent more than us and I find that amazing.
“No one is asking the owner to keep up with Manchester United and Manchester City, but surely you can keep up with the other teams that are around us.”