Exclusive: Jose Enrique revisits Mike Ashley tweets – and gives Newcastle United takeover view

Jose Enrique had reached boiling point – and it had nothing to do with a stifling heatwave in America’s Mid West.

Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 11:24 am

It was the summer of 2011, and Enrique and his Newcastle United team-mates had just flown into Columbus, Ohio, for the final leg of a fractious three-game tour of the USA which had been punctuated by problems.

The intense heat was getting to everyone in the touring party, and Enrique was simmering.

Enrique, angry at the direction of the club under owner Mike Ashley, felt that he had to say something. He didn’t hold back on Twitter.

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Jose Enrique at Liverpool's training ground.

“The club is letting major players go,” he tweeted. “The club is never going to fight to be in the top six if it keeps up this policy.”

The critique, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well with the club’s hierarchy, though it struck a chord with a fanbase which wanted a change in ownership.

Enrique – who had joined from Valencia four years earlier – left for Liverpool the following month.

Newcastle, ironically, would finish fifth that season – three places above Enrique’s new club. That finish is, however, has proved to be the exception rather than the rule under Ashley, who has been attempting to sell the club for the past three years.

While Enrique regrets those heated tweets, he stands by his assessment at the time.

“Everyone that knows me, I’m very honest,” said Enrique, who is a global brand ambassador for wellness company Switch & Co. “I say all the time what I think. Sometimes you shouldn’t be that honest. My partner tells me that I’m too honest at times!

“I believe maybe it wasn’t the right time to put that tweet. I put it out of madness, really. It was an honest opinion, and I still believe what I said. I’m not going to change that. It’s proved, with time, what I was thinking.

“But the reality is that it wasn’t the time. I left for Liverpool. I’m so happy for that decision. In my first season we won the Carling Cup. At the same time, I was hurt. We sold Andy Carroll in January. He was a very good player for us. I wasn’t happy with how the club was doing. It was a club that was in my heart. It’s still in my heart.

“But, as a player, you have to play football, and the decisions that the club takes are their decisions. It wasn’t up to me to decide, but it was an honest opinion.”

Nine years later, Enrique still believes that Newcastle, which was the subject of a Saudi Arabia-backed takeover bid earlier this year, should be in the top six.

“Every Newcastle fan, obviously, was really excited by the takeover, because it would have been an owner with a lot of money that maybe wanted to put Newcastle where they deserved to be,” said Enrique, who was given the all-clear last year following surgery to remove a brain tumour.

“I still believe Newcastle is a top-six team. Look, Everton is there, and it’s not because I’m a Liverpool fan, but Newcastle is bigger than Everton for history, for everything. It should be a top-six team. I believe that.

“Newcastle needs to be a top-six team. That’s the reality. I’m not sure if it needs to change owner or what has to happen, but it needs to be a top-six team.”

Enrique still follows the fortunes of the club – and the ongoing takeover saga – closely from his home in Valencia.

“They have renewed the contract of (Allan) Saint-Maximin,” said Enrique, who retired from playing in 2017 following a spell at Real Zaragoza. “For me, he’s the best player. They’ve renewed his contract and spent in the summer. This summer has been a bit strange, but the summer before they spent as well.

“Steve Bruce has proved he’s a very good manager for the club. But everyone was talking about Mauricio Pochettino, someone like that (as manager). Obviously, you need to give the chance to Steve Bruce and see how he does.

“It’s nothing to do with me now. I respect every decision they take in the club. I wish them the best. If you want my opinion, Newcastle should be a top-six team. That’s all I can say.”

Enrique joined United weeks after Ashley completed his takeover in the summer of 2007 – and he almost left after a challenging first season in English football.

“My first season was the worst in my opinion, because I arrived from Spain, 21 years-old, and I didn’t know the language at all,” said Enrique. “So, obviously, it was very difficult.

"There weren’t any Spanish speakers on the team. Imagine in the dressing room I’m normally making jokes, and I couldn’t do that. But, to be honest, my team-mates treated me really well. (Mark) Viduka, Obafemi Martins, Joey Barton and all of them.

“To be honest after the first season I had an offer from Spain to come back. Even Newcastle was ready to sell me as well. In the end we didn’t agree personal terms, and I stayed.

"To be honest, it was the best decision.”

Meanwhile, Enrique is hosting a series of fitness and wellness sessions, each finishing with a live question-and-answer session, as an ambassador for Switch & Co.

“Professional athletes do live very privileged lives, but we all share the same health issues, whether they be physical or mental, especially right now where the whole world is in this pandemic together and under the same conditions,” said Enrique.

"When I discovered Switch+ I immediately wanted to make it available to as many people as I could.

“During these difficult and often lonely times we find ourselves in, I don’t only want to stress the importance of physical wellness, but the impact it has on mental wellbeing too."

Read part two of our exclusive interview with Jose Enrique tomorrow

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