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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Newcastle United?

07/01/2015 17:40 GMT | Updated 09/03/2015 09:59 GMT

​Newcastle United have long been one of English football's biggest underachievers. The famous club has one of the largest and most passionate fan-bases in the Premier League, but hasn't won a major domestic trophy since the FA Cup in 1955.

In the six decades that have passed since the days of Jackie Milburn, the Magpies have boasted some of the best players in England, from the likes of Malcolm Macdonald, to Paul Gascoigne, to Alan Shearer, but success has still proven elusive.

In the mid 1990s, Kevin Keegan built a team full of attacking flare, but let a 12 point lead at the top of the Premier League slip in 1995/96, finishing second. A year later, with the club having broken the world transfer record to bring Shearer 'home', Kenny Dalglish oversaw another second place finish and qualification for the Champions League for the first time.

After some indifferent years, Newcastle rose to challenge for the Premier League again under the late Sir Bobby Robson, with Sir Alex Ferguson remarking that a major factor in the 2002/03 title race was the untimely injury to Craig Bellamy late in the season.

In the last 15 years, the likes of Middlesbrough, Tottenham, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Leicester and Wigan have all picked up silverware, showing that it clearly isn't solely the domain of Premier League elite. While during that time, certainly since parting ways with Robson in 2004, Newcastle's story has generally been one of misery and disappointment.

Since Mike Ashley assumed ownership of the club in 2007, buying out Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd, there has been a glut of different managers, players, directors and other staff. The Magpies were relegated from the Premier League in 2009, but when Alan Pardew was handed the reins in 2010 and shortly afterwards an eight-year contract, there seemed a semblance of stability at St James' Park.

But despite minor on-field success - a 5th place Premier League finish in the 2011/12 campaign - Pardew's reign was littered with controversy. There were a number of occasions during his four year reign that he could have legitimately been sacked, but Ashley chose to hold fire. The former West Ham boss was holding his own in a rollercoaster Premier League.

However, Pardew was seemingly always under pressure (not necessarily from Ashley), never more so than in the last few months and when he left for Crystal Palace last week it was as though he'd just grown sick of the circus.

With Pardew gone, Newcastle crashed out of the FA Cup in the third round at the hands of Leicester and in recent years the likes of Stevenage and Brighton (twice) have dumped a weakened Newcastle side out of the cup at similarly early stages of the competition. Despite the chance for silverware, the FA Cup and the League Cup just aren't seen as priorities by Ashley and the club hierarchy to the point where it seems managers are actively encourage to rest players for a full focus on the league campaign.

To say that Ashley is unpopular among Newcastle fans is rather an understatement.

He has been accused of using the club to promote the interest of his other businesses. But crucially, he has since rectified the club's financial situation too and in March 2014 it was revealed that the club had turned a profit for a third straight year after increasing revenue and cutting costs, still without risking their Premier League status. The club is effectively debt free after Ashley personally gave a £129m interest free loan, which the club claims he is not interested in receiving back.

The next stage is now to hire a new manager that will buy into the way that Ashley wants the club run, with chief control going to managing director Lee Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr. But even with a new man who is happier to operate under such terms, there is just never going to be enough scope for chasing trophies.

Unfortunately, there is no obvious solution to the problem. Newcastle fans will rejoice should Ashley decide to sell-up and move on, but such a mindset seems almost short-sighted. There is no doubt that Ashley has one of the sharpest business minds in the country - you don't build a multi-billion pound empire without one. He doesn't court the limelight like many other Premier League owners, quite the opposite in fact and things could be far worse with someone else running the show.

Everything is in place for Newcastle to be a successful club, but with Mike Ashley as owner, business sense will always win-out over football. Risk is what wins silverware and creates memories, but can easily destroy a club too and therein lies the dilemma for Newcastle United.

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