NEWCASTLE, England (AP) — With a history of lurching from one PR disaster to another, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley may have gone a step too far this time.
Supporters of the northeast club have been left angry and aghast by Ashley's controversial decision to hire Joe Kinnear as Newcastle's director of football. The 66-year-old Kinnear courted fame for his foul-mouthed rant at reporters in a brief spell as Newcastle manager in the 2008-09 season and the outspoken Dubliner has picked up where he left off, giving a bizarre radio interview on Monday in which he criticized the intelligence of Newcastle supporters and mispronounced many of the players' names.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, who is now in effect working under Kinnear, hasn't commented publicly on the appointment but the ripple effect has already started. On Wednesday, Derek Llambias resigned from his post as managing director with immediate effect. He said he was making his decision after "an incredible journey during my five years at the club," but didn't give any reasons for his standing down.
Fans have flooded social-media websites, many slamming the arrival of Kinnear and some suggesting they will boycott matches in protest. "What a Joke," read the front page of the local newspaper, The Newcastle Evening Chronicle.
Ashley, owner since 2007, hasn't escaped the flak, either. "It does seem that Ashley moves in ways more mysterious than the Almighty," said Chi Onwurah, a Newcastle member of parliament. Ashley was initially popular with fans after buying the club six years ago, donning the team's famous black-and-white striped jersey to watch matches alongside supporters in the stands.
But misgivings had already emerged by the time popular manager Kevin Keegan resigned in September 2008 after just nine months in charge, unhappy that decisions were being taken either without his knowledge or against his wishes. One of them was the curious appointment of former Chelsea midfielder Dennis Wise as director of football.
Ashley put the club up for sale but changed his mind when he was unable to make a profit on what he had paid for it. He tried again without success after Newcastle was relegated in May 2009, a demotion that again provoked protests from fans.
Ashley renamed St. James' Park the "Sportsdirect.com @ St. James' Park Stadium" in 2011 in an effort to attract bidders for the name, and then agreed a shirt sponsorship deal with Wonga — an online loan lender that has many critics because it can charge exorbitant interest rates.
His decision to hand Pardew an eight-year deal last year, after the team finished fifth in the Premier League, was surprising at the time. With Newcastle only just avoiding relegation into the League Championship in May, Ashley may regret handing out that bumper contract and many believe Kinnear's arrival is a ploy by the owner to put pressure on Pardew.
Certainly Pardew's authority appears to have been undermined, with Kinnear now the go-to man to Ashley and in charge of "all football-related matter." His interview with talkSPORT is already a hit on the internet and trended at the time on Twitter, after he claimed he had a direct line to any manager in England — including speaking to Alex Ferguson "week in, week out" — mispronounced a string of players' names and criticized fans for their refusal to accept him.
"Some are talking out of their backsides, a load of tosh," he said. "I'm not accepting it, as simple as that. I have certainly got more intelligence than them, that's a fact." The fixtures for the new Premier League season were announced on Wednesday, with Newcastle scheduled to play Manchester City away on the opening weekend in mid-August.
It remains to be seen who will be in the charge of the team by then.