Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has insisted he shares the pain of supporters at the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
Furious fans have once again blasted the sportswear tycoon and his controversial regime in the wake of the club’s exit from the top flight for the second time during his tenure on Wednesday evening.
However, as managing director Lee Charnley attempted to persuade manager Rafael Benitez – who will conduct what could be his final pre-match press conference at the club on Saturday afternoon – not to activate the relegation clause negotiated as part of the three-year contract he signed in March, Ashley once again voiced his determination to get things right on Tyneside.
In an open letter to the club’s fans and staff, he wrote: “Newcastle United rightly has a proud and long tradition of competing at the highest level and I therefore understand and share the pain that supporters will be feeling at this difficult time.
“Many of you have expressed strong views about what we could have done differently. I respect those views, but I would like to reiterate that it has always been my intention to try to achieve the very best for Newcastle United.
“We invested heavily in the squad over last summer and again in January, but we have been unable to secure Premier League status despite the recent efforts of the team under the formidable stewardship of Rafa Benitez.
“I’ve said in the past that when I take on a challenge I am prepared to go through both good times and bad. There can be no doubt that relegation is a terrible blow, but I want to assure you that the club will now be doing everything it can at all levels to try to ensure a swift return to its rightful place in the Premier League.
“We have done it before – we can do it again.”
Benitez’s retention or otherwise will be key in the decision-making process this summer as the club prepares for life in the Championship, although Ashley will also seek answers from his football board, headed by Charnley, as to what went wrong this season.
He has handed over around Â£80million in transfer fees in the last 12 months, but has seen little return on his investment and had the prospect of a share of the new riches on offer to Premier League clubs snatched from his grasp.