Wed 28 Feb 2024, 15:09 · Mark Davis

The Mike Ashley Era: Every Newcastle United Signing Ranked (Part 1)

The Mike Ashley Era: Every Newcastle United Signing Ranked (Part 1)
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The old adage “someday, we’ll look back on all this and laugh” is regularly used to get people through hard times. But for fans of Newcastle United, it truly felt like the hard times of the Mike Ashley ownership would never end. But end, they did - and ever the masochist - I decided that the dust had settled long enough on this sad chapter of NUFC history to take a brave journey down memory lane, and rank every single transfer made under the misguided judgement of the Sports Direct tyrant. Beware, it doesn’t particularly make for pretty reading; for every Demba Ba… there were at least six or seven Emmanuel Rivieres…

The criteria was simple; they had to sign while Ashley was chairman of the club (July 2007 - November 2021) and in most cases, they had to make a senior competitive league appearance. I say ‘most cases’, because it wouldn’t be a Mike Ashley list without several miscreants who masqueraded under the dubious title of ‘footballer’, yet never actually made it onto the pitch.

This section will be the first of three; and kicks us off from 120 (the very worst) to 81 (still pretty terrible). Don’t say I didn’t warn you...

120 - Nacho Gonzalez

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Getty Images

Joined: 2008 (Loan)

Left: 2009 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 2 (0)

The more you read into this “signing”… the worse it gets. Rumours of the transfer being ‘a favour to Gonzalez’ agent’ and that he ‘was scouted from YouTube’ were perhaps the worst. Whether these rumours were true or not, the fact that Gonzalez managed just two Premier League appearances… and was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of Kevin Keegan’s resignation… make Nacho the recipient of “Mike Ashley’s Worst Transfer”. He epitomises everything that was wrong with this terrible era, and his transfer foreshadowed the doom and gloom that would result in Newcastle’s relegation at the end of the season.

119 - Facundo Ferreyra

Joined: 2015 (Loan)

Left: 2016 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 0 (0)

Brought in and tasked with adding some much needed firepower to a Magpies squad that ended up lumbering towards 15th place in the Premier League, Ferreyra never managed a single Premier League minute, amidst rumours he couldn’t adapt to the ‘physicality’ of the division. Another own goal for the Newcastle scouting department, and he kicks off a series of ‘phantom’ loan players that we aren’t quite sure ever set foot inside Saint James’ Park.

118 - Xisco

Joined: 2008 (5.7M)

Left: 2013 (Contract Terminated)

League Apps (Goals): 9 (1)

One of the most infamous Mike Ashley transfers and certainly more remembered than fellow ‘Keegan’s Bane’ signing Nacho Gonzalez, Xisco is saved from being bottom due to the fact he did actually score a goal and register an assist in the league. The assist came two years after he signed; laying on the sixth and final goal (and Andy Carroll’s third) in the 6-0 revenge rout of the ‘SOB ON THE TYNE’ brigade. Perhaps a victim of circumstances that were well above his station, but his legacy at Newcastle is unfortunately a terrible one.

117 - Stephen Ireland

Joined: 2011 (Loan)

Left: 2011 (Loan Terminated)

League Apps (Goals): 2 (0)

Yes, it’s true, the man most renowned for mourning the loss of multiple grandmothers to avoid international duty was also similarly M.I.A during an ill-fated loan spell at Newcastle. Fitness issues meant he was a non-starter; making just two league appearances, and his once promising career fell to new lows at Saint James’ Park.

116 - Islam Slimani

Joined: 2018 (Loan)

Left: 2018 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 4 (0)

Appearances - 4. Goals - 0. Red cards - 1. How Islam Slimani ever cost Leicester £28 million, we’ll never know.

115 - Seydou Doumbia

Joined: 2016 (Loan)

Left: 2016 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 3 (0)

The next of our ‘phantom’ loan series, Doumbia boasted an impressive record at CSKA Moscow with 61 goals in 95 appearances. He found the Premier League somewhat more difficult, managing just three appearances, and helped us sleepwalk towards our second relegation of the Mike Ashley era.

114 - Antonio Barreca

Joined: 2019 (Loan)

Left: 2019 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 1 (0)

Managing the illustrious heights of seventh-bottom simply because he didn’t arrive overweight or during a relegation season. He did manage just one appearance though. Blink, and you’ll have missed him.

113 - Sol Campbell

Joined: 2010 (Free Transfer)

Left: 2011 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 7 (0)

Quite a fall from grace. Sol Campbell’s arrival on a free transfer was lauded as a smart acquisition as Chris Hughton’s men prepared for life back in the Premier League. However, he looked every single one of his 36 years, making just seven appearances and playing a big part in the 3-1 loss at fellow promoted West Brom - it proved to be Hughton’s last in the dugout as he was unfairly dismissed.

112 - Emmanuel Riviere

Joined: 2014 (6M)

Left: 2017 (Undisclosed - Metz)

League Apps (Goals): 26 (1) summed things up perfectly when they referenced Riviere as an ‘alleged’ striker. He went 18 hours of Premier League football without scoring, before bagging at already-relegated QPR. QPR went on to win 2-1. Riviere never scored in the Premier League again. Not great for £6 million.

111 - Rodrigo Vilca

Joined: 2020 (Undisclosed)

Left: N/A (Still Under Contract)

League Apps (Goals): 0 (0)*

A technical midfielder hailing from Peru? Connotations with a certain trumpet-blowing Newcastle fan favourite meant this transfer got a lot more coverage than it should have done. Ultimately, he never kicked a competitive ball in anger for the senior team, falling lightyears away from being Nobby Solano’s heir apparent.

110 - Nabil Bentaleb

Joined: 2020 (Loan)

Left: 2020 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 12 (0)

Returning to the Premier League with Newcastle after showing some promise as a youngster at Spurs, Bentaleb offered absolutely nothing in any of his twelve loan appearances and disappeared back to Schalke.

109 - Lamine Diatta

Joined: 2008 (Free Transfer)

Left: 2008 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 2 (0)

Lamine Diatta has the ignominy of being the only player I had never heard of (or remembered) when researching this list. He managed nine minutes of Premier League football. At least not being remembered means he wasn’t atrociously bad… right?

108 - David Rozehnal

Joined: 2007 (2.9M)

Left: (2.9 - Lazio)

League Apps (Goals): 21 (0)

No player sums up the disastrous reign of Sam Allardyce quite like David Rozehnal. Despite a 6’ 3” centre-back frame, Rozehnal looked weak and vulnerable in a defence that gradually collapsed over the course of Big Sam’s six months in charge. He quickly followed his manager out the door, scuttling off to Lazio and never looking back.

107 - Santiago Munoz

Joined: 2021 (Loan)

Left: (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 0 (0)

See Rodrigo Vilca in #111. Never should have made it onto this list due to precisely zero competitive minutes. But that name though… Ashley and Co. knew what they were doing with this one.

106 - Shefki Kuqi

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Sporting Life

Joined: 2011 (Free Transfer)

Left: 2011 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 6 (0)

“If Kuqi scores, we’re on the pitch!” Oh how we would have loved to see that belly-flop celebration. Sadly, Kuqi proved exactly why he was released by Championship side Swansea, failing to score in six appearances. Another fitting analogy for the Mike Ashley era; sell your top scorer for £35 million and replace him with a 34-year old free agent.

105 - Romain Amalfitano

Joined: 2012 (Free Transfer)

Left: (Free Transfer - Dijon)

League Apps (Goals): 0 (0)

It took longer to type out his name than to summarise his Premier League career; he made zero appearances. He did however make a handful of apps in Europe, which did enough for me to add him to this list. However, it was clear his brother Morgan was the better footballer in the family; he played for both West Brom and West Ham, looking somewhat decent for both.

104 - Curtis Good

Joined: 2012 (500K)

Left: 2018 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 0 (0)

Us nerds of the English language love a good misnomer; except when it’s for what was once considered a very promising youth prospect. Curtis was by no means ‘good’. He languished around Saint James’ Park for six years, managing a paltry two appearances in the cups. He’s now 30 and plays back in his native Australia. Feel old yet?

103 - Achraf Lazaar

Joined: 2016 (3M)

Left: 2021 (Contract Terminated)

League Apps (Goals): 4 (0)

Possibly the most pointless Rafa Benitez signing; he clearly never rated him. Lazaar managed just four appearances in the Championship and precisely zero in the Premier League. He’s also sadly made just 15 league appearances since his release by Newcastle in 2021. He does however have a hairline that even Steven Gerrard would be jealous of. Go on, google it.

102 - Luuk de Jong

Joined: 2014 (Loan)

Left: 2014 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 12 (0)

Plenty of effort, but zero end product. Luuk de Jong suffered perhaps from arriving at the Premier League a little before he was ready, in a struggling Newcastle side, and played out of position by Alan Pardew. He’s done pretty well for himself since leaving Saint James’ though, becoming a modern-day legend at Dutch giants PSV.

101 - Siem de Jong

Joined: 2014 (6M)

Left: 2017 (Undisclosed Ajax)

League Apps (Goals): 22 (1)

Perhaps he’s a little unlucky to be this low. Perhaps it just felt fitting to put him next to his brother. But it must be said, in terms of disappointments, Siem de Jong in a Newcastle shirt is right up there. Arriving for £6 million from an Ajax side where he wore the Captain’s armband, Newcastle fans were relishing seeing the Dutchman in action. ‘Action’ would be putting it generously though, as he made just 22 league appearances and suffered a crazy injury list which included a dislodged contact lens that nearly blinded him in one eye.

100 - Matz Sels

Joined: 2016 (6.5M)

Left: 2018 (3.5 - Strasbourg)

League Apps (Goals): 0 (0)

Rafael Benitez earmarked Belgian international Matz Sels as the goalkeeper to take Newcastle straight back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. £6.5 million was no small fee for a goalkeeper back in 2016, but it took just nine Championship games for Benitez to see that Sels was not the answer; he trusted young understudy Karl Darlow from thereon out. Many Newcastle signings came back to haunt them in later years, but after signing for Nottingham Forest in 2024, Sels let in three against the Magpies in his second appearance for the Trees.

99 - Grant Hanley

Joined: 2016 (5.5M)

Left: 2017 (3.5M - Norwich)

League Apps (Goals): 10 (1)

Another faux pas from Rafa as he attempted to assemble a squad capable of storming the championship. The Championship was indeed ‘stormed’… but £6 million Hanley had very little to do with it. He managed ten Championship appearances, and was duly sold to Norwich for half the fee we paid for him at the earliest opportunity. And thank goodness we did sell him, as he showed exactly how tough the Premier League was when the Canaries were promoted two years later.

98 - Ivan Toney

Joined: 2015 (500K)

Left: 2018 (Undisclosed - Peterborough)

League Apps (Goals): 2 (0)

Perhaps you’ve heard of him? The Ivan Toney signed for Newcastle United in 2015 was a long way off the goalscoring exploits he would go on to achieve at Brentford. By his own admission, he joined Newcastle and immediately thought he’d made it; taking his foot off the gas. You could have all the raw potential in the world, but if you weren’t going to put in the hard yards, you were disposable to a manager like Rafa Benitez. Toney was sold to Peterborough, and while it’s easy to rue what could have been for him in black and white, he admitted himself that it took being sold by Newcastle to give him that kick up the arse to prove himself.

97 - Valentino Lazaro

Joined: 2020 (Loan)

Left: 2020 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 13 (1)

A loan signing that was saved from the ‘phantom loan’ scrapheap by getting himself on the scoresheet in the 4-1 drubbing of Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth in lockdown. At least you’ve got a Premier League goal on your CV, Tino - but if truth be told, we much prefer the Tino full back we have on our books now.

96 - Danny Rose

Joined: 2020 (Loan)

Left: 2020 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 11 (0)

What was the point? Looked lazy and a shadow of the kid who had roared onto the scene with a derby winner ten years beforehand. Returned to Saint James’ Park on punditry duty for Newcastle v Spurs in the most bizarre outfit. Even more bizarrely, he claimed he could do a better job than Spurs’ backline that day. Spurs lost 6-1, but even then, I doubt Rose would have been an improvement to the side.

95 - Jamal Lewis

Joined: 2020 (15M)

Left: N/A (Still Under Contract)

League Apps (Goals): 31 (0)*

Unbelievably, he’s still on the books. One of a trio of promising Norwich defenders from their single-year stint in the Premier League; Jamal Lewis was courted by many alongside Max Aarons and Ben Godfrey. It’s fair to say none of them have set the world alight since that season, but Lewis in particular has never looked anywhere near the £15 million defender Newcastle thought they were getting. Very poor business.

94 - Jesus Gamez

Joined: 2016 (1.5M)

Left: 2018 (Retired)

League Apps (Goals): 7 (0)

Arriving with a decent CV from La Liga heavyweights Atletico Madrid, Gamez’s only noteworthy contribution was a start and a clean sheet in a 1-0 Premier League win at Swansea. Another Spanish acquisition from compatriot Rafa Benitez that didn’t quite make the grade.

93 - Zurab Khizanishvili

Joined: 2009 (Loan)

Left: 2009 (Loan Expired)

League Apps (Goals): 7 (0)

Brought in as a defensive reinforcement from Blackburn during the Championship 09-10 season, the Georgian was arguably the worst of a decent loan bunch that year, playing just seven league games and looking utterly unremarkable.

92 - Haris Vuckic

Joined: 2009 (Undisclosed)

Left: 2017 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 7 (0)

Once one of Europe’s top prospects, Haris Vuckic was another case of wasted potential on Mike Ashley’s watch. In fact, I once had him poached by Man City on a Football Manager save; a damning indictment of how good he should have been.

91 - Kevin Mbabu

Joined: 2013 (1M)

Left: 2017 (Undisclosed - Young Boys)

League Apps (Goals): 3 (0)

Still only 28 now, there were high hopes for Mbabu when he arrived from Servette in 2013. However, he proved to be yet another victim of Alan Pardew’s unwillingness to play youth; making just three league appearances. He looked impressive at both Young Boys and Wolfsburg, but his career has hit another snag since rejoining the Premier League with Fulham, who have shunted him off on two loan spells since signing him as recently as 2022.

90 - Henri Saivet

Joined: 2016 (5M)

Left: 2021 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 5 (1)

Henri Saivet will be remembered for two things; that free kick against West Ham and his ‘wonderkid’ status on Football Manager 2010. He was listed as a winger on that game, but the player that Newcastle shelled out £5 million for in 2016 looked like a washed up midfielder with the legs of a 40-year old. He wasn’t trusted and ended up on a series of loan spells. It’s crazy to think he spent five years on the NUFC payroll.

89 - Florian Thauvin

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Sky Sports

Joined: 2015 (15M)

Left: 2017 (9.5M - Marseille)

League Apps (Goals): 13 (0)

A tricky winger with a slight frame and even thinner skin; he admitted that early criticism from fans and pundits alike crushed his confidence and doomed his time on Tyneside. A goal and three assists in the League Cup versus Northampton showed some of the talent that had convinced Newcastle to pay £15 million for him, but he never looked up to the rigours of the Premier League and (frankly) didn’t look like he had wanted to leave his native France in the first place. An impressive return to Marseille and ten senior caps for the national team left a bitter taste in the Geordies’ mouths, but this transfer looked like it was destined to fail from very early doors.

88 - Ben Tozer

Joined: 2008 (Undisclosed)

Left: 2011 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 2 (0)

Promising defender brought in at a nominal fee. He made two league appearances for Newcastle and is now best mates with Hollywood superstar Ryan Reynolds as Wrexham’s long throw expert. Mad.

87 - Tamas Kadar

Joined: 2008 (900K)

Left: 2012 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 13 (0)

Given slightly more opportunities than Tozer, Tamas Kadar was one of Hungary’s brightest prospects but struggled to break into an unsettled Newcastle backline.

86 - Mehdi Abeid

Joined: 2011 (Free)

Left: 2015 (1.5M - Panathinaikos)

League Apps (Goals): 13 (0)

Our third once promising youngster in a row, Abeid showed flashes of talent in the later Pardew years but was never trusted to regularly hold down a spot. Was eventually sold to Panathinaikos after an impressive loan spell there. Surely young players are sent out on loan to prepare them for game time at their parent club? Not at Newcastle under Mike Ashley they weren’t.

85 - Ki sung-yueng

Joined: 2018 (Free)

Left: 2020 (Contract Terminated)

League Apps (Goals): 21 (0)

Brought in on a free transfer after decent Premier League spells at Swansea and Sunderland, Ki’s arrival had Newcastle fans nodding in approval. Unfortunately, 21 appearances where he looked nothing more than a passenger followed.

84 - Fitz Hall

Joined: 2010 (Loan)

Left: 2010 (Loan Expiry)

League Apps (Goals): 7 (0)

Solid, if unspectacular loan stint helped Newcastle in their cruise towards the Championship title.

83 - Gael Bigirimana

Joined: 2012 (1M)

Left: 2016 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 13 (1)

After a long range scorcher put the gloss on a 3-0 win versus Wigan Athletic, Geordies thought they had a young gem on their hands and perhaps a long-term successor to midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote. Said ‘young gem’ was then shipped off on loan to Rangers in that infamous loan deal, and he didn’t play a single minute due to a mysterious undisclosed illness. Bigirimana was then dumped back to Coventry and has since lived out a journeyman career that has taken him across Scotland and Northern Ireland.

82 - Shane Ferguson

Joined: 2007 (Scholarship)

Left: 2016 (Undisclosed)

League Apps (Goals): 23 (0)

Speaking of that Rangers loan deal, nippy winger Shane Ferguson is next. Unfortunately for Shane, he will only be remembered by Newcastle fans as the target of one of Joe Kinnear’s scouting missions… unbeknownst to Joe, he was actually on loan at Millwall from parent club - and Kinnear’s employers - Newcastle.

81 - Fabrice Pancrate

Joined: 2009 (Free)

Left: 2010 (Released)

League Apps (Goals): 16 (1)

He’s literally this high because of that banger v Watford. But come on, it was a banger…

Wow... one third of the way through and we haven't even considered the likes of Messrs Cacapa, Hendrick and Ranger yet. It really does paint a not-so-pretty picture of what Newcastle fans put up with for 15 years...