Six months after taking over Newcastle United, and two weeks after replacing unpopular manager Sam Allardyce by club legend Kevin Keegan, Mike Ashley began to truly make his mark. In January 2008 implemented the recommendations of a strategic review. The review included ‘that the club would benefit from having a football person involved at board level’ and also that ‘further senior resources are needed for recruiting players of the highest quality from this country and further afield’ (source: BBC).
So on 29 January 2008 the appointment of Dennis Wise was announced, in the capacity of Executive Director on “football-related” matters. In addition to this, Tony Jimenez was introduced as Vice-President of player recruitment and Jeff Vetere as technical co-ordinator.
Interestingly, Kevin Keegan had been linked with the Newcastle United Director of Football role just a few months prior, and stated in no uncertain terms that he didn’t believe such a model could ever work (29 January 2008):
“It’s absolutely impossible to give Sam a job at Newcastle and then go and fetch someone who is going to be some sort of threat, it doesn’t work.
“Sam would be a fool to let it happen and the guy who goes in would be a fool to accept it. The chairman, who is not a fool, would be a fool to go and do it, too. It doesn’t work.”
However, a clear division of responsibilities appeared to have been established, as pointed out by chairman Chris Mort in an interview with The Mag Fanzine (issue 224 p21-22, 23 February 2008):
“Wise, with Vetere, is tasked with helping identify young players for approval by first team manager Kevin Keegan. Wise’s role would also entail him helping develop the academy.”
Upon his appointment, Dennis Wise himself also indicated that he was here to help Kevin Keegan and that the manager would have final say on transfers (1 February 2008):
“I’m here to help Kevin, bringing young players through and also recommend certain players to him. He’ll say yes and no, he has the final word, no-one else. Everything that happens will be run past him. I’m not going to bring players in behind his back – I’m not into that.
“I have to concentrate more on the academy, we need some young blood coming through of our own. We need to look abroad for players and that’s my intention over the next few years.”
Eight months later, the whole system imploded with Dennis Wise at the centre of it all. Kevin Keegan resigned as Newcastle United manager on 4 September 2008 after months of growing tension about the transfer strategy, with Wise (and Ashley) forcing upon Keegan players that he did not want. Keegan sued the club for constructive dismissal and famously won the case in front of an independent Premier League’s arbitration panel, which findings stated (2 October 2009):
“Mr Wise telephoned Mr Keegan and told him that he had a great player for the club to sign, namely Ignacio González, and that he should look him up. Mr Keegan tried to locate him on the internet but could find no reference to him. Mr Wise told him that he had been on loan at Monaco but having checked out the details, Mr Keegan was unimpressed and told Mr Wise that he did not think the player was good enough.
“Mr Wise then told him that the player was on YouTube and that Mr Keegan could look him up there, but he found that the clips were of poor quality and provided no proper basis for signing a player to a Premier League club. Moreover, no one at the club had ever seen him play.
“However, notwithstanding that he made it clear not only to Mr Wise but also to Mr Jimenez and to Mr Ashley that he very strongly objected to the signing of Mr González [he was to be signed on loan with an option to purchase], the club proceeded with the deal and the transfer was concluded the following day, on 31 August 2008.
“The club did so, according to its witnesses who gave evidence before us, because it was in the club’s commercial interests to do so. It was what the club described as a ‘commercial deal’ by which the club meant a deal which was in the commercial interests of the club.
“The ‘commercial interests’, according to the club, were that the signing of the player on loan would be a ‘favour’ to two influential South American agents who would look favourably on the club in the future.
“The loan deal cost the club nearly £1m in wages for a player who was not expected to play for the first team but no payment was made by the club to the agents in respect of the deal.”
Source: The Guardian
In the aftermath of all that, in that fateful summer of 2008, managing director Derek Llambias claimed that backing Wise over Keegan was never in question (10 February 2009):
“Dennis is our director of football, he is out there looking for players,” said Llambias, who added there was “never any question” of the former Leeds United manager being sacrificed in order to retain Keegan. ”Dennis will remain part of the management structure. It works quite well.”
Source: The Guardian
So did it “work quite well” as well as Llambias suggested? Below is an overview of the players brought in during Wise’s tenure as Newcastle United Executive Director on football related matters (figures taken from NUFC.com):
Fabio Zamblera for £300K (Source: The Sun)
Ole Soderberg for an undisclosed fee (Source: Daily Mail)
Lamine Diatte on a free (Source: The Chronicle)
Jonas Gutierrez for a settlement believed to be in the region of £5.2m (Source: The Guardian and Sky Sports)
Danny Guthrie for £2.5m (Source: The Guardian)
Sebastien Bassong for an undisclosed fee (Kevin Keegan signing, see below)
Fabricio Coloccini for £9.1m (contentious, source: The Independent)
Nile Ranger on a free (Source: The Guardian)
Francisco Jiminez “Xisco” Tejada for £5.7m (Source: The Chronicle)
Ignacio “Nacho” Gonzalez on a season long loan (Source: The Guardian)
Peter Lovenkrands on a free (Joe Kinnear signing. Source: The Independent)
Haris Vuckic for an undisclosed fee (Source: The Journal)
Kevin Nolan for £4m (Joe Kinnear signing. Source: The Guardian)
Ryan Taylor as a part-exchange with Charles N’Zogbia (Joe Kinnear signing. Source: Northern Echo)
Samuel Adjei for an undisclosed fee (Source: The Chronicle)
Outgoings in this period included David Rozenhal (£2.9m) Emre (undisclosed), James Milner (£12m), Abdoulaye Faye (£2.25m), Charles N’Zogbia (as a part-exchange with Ryan Taylor) and Shay Given (£8m). Now everybody can make up their own mind about the quality of Dennis Wise’s transfer dealings, but we feel that looking at that list (with the benefit of hindsight) it was an utterly unsuccessful system in every way, and many would argue it was doomed to fail from the outset; especially considering Keegan’s reluctance to work under such a structure and Dennis Wise’s limited credentials for such a position.
However, Mike Ashley does not appear to agree, thanking Dennis Wise for a job well done (14 September 2008):
“I am prepared to back large signings for millions of pounds but for a player who is young and has their career in front of them and not for established players at the other end of their careers. There is no other workable way forward for Newcastle. It is in this regard that Dennis and his team have done a first class job in scouting for talent to secure the future of the club.
“You only need to look at some of our signings to see that it is working, slowly working. Look at Jonas Guttierrez and Fabricio Collocini. These are world class players. The plan is showing dividends with the signing of exceptional young talent such as Sebastien Bassong, Danny Guthrie and Xisco.”
A short while later, managing director Derek Llambias also claimed that Dennis Wise had been responsible for finding and contracting all the best players that summer, in a fan meeting as reported by NUSC (2 March 2009):
“Pick your top five players this season and you’ll see that they were Dennis’ players.He [Bassong] was Dennis. All those players are Dennis’, they’ve been picked…sorry, Dennis has brought them in…with the knowledge of the manager”
We struggle to pick five top players that came in that summer, but Sebastien Bassong – arguably the pick of the bunch in terms of price vs quality, himself declared he was a Keegan spot:
“I came to Newcastle because my agent knew Kevin Keegan and my agent told him he had me and that I was a good player at Metz. Kevin had seen me play one or two times for France Under-21 and he asked my agent if I could come for a trial.”
Source: The Times
Dennis Wise finally resigned hours before Alan Shearer was appointed interim manager on 1 April 2009, presumably as a condition from Shearer (source: BBC) to take it upon himself to attempt to save the club from impending relegation. As the date suggests, this was in the closing stages of a disastrous campaign, which also saw football dinosaur Joe Kinnear appointed manager before having to undergo a triple heart bypass operation.
Dennis Wise has not been involved in football in any capacity since he left Newcastle United, but that does not stop him backing up his friend (Mike Ashley) on occasion, such as in this recent case, going so far as to falsely claim Mike Ashley cleared the club’s debt (6 October 2014):
“Mike is a very honest guy. He is very honest with people who work hard for him. He will give time, plenty of time, and he has no reason to move him [Pardew] out.
“He’s very sensible in the way that he’s thinking. No, he’s not a nasty guy, he’s a clever guy. He’s a guy that wants the best for Newcastle United Football Club. He will structure that football club in a certain way so there’s no debt.”
Source: The Chronicle
Wise is also of the opinion that Mike Ashley does not need to explain himself to the media, or the fans, or indeed anyone (6 October 2014):
“Why should he? He doesn’t need to explain anything to anyone. He’s got his job, he does what he does and he owns the football club.”