On 17 June 2008, Derek Llambias was introduced as Mike Ashley’s chosen managing director, and successor of the departing chairman Chris Mort. Derek Llambias would remain at the helm of Newcastle United for five years, a period in which he orchestrated the slow but certain transformation from a proud club; aiming to be the best it could be, to a shell of a its former self whereby its primary function appears to be as an advertising vehicle for its billionaire owner’s company. Unsurprisingly then, Derek Llambias had no previous experience whatsoever in sports or football, with his only ‘credentials’ amounting to being a close friend of Mike Ashley from London’s casino scene. (Llambias used to be managing director of exclusive Fifty Club in Mayfair). Below is just a selection of the many damaging and utterly embarrassing incidents that Derek Llambias played a key role in as Mike Ashley’s favourite henchman.
Shortly after being appointed managing director, Derek Llambias plunged the club into turmoil by siding with Director of Football – Dennis Wise, in a conflict with manager Kevin Keegan regarding who had the ‘final say’ over transfers. Despite his predecessor’s (Chris Mort) earlier claims that it had been agreed that Keegan would have the final say on transfers (source: The Telegraph), it was his letter to Keegan on 4 September 2008 that led directly to Keegan’s resignation that very same day. Llambias declared (4 September 2008):
“It will continue to be the position that no player will be bought for the first team without your approval, save of course for commercial deals (which we refer to as financials) which will remain within the sole discretion of the Board”
Source: The Northern Echo
In a Premier League Manager’s Arbitration Tribunal Kevin Keegan was famously proven to be justified in his defence of constructive dismissal. Not only that, but the tribunal also declared that (2 November 2009):
“The Club admitted to the Tribunal that it repeatedly and intentionally misled the press, public and the fans of Newcastle United.”
Source: The Telegraph
Following Kevin Keegan’s managerial departure, and the subsequent hiring of none other than the football dinosaur Joe Kinnear. The feeling around the club dropped to a new low. With relegation on the horizon, and Kinnear removed from his post, an inexperienced Alan Shearer swooped in to try and save the club. As Newcastle headed towards what seemingly was their ‘fate’ a number of high profile protests ensued that prompted Mike Ashley to ‘put the club up for sale’, or at least publicly, to take the heat of his regime.
During this period, Derek Llambias was often the not-so-trustworthy club spokesperson. The full details of this episode, or myth – as we like to call it, can be explored here. However, suffice to say the club did not get sold by Ashley, despite many an indication from Llambias that it was on the verge. 3 or 4 interested parties going through the books, the asking price had allegedly been met by at least 2 parties. At the end of this charade, this was the message Derek Llambias had for the fans (28 October 2009):
“Mike decided that the best course of action, one that would put the welfare of the club at the top of the agenda, would be to remove the club from the market. His commitment is unwavering and the additional large sums of money he has recently pumped into the club amply demonstrate that.
“I would urge all supporters of this truly great football club to come together, get behind the team and, whatever grievances you may or may not have, put them to one side for the benefit of seeing Newcastle United regain their position in the elite of English football. Mike and myself are here to do our absolute best for Newcastle United and with you on board, we fervently believe we can deliver a successful football club for you to take pride and joy in.”
Having deflected the scrutiny and protests, and with Newcastle United now no longer a club targeting the top four, as was proposed by Ashley earlier; the club became content to aim for mid-table, in order to pick up the ever increasing TV revenues. Derek Llambias embarked on the next instalment of Ashley’s operation to turn Newcastle United and St. James’ Park into an advertising vehicle with global exposure for Sports Direct, to the detriment of the club’s commercial revenue. Upon the shock announcement that St. James’ Park would henceforth be known as ‘[email protected]’Park’, Llambias promised concerned fans that no matter what, the name St. James’ Park would always remain:
“Absolutely. In our reign, absolutely.”
In what came as a shock, but hardly a surprise considering what had come before, two years later St. James’ Park was renamed as Sports Direct Arena, which Derek Llambias explained thus (9 November 2011):
“The original naming rights proposal, launched in November 2009, invited sponsors to link their brand to St. James’ Park, but this did not prove commercially attractive. As such, the club will now seek a sponsor who will be granted full naming rights. Until such time the stadium will be renamed the Sports Direct Arena.”
Source: The Chronicle
A few days later, Llambias saw fit to publicly lambaste two of the greatest Newcastle United legends in Kevin Keegan (whom he had been very instrumental in getting rid of) and Alan Shearer (who he had snubbed for the permanent manager position without as much as a courtesy call; source: The Guardian). Shortly after, he then declared “we want him to be manager 110%. He’ be the perfect appointment.” (source: The Guardian)
In addition to this, Chris Hughton, who had brought the club back up at the first time of asking, was unceremoniously dismissed shortly after. This was then followed by the sale of Tyneside-born and bred number nine, Andy Carroll, whom Llambias had almost already sold a year earlier despite numerous pledges to the contrary. All in one fierce rant (12 November 2011):
“Kevin Keegan can’t take pressure. His f****** head is all over the place.
“Shearer, for this, destroys us. He gave all the responsibility to Dowie. Rubbish! It would never be the right time. Shearer? There would never be a right time in football.
“He [Chris Hughton] would never have taken us where we want to be. That’s my decision by the way [sacking him]. Chris can’t make decisions. With Chris, he couldn’t cope with where we are mentally. We are aggressive. You need to be aggressive. I don’t want a manager below me who can’t argue. You guys don’t understand how f****** horrible we can be.
“Carroll is worth ‘f*** all’”
Source: The Mirror
In December 2010, Chris Hughton – the highly popular Newcastle United manager, who’d helped the club get promoted in style and furthermore sitting comfortably in mid-table in the Premier League, was replaced by football luminary, and Llambias’ close personal friend – Alan Pardew.
In 2012, following his one successful season in charge of the club, Alan Pardew was gifted an unprecedented 8 year contract renewal by Derek Llambias. This prompted him to declare that despite the many errors of the past, Ashley and he believed that their approach was a shining light for other football clubs, and the holy grail to be that stability leads to success, rather than the other way around (28 September 2012):
“What we believe, is that for one we have the right manager and he has ambition and it is all about stability and we believe Newcastle needs to have this to go forward and have success.
“There is no coincidence that Manchester United with Sir Alex has been there over 25 years and has created stability and with that has come success, and along with Arsene Wenger stability has come success. You can’t keep changing your manager because you have a bad a run.
“We are pleased, very pleased we are doing something different in football, this eight-year deal is something different in football and it shows our commitment to where we believe we should be.”
Source: Sky Sports
Luckily for anybody who holds Newcastle United dear to their heart, Derek Llambias resigned on 19 June 2013 as a result of Ashley hiring Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, presumably without his consultation. He was replaced almost a year later by Lee Charnley.