Shola Ameobi admits he would have felt ‘frustrated’ playing for Newcastle United in the latter years of Mike Ashley’s ownership due to the lack of ambition. Now with the club under new owners, Ameobi is excited about the future.
Ameobi left United in 2014 – having spent seven of his 14 years under Ashley’s reign. During that time, United suffered relegation to the Championship and countless near scrapes with the drop but also qualified for the Europa League under Alan Pardew. At times, there seemed to be a strategy but in the later years of Ashley’s ownership, the approach to many appeared to be for the club to survive on the bare minimum, and Ameobi admits he would have struggled for motivation as a player.
Asked about the importance of having owners – such as Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, Jamie Reuben and the Public Investment Fund – who have ambitious plans, Ameobi said: “It’s everything as an ex-sportsman. The one thing you want is to know you’re moving forward and building something. For me, it would have been very frustrating these past few years not really knowing where we were going as a club and what the vision was.
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“It was very murky, [but now] to have owners who want to have a clear vision, doing the due diligence as we speak on where the club is, and who want to set a benchmark against other top Premier League clubs, that is where they want to be, where the fans want to be and me, as a fan as well, it’s really exciting – I am hopeful for the future. “
Ameobi was speaking at the opening of NUCastle – the new home of the Newcastle United Foundation. The one-time striker cut the ribbon to officially open the center.
Ghodoussi apologized on Twitter for not being able to make the opening, but Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe, and club captain Jamaal Lascelles were on hand to represent the club. Ameobi, who is a trustee of the foundation, revealed that both Ghodoussi and Staveley had been down to visit the base.
“One of the first things they did was sit down with Steve Beharall (Head of Newcastle United Foundation) to understand what the foundation was and what it does because they wanted to make sure the club had that connection and impact.
“Every time I’ve met with Amanda and Mehrdad they’ve been nothing short of amazing in terms of what they want to do now but in terms of their plans moving forward as well. It only bodes well for us as a club and a foundation with the vision that they have. They’ve been fantastic throughout this whole process. “
As well as promoting the good work of the foundation, Ameobi has an important role within the football club too – acting as the side’s loan manager. He oversees those who leave the club on loan, and tracks their development.
Given his connection to the club, a boyhood fan, he admits that he always wanted to be involved after he hung up his boots. “Regardless if I worked for the club, I used to coach the academy in the evening, I always wanted to be involved – it’s my heart. This role didn’t exist when I stopped.
“It was quite a fluid thing that just happened and it gives me an opportunity to work not only with the academy but the first team players, recruitment and all the different departments. Hopefully, I can be a positive influence on the club, helping out where I can.
“Newcastle’s in my blood. I always want to help the next generation. I always look back on the help that I got growing up, and I feel I have a sense of duty to do the same. Obviously being in the role that I am, helping the next group of players hopefully transition into first-team football is key.
“I think it’s crucial for the club to invest. We want to see Newcastle United players come from this region, and having had the pleasure and excitement of experiencing that I really want to help the next group of players do that.
“That’s why I’m in the role I’m doing. I think it’s really important we do invest in our youth and the next ones who are hopefully going to be playing at the stadium. “
There is hope that in seasons to come the likes of Elliot Anderson and Joe White can break into the first team – both are out on loan this season at Bristol Rovers and Hartlepool United respectively. Newcastle’s first team have seen a remarkable turnaround in form, with Howe taking the side away from the drop zone thanks to a nine-game unbeaten run which ended with a defeat to Chelsea earlier this month.
The Magpies now lie nine points off the drop zone and that run of form, accompanied by the plans of the new owners, has left Ameobi with a feeling rarely felt at United in recent seasons – hope. “There’s hope. That’s ultimately something I don’t think is talked about enough.
“I know over the past few years there’s been a distinct lack of that in the club. There’s a chance now, with the new owners and what they want to do going forward, it just gives everyone a sense of we want to build something that is great.
“It gives us as staff something to hold on to, knowing that we’re trying to improve everything. Obviously, Eddie has come in with his team, and we’ve seen the fantastic work he has done in a short time.
“Come the summer, when we are safe, we can continue to build on that. Certainly, the Academy’s a huge part of that, and I know the owners have said as much as well. It’s exciting to know the future is bright, and they want to invest in the next generation. “
And it’s that want to see investment in the next generation that has pleased Ameobi so much with regards to the Foundation’s new home. The project cost £ 8m and will be open to community use.
There’s a roof-top pitch, an E-Sports suite, and other facilities including a workout space and classrooms. It’s particularly close to Ameboi’s heart as he used the former building – Murray House – as a child.
Talking about the importance of using sport to help kids, he said: “Absolutely. That’s the power of the Newcastle United brand, especially in this region.
“It gets kids through the doors but it’s all the other things they can do when they get through the door – the families who can access these facilities whereas before they may not have that opportunity, they can do so now.
“Using the power of football to attract people is important and we should use that. That is what ultimately helps with breaking down barriers, meeting people who aren’t the same as you, and having that ability to mix with people from different age groups and backgrounds. It’s really important.
“What we are trying to do is make sure people have a safe space to be able to do that and whether it’s working in the classroom or playing up here, whatever they are doing they feel like they have a space there and belong – that it is theirs. That is what Murray House did for me and hopefully, this center will do for the next generation. “
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