Ritchie takes a risk in quest for Magpies’ unity

Newcastle United
Matt Ritchie insists he is enjoying his role as a wing-back for Newcastle United and feels comfortable in the position.

Matt Ritchie has gambled his status as a Newcastle fans’ favourite by questioning their ongoing gripe with the club’s much-maligned owner Mike Ashley.

The 29-year-old Scotland midfielder joined the Magpies in summer 2016 in a £12million deal from Bournemouth and, having helped the side secure an immediate return to the Premier League via the Championship title, became a big part of Rafael Benitez’s plans in the top flight.

Ritchie has scored 22 goals in 125 appearances in all competitions for the club to date and is viewed as a key part of the current squad by a vast majority of the fans.

However, it seems Ritchie has become frustrated at the supporters’ determination to rid the club of its owner Ashley over the course of the summer.

The fans’ relationship with Ashley has always been uneasy since he took control of the club in summer 2007, but it plunged to new depths this pre-season when the much-loved Benitez opted against renewing his contract and left St James’ Park for a new role in China, citing a lack of ambition from the owner.

Benitez was followed through the exit door by strike duo Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon, who provided the bulk of last season’s goals between them.

The fans were further irked when Steve Bruce was drafted in to replace the Spaniard, despite the fact he had previously snubbed a chance to manage his hometown club and, of course, has already had a spell at the helm of fierce local rivals Sunderland.

But since Bruce took charge, Ashley has loosened the purse strings with Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin and Jetro Willems arriving with a combined outlay of £60million, while more new faces are set to arrive.

Despite the willingness of Ashley to put his hand in his pocket, the fans are preparing to boycott Sunday’s Premier League opener against Arsenal with the group named ‘Empty for Ashley’ warning it is just the start of their plans to oust him from the club.

And, in a potentially misguided outburst, Ritchie appears to have criticised his own fans in his quest to get “the fans, the staff and the players all as one and pulling in the same direction”.

He claims that, while Ashley has been up front and honest about his inability to compete with the Premier League’s big guns in a financial sense, he has still made funds available to try and help sustain the club as a Premier League force.

Ritchie added: “I feel if we’re all this in this together, we can be a lot stronger. We need the fans to support the team and be with us.”

However, while his backing of Ashley is unlikely to wash with the club’s fanatical supporters, they are more likely to result in him becoming a victim of the boo boys.