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Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth placed on gardening leave as Man Utd face £20m demand

Dan Ashworth will cost Manchester United more than £20m – or be forced to wait until 2026
Dan Ashworth is one of the best sporting directors in football - Getty Images/Serena Taylor

Dan Ashworth could be prevented from taking up a position as Manchester United’s new director of football until 2026 after Newcastle United placed him on gardening leave on Sunday night.

Current sporting director Ashworth is understood to have informed Newcastle that he would like to leave after the team’s 2-2 draw with Bournemouth, a game he watched from the stands.

Telegraph Sport understands that Newcastle will now insist on a compensation fee of more than £20 million if Manchester United want him to start work before the stipulated length of his gardening leave, as Ashworth’s contractually agreed period in which he is unable to work for another top Premier League club is twice as long as initially thought.

That sum to release him from his contract is unheard of for a director of football but Newcastle have always maintained they were very well protected as soon as Manchester United’s interest was known in the 52-year-old.

On Sunday evening, the club placed Ashworth on gardening leave, although it’s understood Manchester United are yet to make an official approach.

There is naturally some anger behind the scenes at the way Ashworth has decided to leave having repeatedly told his employers at Newcastle that there had been no contact with Ineos, who have taken control of the football side of the business with a 25 per cent stake, or with Manchester United.

Even on Friday, the former director of football at Brighton refused to confirm his intention to leave, possibly as he was well aware of the lengthy gardening leave inserted into his contract when he moved to Newcastle and wanted reassurances Manchester United are willing to pay the compensation to enable him to start work sooner than 2026.

Ashworth has not achieved what he said he would when appointed

It is now up to Manchester United to try and negotiate a deal that is acceptable to the Newcastle hierarchy or they will have to wait for their much heralded appointment to start work. Even if they can agree terms, Newcastle will almost certainly insist he does not start until after the summer window has shut.

Manchester United are keen to stress they will not be held to ransom in negotiations and say they are willing to wait for Ashworth’s gardening leave to expire before he starts work for them. They will hope the fact Newcastle will have to keep paying him while he is on gardening leave will lead to a compromise being reached that will mean they have to pay less than £20 million.

While Manchester United hope to lower Newcastle’s financial demands in the coming days,  the positive news for the North East club is the money they will receive for Ashworth will ensure they do not need to sell any of their top stars in the summer and will inflame one of their rivals’ own Profit and Sustainability concerns.

Although there has been no falling out and hands will be shaken now he has finally said he wants to leave, there is frustration at Newcastle, as well as an acceptance that Ashworth has not achieved the things he said he would when he was appointed in Feb 2022.

Newcastle are prepared to play hard ball with Manchester United, who they suspect wanted their interest to be played out in public in order to try and put pressure on them ahead of negotiations.

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe told reporters on Friday that he was concerned about Ashworth’s continued presence at the club as he was privy to all sorts of sensitive information that could benefit a direct Premier League rival.

He also hinted that things would not be disrupted in terms of recruitment for the summer as Ashworth had not played a direct role in that area since he arrived.

“The biggest thing he did was not change anything,” said Howe in what can only be described as a backhanded compliment.

“The biggest compliment I can give Dan when he came in – and this is difficult to do when you’re in a position of power like he is – then the natural temptation is to change everything, to come in with a big ego and say, ‘this is what we’re going to do’. He didn’t. He let the structures that were in place exist and survive and we’re still working the same way that we were in the first transfer window. We just carried on as normal. So, our recruitment has been very strong [and will continue to be].”

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