Champions League excites Newcaslte United owner Mike Ashley

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MIKE Ashley wants Newcastle United to give Champions League qualification “a real go” this season.

The club came close to returning to the competition last term after an absence of almost a decade.

Newcastle, tipped for a relegation battle before a ball was kicked in some quarters, just fell short, but Alan Pardew’s side’s fifth-placed finish still exceeded all pre-season expectations.

The Magpies’ challenge for a top-four has whetted the appetite of owner Ashley for another go over the coming campaign, according to Pardew.

“Mike wants to give it a real go,” said Pardew.

“He got excited about what we did last year.

“We got very, very close to the Champions League, and I think it has egged him on to really give it a go.”

If Newcastle are to again challenge for a Champions League place, Pardew must keep his squad intact – and add to it in the summer transfer window.

Work is ongoing in the transfer market, but a breakthrough isn’t expected before Pardew and his players leave for Portugal tomorrow ahead of games against Olympiakos and Braga on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Pardew has been open about the battle he faces to hold on to his players given the wages on offer elsewhere.

But he says he’s “quietly confident” of keeping the likes of Demba Ba and Cheik Tiote, despite interest from a number of clubs.

Asked about players leaving, Pardew said: “I don’t see that – I’m quietly confident that we’ll keep our players.”

Ashley’s stewardship of Newcastle has long drawn criticism from supporters.

But the sportswear magnate’s financial prudence off the field has not held back progress on the pitch over the past two seasons, and more fans are buying into Ashley’s vision for a sustainable, self-financing club.

“The fans have seen what he is trying to do,” said Pardew.

“The criticism of the past suddenly seems slightly shallow. He’s got the club on a good footing, and we’re looked at as a good model for other Premier League teams.

“Financially, we are sound.”

The revenues from a Champions League campaign would underpin a move to the next level in terms of players and wages.

Pardew went on: “We can’t compete with the big boys unless we get Champions League football – Mike isn’t going to fund that.

“He’s made that clear, but he’s given me an opportunity to maybe be able to do it anyway.

“I’m hoping that the success continues and the fans appreciate the £260m of Mike’s own money that he’s put in. He wants to see success.”