Alan Pardew has defended Newcastle United's controversial new sponsorship deal with Wonga, the payday loans company criticised for its interest rates, and claims the partnership can help propel his team into the Premier League's top four.
"As manager of this football club I can only say that to have the best sponsorship deal we've ever had is a good thing," Pardew said. "It's about building the first team and it's about having the financial muscle to start improving the academy – that's an area where we've lagged behind some of the senior clubs. Now there's no reason why we can't be one of those top-four clubs, especially on an organisational front."
Before the Wonga deal – believed to be worth around £8m annually over four years – was signed, Newcastle's manager says he quizzed Errol Damelin, Wonga's South African owner, about the business and emerged satisfied with what he heard.
"I listened to the owner and their customer satisfaction levels are higher than any other bank or lending facility," Pardew said. "When Wonga have been involved in football clubs they've been very successful.
"If our fans do have any concerns maybe they should contact Blackpool supporters [whose club is also sponsored by Wonga] and see how they've done. The feeling I get is that Blackpool fans have been happy with Wonga and what they've done for the club."
It is understood that Newcastle's four Muslim first-team players – Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Cheik Tioté and Hatem Ben Arfa – do not feel that wearing shirts advertising Wonga conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Pardew feels there is a sense of hypocrisy and overreaction about the criticism surrounding the sponsorship which begins when Wonga replaces the current shirt sponsor, Virgin Money, at the start of next season. "You see other companies, whether it is Standard Chartered, who are the same type of business as Wonga, or betting companies sponsoring football clubs and nothing gets said," Pardew said. "When we get it we have MPs calling for all kind of things and it just seems strange."
In a slick piece of public relations, Wonga's decision to buy the naming rights to the stadium but restore it to its original name of St James' Park seems to have won over many supporters. There is expected to be an official renaming ceremony at the ground next week. While real criticisms remain and opinions are divided, one online poll on Wednesday suggested that 60% of Newcastle fans backed Wonga's involvement in their club.
Shola Ameobi, the Newcastle striker, has joined his manager in endorsing the partnership. "It's fantastic news," he said. "For me, speaking to the guys from Wonga I sensed that they want to help Newcastle turn into a club which brings young players through. That's so important – we need the sustainability involved in bringing players through.
"The chairman and manager have brought stability to the club and now Wonga want to help them take the next step. Speaking to the guys, it was certainly my impression that they want to make sure it's a fans' club. They want to see the whole community brought into things."
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