The words were barely out of his mouth before Alan Pardew began regretting them.
"We've both underachieved," he said towards the end of last season. "Him as an owner and me as a manager."
Swift attempts to backtrack ensued but the dozen or more Dictaphones resting on the table in front of Newcastle United's manager had all been switched to "record". The damage was done. By momentarily forgetting to think before speaking, the normally measured and supremely circumspect Pardew had publicly criticised Mike Ashley and the look on his face said it all.
It took Newcastle's owner a few weeks to put him in his place but the apparently impending appointment of Joe Kinnear as the club's director of football can be interpreted as Ashley re-asserting his authority at St James' Park. Rafael Benitez may have got away with chastising Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, for labelling him an "interim manager" last season but Ashley is said to be particularly sensitive to public criticism from employees and was not prepared simply to take Pardew's barb in his stride.
Moreover, after a season which saw Newcastle become embroiled in a relegation skirmish rather than build on the previous year's fifth-place finish, the manager is believed to have defended himself rather too staunchly for Ashley's liking during subsequent private conversations. Having awarded Pardew an eight-year contract only last autumn, Newcastle's owner perhaps felt forced into something of a corner; his escape route seems to have been to revive an old friendship with Kinnear.
The former Wimbledon manager's brief stint in charge of Newcastle when he succeeded Kevin Keegan during the 2008-09 relegation season began with an expletive-laden rant at reporters and ended with his being taken to hospital for major heart surgery. Kinnear, now 66, won five of his 26 games and, having called a truce with local journalists, subsequently left them spellbound by recounting a series of colourful, often highly dramatic, anecdotes.
The best involved his time coaching Nepal in 1987. Having described, vividly, the thrill of frequent flights over Everest, Kinnear explained he had needed to leave that post in a hurry after the crown prince shot the king and queen. The only problem with this account was that the shooting of the prince's parents happened 14 years later, by which time he was managing Luton Town.
A manager who repeatedly claimed Michael Owen would be signing a new contract on Tyneside and Ashley was on the brink of selling Newcastle left the team in mid-table. But, although he refuses to accept blame for the plunge into the Championship subsequently overseen by Alan Shearer, most Newcastle fans regard Kinnear as a key player in one of the most depressing and discordant chapters in the club's modern history. Until Sunday, though, they had seen the man widely known as "JFK" as very much part of a past that, although fairly recent, was really beginning to feel like a foreign country.
Since 2008-09 Newcastle have re-invented themselves. The old Owen-style trophy signings were replaced by bright young overseas bargains such as Yohan Cabaye – snapped up by Graham Carr, a brilliant "super-scout" – as first Chris Hughton, then Pardew began restoring dignity to the office of manager. As the balance sheet turned imperceptibly from red to black, the club's former bratpack of hedonistic stars were replaced by a much more disciplined, often teetotal, overseas-bred nucleus. Indeed by the time Pardew oversaw a Europa League adventure, the squad's seven strong Muslim contingent were making regular use of a purpose built multi-faith training ground prayer room.
Pardew could be forgiven for feeling the need to seek sanctuary within its walls as he contemplatess how best to deal with a director of football whose appointment seems a total contradiction of Newcastle's current philosophy. Admittedly Kinnear was once a fine full-back in a wonderful Tottenham team and he did a decent job managing Wimbledon, but the Premier League's topography and, above all, tactics have changed almost beyond recognition since those days. At a time when Newcastle's principal need is arguably for an additional, technically accomplished and possibly French-speaking coach, Kinnear's return seems inexplicable.
If nothing else it has kept the conspiracy theorists busy but notions that Pardew may be poised to walk out – before possibly filing a constructive-dismissal claim – closely followed by Carr seem dubious at this stage, particularly after Kinnear's horror-show of an interview on Talksport.
Tough, streetwise and clever, Pardew appreciates he would currently be unlikely to be invited to take charge of another club of Newcastle's stature and will surely back himself to "manage" Kinnear.
Meanwhile with Carr, whose significant influence over signings meant Pardew has always been more a continental type coach than traditional autonomous British manager, also locked into a long-term deal, any club hoping to poach him would be required to pay hefty compensation.
If Kinnear's claim that he now has the final say on transfers, both incoming and outgoing, and insistence that he will be based at the club may be disconcerting, Pardew should be reassured by not only suggestions from insiders that "JFK" has slightly exaggerated his sphere of influence but also an understanding that the new man will spend much of his time accompanying Carr on scouting missions.
Even better, a pronounced delay in Newcastle supplying official confirmation of Kinnear's installation could be read as Ashley potentially having second thoughts about a characteristically impulsive decision.
Like Pardew before him Newcastle's owner may yet regret failing to bite his tongue.
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