Rob Lee: I was pleased that Solskjaer brought me down!

FourFourTwo Malaysia's Lee Seng Foo has a quick chat with Newcastle United legend Rob Lee, who was in Kuala Lumpur to be a guest pundit on Astro Supersport...

What do you think of Newcastle United’s season so far?

It has been okay. I don’t think Newcastle under the current regime can go any further or better than that, especially as you can see that they brought nobody in during the January transfer window. I cannot see the club getting into the Champions League places if things do not change. They seem quite happy lingering in mid-table.

You seem to have a bone to pick with owner Mike Ashley…

Don’t get me wrong, Mike Ashley is a very good businessman. But do you want him to be in charge of your club? Do you want your club to buy good players and play good football? Newcastle have gone from challenging Manchester United and Arsenal, when I was playing under Kevin Keegan and the ownership of Sir John Hall, to a selling club, really. The club’s current policy is to buy young players from overseas, develop them and sell them later, which I have been very vocal against.  

If you’re going to France or Spain to buy players very cheaply, you might be lucky to get a Yohan Cabaye or a Cheick Tiote every once in a while, but you cannot keep doing that. I think the Newcastle fans expect more than that, and we need to have more players with experience playing in the Premier League if we want to succeed.

Current manager John Carver’s deal will run until the end of the 2014/15 season. If Ashley wants you to be his next manager, would you take the offer?

If I became the next Newcastle manager, which is something I would love to do, I would like to pick the players that I want playing for me. If you allow a manager to pick his own players but he does not succeed, he will have no problem of getting sacked. However, if a manager is not in charge of buying the players, how can you sack him? Under the current regime, I might say no, but any other time Newcastle ask me for anything I will do it.

Let's talk a bit about your playing career. Besides Newcastle, you played for a few clubs including Charlton Athletic, where you spent the first nine years of your career. Which club is closer to your heart?

I would go with Newcastle first, followed by West Ham United and then Charlton. At Newcastle, I obviously had the best 10 years of my career and my life because I was at my peak that time. Charlton Athletic were the team that my dad supported and gave me a start in football, which is why I always look out for them, but West Ham would come before them because they were the club that I really supported as a boy.

Like you said, you played some of your best football at Newcastle, including having a halfway line effort against Brentford disallowed in the 1992/1993 season. Have you forgiven the referee for disallowing it?

I still remember it very clearly and it still stings that it was disallowed. David Beckham went on to score one a few years later, but I would like to clarify that I did it first. [laughs]

Another incident strongly associated to you is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tackle on you in the Manchester United-Newcastle United game in 1998. You must've been unhappy that he ruined your one-on-one with the goalkeeper...

To tell you the truth, not really. I was running through and I saw the Manchester United goalkeeper [Raimond van der Gouw] coming off his line. He looked really big and I did not know what to do with the ball, so I was actually quite pleased that Solskjaer brought me down! [laughs] There were no hard feelings about it. The game was all level at that time and he did the right thing to prevent his team from losing. If I were in his position, I would’ve done the same.

Do you have any regrets at all in football?

I always try to live life with no regrets, but if there is one, it would be leaving Newcastle. I left the club for Derby when I was 36 – don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at Derby – but I think I could’ve still contributed to the team. It could’ve been like what Manchester City are doing with Frank Lampard nowadays.