“People in Newcastle have been talking about my decision to move to China without knowing what happened behind the scenes during my three years at St James’ Park. I haven’t wanted to say too much about that — I’ve encouraged supporters to get behind Steve Bruce and his new team — but I’ve been made aware of what Lee Charnley, Newcastle’s managing director, claimed in the club’s match programme last weekend and I think it’s important I address that.
“When I joined Newcastle in 2016, I did it with all my heart. I could feel the history and see the potential of the club and I wanted to be part of a project and to stay close to my family on Merseyside. I tried to do my best every day, even staying when we went down to the Championship and saying no to other offers — bigger offers than the one I recently accepted with Dalian Yifang, by the way. If I was only interested in moving 'for money', as Charnley stated, I could have done it much earlier.
"Over my long career, and especially in my time at Newcastle, I’ve always shown commitment to my club, its city and its community and I’ve done it with professionalism and honesty. I want to remember the good moments I spent in the North-East — and there were many of them — and not have to keep denying things about my time there or about my departure. Newcastle’s board had a year to sort out my contract but, when we met after the end of last season, they didn’t make me an offer I could accept. They told me they didn’t want to invest in the academy or the training ground — if they like, I can explain the reason why Mike Ashley refused to do that. Their idea of a project was a policy of signing players under 24 and, in my opinion, the budget available was not enough to compete for the top 10. After that meeting, I knew they would not come back with a serious offer and, when it arrived, 19 days later, it was for the same salary as three years earlier and with less control over signings. Charnley’s comments in the programme about having a deal agreed for Joelinton in February explains a lot that I couldn’t understand at that time. After three years of unfulfilled promises, I didn’t trust them.
"When we finished 10th in the Premier League in our first season back, all players and staff were paid a bonus — aside from my coaching team. That felt like a punishment for me not signing an extension. So, by the end, I knew there would not be a proper offer and they knew I was not signing. I couldn’t explain that in public because I was not allowed to talk to the press without their permission, so I was waiting until late June, like every fan, hoping there would be good news about Newcastle’s prospective takeover.
"The time was passing and we were losing job opportunities in Europe. I couldn’t wait forever. I’m a family man and I have a responsibility to them, my staff, Paco, Antonio and Mikel, and their families, too. I don’t like to gamble with the future of my people. In front of us we had three options: nothing serious from Newcastle, the hope of a possible takeover or a different project. Yes, it was a big offer in China — I have never denied that — but it was also another continent and another league, from a club giving us a lot of recognition and respect. That decision wasn’t easy, but it was clear."