Rob Lee: Newcastle United 'does not feel like' a huge club

Newcastle fans
Newcastle fans have protested about Mike Ashley's ownership of the club

Newcastle United "does not feel like" a huge club anymore and people "don't want to play for them", says the club's former midfielder Rob Lee.

The Magpies are 13th in the Premier League but just two points above the relegation zone.

Owner Mike Ashley put the club up for sale in October, but ended talks last month over a potential £250m sale.

"It is a shame. The club has been in decline for such a long time," Lee told BBC Newcastle.

"Mike Ashley takes one step forward and then three giant steps backwards.

"It is time now for change, we need change, we need someone else to take the helm."

Businesswoman Amanda Staveley said in January she was still interested in buying the north east side despite failing to match Ashley's valuation of the club.

Lee said: "It has become a stalemate. It is complicated with Ashley wanting a certain amount but prospective buyers are only willing to pay a certain amount because of what they value the club it."

Rob Lee
Former Newcastle skipper Lee won the 1992-93 First Division title with the club and appeared in two FA Cup finals

Since Ashley's takeover in 2007, the Magpies have twice been relegated from the top flight before returning at the first attempt and achieved a fifth-place finish in 2011-12 under Alan Pardew.

But while all other 19 Premier League sides have broken their transfer records in recent years, some on several occasions, Newcastle's most expensive signing remains the £17m paid for striker Michael Owen from Real Madrid in 2005.

In last month's transfer window, manager Rafael Benitez brought in three players - goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, winger Kenedy and striker Islam Slimani - all on loan deals.

Lee, who made nearly 400 appearances for Newcastle between 1992 and 2002, added: "There is no point in Newcastle getting into the Premier League then keeping the same players that got them there.

"Sometimes you need better players; Bournemouth and Watford have both spent more than us. Newcastle is a huge club but it does not feel like that anymore, people don't want to play for them anymore."

"We were challenging the top teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, had trips to Europe, but it all seems so far away now."