Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley has his finger on the button of the most critical decisions in British footballGetty Images

Rupert Murdoch built the News UK (formerly News International) conglomerate by purchasing media agencies on the ropes and turning them into nation and worldwide success stories. The much-vilified 83 year old is now the most influential man in news media, with a portfolio spanning dozens of the world's most powerful organisations.

Such widespread power has been described as "too much" and "unhealthy" by Labour party leader Ed Miliband and Murdoch's monopolising of particularly the newspaper market has been widely criticised, though numerous calls for News UK to be broken up have failed to materialise.

Mike Ashley is rapidly becoming the equivalent to Murdoch within British football. The 50-year-old tycoon may have a series of business interests but behind those dealings lie a network of power that is reaching dangerous levels and has the capacity to change the face of the nation's sport.

The Buckinghamshire-born businessman's much-vaunted role as owner of Newcastle United is perhaps the one he is best known for. Ashley's reputation at St James' Park ranges from business scrooge to sworn enemy, depending on recent results, and would be run out of town given the opportunity.

After seven-and-three-quarter years at Newcastle, Ashley has begun the search for the 10th permanent manager of his reign following the departure of Alan Pardew to Crystal Palace.

Ashley under pressure, while Newcastle fans fear the worst

As one of English football's best-supported institutions and with the club 10 points above the relegation zone, Ashley is under pressure to instigate a careful and shrewd selection process. Naturally, Newcastle fans fear the worst, if his haunting spell as owner is an accurate indication.

Sports Direct
Mike Ashley is the founder of Sports DirectReuters

However, Ashley's allegiance is shared following a recent investment in struggling 54-time Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers, who are facing another financial meltdown as they claw their way up the divisions north of the border.

Rangers are worryingly resting on the fiscal clout of Ashley, with the club having been loaned £3m, while he already has shares amounting to just below 9%.

Uefa claim only the prospect of both teams playing in the same European competition, unlikely in the case of Newcastle and Rangers, will see Ashley's association deemed as a conflict of interests. Free reign permitted.

Though Ashley may be a minority shareholder at Ibrox, the appointment of Derek Llambias, former managing director at Newcastle, to the club's board makes for worrying reading and gives an indication as to the leverage he has already garnered.

You wonder how much of a say Ashley had in the decision to reject Suns owner Robert Sarver's £18m takeover bid earlier this week, despite the club's need for immediate cash to prevent re-entering administration and survive for the rest of the season.

The power of Sports Direct

Ashley's wealth is built on his status as a sports retail magnate. As the founder of Sports Direct, Ashley's reputation, bar a series of misguided investments and the policy of zero-hour contracts, significantly outstrips that in football. In July 2014, the company reported record profits of £239.5m.

In the same month, Sports Direct announced it had entered into a naming rights agreement with League One club Oldham Athletic, which would see the SportsDirect.com name emblazoned on the club's shirt and Boundary Park renamed SportsDirect.com Park. Despite the club's history having been compromised, a century on from when the stadium opened, chairman Simon Corney described the confirmation of the association as a "landmark day".

The deal is understood to be worth £1m per season over five years to Oldham, who, playing in English football's third tier with no prospect of imminent promotion, operate on a shoestring budget and the money is key to the functioning of the football club.

Influence over the signing of Ched Evans

The importance of Oldham's sponsors has become particularly pertinent during the negotiations over the signing of Ched Evans, who is set to move to Lee Johnson's side this week after being released from jail in October 2014, after being convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman.

Ched Evans
The Oldham board has debated the signing of Ched EvansGetty Images

Despite stand sponsors such as Verlin Rainwater Solutions and ZenOffice pledging to cease their association with Oldham upon the confirmation of the addition of Evans, others have vowed to stand by the club. Sports Direct has been conspicuously quiet on the issue.

Oldham proved in the delaying of the announcement regarding Evans on Monday 5 January, when a press conference was due to be held to unveil the Wales international, that the view of stakeholders is key to the decision.

Sports Direct and namely Ashley will have been among the crucial voices when debating signing the 26-year-old striker. With £5m on the line, his opinion would have been undoubtedly the loudest.

Football's administrators must hold an inquiry over how much influence has been exerted over a series of the most important decisions with the sport at the start of 2015, by one single man. Ashley has marched into the vital conversations, worryingly without being questioned of queried. The Scottish Football Association will hold a hearing over Ashley's link with Rangers at the end of January but that is a case of bolting the stable door after the horse has gone out to pasture.

British football's powers that be paint themselves as untouchably diplomatic, particularly in the wake of allegations of corruption at Fifa, but allowing Ashley to orchestrate the key decisions within their sport like some unrelenting dictator, makes a mockery of their jurisdiction.