IF there was ever any scintilla of doubt about where the power lies at Newcastle United, it was brutally removed yesterday.
By sending Joey Barton's agent packing without even the sniff of a contract offer yesterday, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias sent a message. It was a clarion call to the dressing room, to the manager and to any agents presuming the club's need to recruit gives them a licence to make unreasonable demands - and it leaves no-one in any doubt that they are in firm control of events at St James' Park.
I will declare my personal feelings here - and that is the club are making a huge mistake with Barton. He is an exceptional player who has played a key part in United passing their first Premier League test with flying colours. In addition to that I have always found him charming, engaging and fascinating company.
But I don't have the benefit of working with him day in and day out and the picture painted by others is more complex. Barton can be difficult, bolshy and troublesome when irked and he requires careful management. There are days when too much effort and attention is channelled on one man, and while it hasn't emerged publicly there have been times when he hasn't been shy about coming forward to proffer opinions on the people who run the club. That verdict has been delivered in uncompromising terms directly to the chairman too.
That outspoken approach has not helped Barton, who made a mistake by giving an interview to a French magazine in March. I believe that Ashley and Llambias - who have probably not forgotten the money spent in the wasted first three years of Barton's contract - are re-affirming their supremacy at St James' Park.
Emboldened by the belief that recent big calls like the sacking of Chris Hughton, the sale of Andy Carroll and the appointment of Alan Pardew have come off, they're preparing to make another big, unpopular call. And Barton finds himself the fall guy.
In this battle of wills, though, no-one comes off in credit.
Barton, who is just as stubborn as Ashley and company, wants to remain at Newcastle for the rest of the career but has been shoved towards the exit door. Pardew's credibility has taken another hit because he made such a play of trying to keep hold of the midfielder. And Newcastle United's dressing room is weaker for losing one of its best players.
Ashley will believe there is another Cheick Tiote out there ready to replace Barton. The Toon owner will think he can find someone who'll be less hassle and far cheaper than Barton.
But that is a simplistic view. For all his failings Barton offers ferocious commitment and has played a pivotal part in the club's recent renaissance. And as anyone who watched the Arsenal comeback will testify, he can play as well.
I hope a solution can be found that keeps Barton at the club for a long time to come. Where there is a contract, there is hope - as we found out in the Steven Taylor saga.
But at the moment it looks like Barton will become the latest big player to depart Newcastle. And whichever way you try to spin it, the club, its manager and its playing staff will be weaker when it happens.