When Mike Ashley gave the go ahead for Rafa Benitez to be offered the Newcastle and the former Real Madrid Manager accepted, fair to say that it raised a few eyebrows.
Leaving the move tragically late, the club’s owner only have Rafa 10 games and 30 points to play with, as Newcastle sat anchored in the relegation zone.
Initial performances saw various elements of approval but then with no wins in his opening four matches, both Rafa Benitez and the Newcastle fans knew that the media were smelling blood and the chance to stamp all over the notion of Benitez being a manager at St James Park.
The win over Swansea and (and excellent committed) point against Manchester City have led to the hounds being called off, at least for the time being.
However, with such obvious progress being made by Rafa with a not great selection of tools/players, it is increasingly looking like a case of ‘what might have been’, as Newcastle remain favourites to go down and the former Liverpool boss to leave.
Both club owner and new manager agreed opt-out clauses in the event of relegation when the deal was sealed exactly six weeks ago today but speculation has been rife in recent days, with headlines but little/no facts as to what has changed with that original position.
Time has come for Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez to answer two questions, both for their sakes and those of anybody who cares about Newcastle United.
Firstly, Mike Ashley has to answer/decide that he wants Rafa Benitez as manager regardless. Have a proper/fit person in charge of team affairs at last and to have the job of masterminding the turn around of this basket case of a club.
Part of Ashley’s decision/answer is of course whether he would back Rafa Benitez regardless of which division the club are in next season, both financially and in terms of freedom to make decisions, particularly where transfers are concerned.
Little good Rafa Benitez staying on but having to bow to Charnley/Carr on transfers and other important decisions. Likewise, no good repeating what happened on the last relegation, when Mike Ashley allowed everybody to leave who he got an offer for and gave Chris Hughton not a single penny to buy anybody.
So secondly, if Mike Ashley is prepared to see that obviously keeping Rafa Benitez is essential whatever the circumstances, then the second question is for Rafa himself.
Does he want the job?
Predictably, Rafa Benitez has deflected all questions on what he would do if Newcastle are relegated but he must surely know by now just what his gut feeling is and one what terms he would take the job, if Ashley was prepared to keep him and back him in the event of Newcastle dropping into the Championship.
Rather than deflecting questions and any further own goals such as Ashley’s last TV appearance where he undermined Benitez with his warnings/threats to Newcastle fans of him not going anywhere if relegation happens.
What we need is this week to have a public declaration of Mike Ashley backing Rafa Benitez long-term and the Spaniard accepting.
That would be a game-changer for pretty much every Newcastle fan, who would at worst see relegation as very much just a temporary setback, or at best a decision that could well ignite the club again and lead to a much better chance of avoiding relegation.
I think is Ashley was shown to now be doing things properly, then we would see a major upswing for the fans, who wouldn’t be forgiving the owner for the demolition job he has done on the club – but it would allow them to look forward with 100% backing for Rafa and his players, both in the remaining relegation deciding games and next season and beyond.
The six thousand empty seats v Manchester City would instead be replaced by full houses against both Palace and Spurs, as the feelgood factor would be back at the club – in terms of optimism beyond this season.
If there is any intention from both parties (Ashley and Benitez) for this to happen then it should be done and declared now, fortune favours the brave and we are all sick of the defeatism we have had to endure under Ashley and puppets such as Pardew, Carver and McClaren.
Time for this football club to start fighting back and Mike Ashley is the only one who can allow/make this happen.