It is something of an open secret that for Rafa Benitez to remain in charge of Newcastle in the Championship, he will want certain assurances.
Most Newcastle fans assume, probably correctly, that those assurances take the form of a contractual promise that he will have sole control over each and every football related matter at the club, including signings, sales, development, training, medical, tactics and team selection.
Not only this – but it is fairly safe to assume that he would also want a fairly generous budget, in Championship terms, to restructure the squad as he sees fit.
None of these requests are unreasonable, in fact if you want a former Champions League winner who has managed some of the world’s biggest clubs to ply his trade in a lower league, it seems completely obvious to most right-minded people that these requests should be granted in a heartbeat.
However, that assumption is made with a rational mind and a mentality of wanting what is the best way for Newcastle United to make a swift return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. What we don’t know, but can draw conclusions on, is whether Mike Ashley will want to accede that amount of control to a mere employee.
The club’s history under Ashley points to the answer to that question being a resounding no, he has made a habit of not only employing yes men, but also swiftly dispatching those who sought to wrestle any sort of autonomy from his sweaty palm.
Firstly he decided that the outspoken and unfeasibly annoying Sam Allardyce was not his cup of tea, and few argued.
Then he removed (constructively dismissed) Keegan for daring to want to sign his own players (he wanted Schweinsteiger, we got an unknown Spanish kid for the same price).
Whilst the last man to be unceremoniously shown the door was Chris Hughton for the crime of wanting a bit more say on players after achieving promotion from the Championship and achieving mid-table stability in the Premier League.
Admittedly Rafa is a bigger fish than Allardyce, Hughton or even Keegan, but these is nothing in the history of Mike Ashley at Newcastle United, that tells us he will willingly hand over the keys to the castle and promise not to stick his fingers in the pie, if he doesn’t agree with what Rafa is doing. That isn’t doom and gloom, it is simply drawing a conclusion from empirical evidence.
Despite his public protestations about appointing the ‘football board’ and leaving the decisions to them. I think it is plain to see that the shadow of Ashley has been an ever present in the boardroom, a bit like the introduction to an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
The board was made up entirely of Mike’s favourite yes men: the office junior, the sycophantic former captain, the failing head scout and finally a manager with a record so dismal in recent times, that he was always destined to be an Ashley stooge.
If anyone actually believes that the owner handed over control to this bunch then they clearly have not been paying attention, their only job (like Joe Kinnear before them) was to serve as a tool to deflect blame from Uncle Mike.
Rafa Benitez will not do this, he will want genuine control and a contract which stipulates the exact extent of that control in cast iron clauses – Rafa is not a stupid man or a sycophant.
By now he will know what is needed to resurrect the club, who he wants to keep and possibly even a few names he would want to bring in.
He is a man with real connections, who could possibly bring in loan players of worth who could make a difference, but I would wager that his restructuring plans will not come cheaply.
As many have said already, and this is the real point of what happens next, if Rafa stays we can finally have a measure of confidence that, for now at least, Mike Ashley has seen the error of his ways.
If Rafa is allowed to drift away, if he is not given what he asks for, if his plans prove too expensive or his request for autonomy considered as heresy. Then we can safely assume that no lessons have been learned and the slide will most likely continue under the next yes man.
Speaking of which, the names of Neil Warnock and Ryan Giggs have been mentioned in the last couple of days and I would be astounded if either of them came near the Newcastle job. Warnock is one of the loudest and most outspoken blokes in the game – not an Ashley type.
Whilst Giggs would surely not want to damage his managerial career before it begins, by siding with the malevolent force from Sp**ts Direct.
Over to you Mike, prove me wrong if you can, I would enjoy seeing a leopard change its spots.