It has been like a dream for Newcastle fans having Rafa Benitez as manager.
Not because they think he will lead them to Premier League glory as the first step towards Champions League dominance, though that would be nice, but simply because after the joke appointments of Pardew, Carver and McClaren, the supporters at last have somebody they believe in and trust.
A manager who will do his best for the club and the fans, trying simply to put the best team on the pitch and attempt to help make the club the best it can be.
That all sounds very obvious but after the best part of six years under that previous trio of Mike Ashley yes men, it has been such a refreshing change to have somebody like Rafa Benitez who you can respect.
Over the course of last season, polls in local newspapers appeared to show there was a steadily growing feeling amongst fans that the club was at last heading in the right direction.
The newspaper spin was generally wanting to use it to run stories claiming this equalled growing belief in Mike Ashley’s running of the club from what had been a rock bottom starting point back in March 2016 before Rafa Benitez approached the club and offered his services as Manager after Steve McClaren was belatedly sacked.
The bottom line though is that if Mike Ashley and his minions have any growing credibility at all, it is simply down to the presence of the Spaniard.
Put simply, if Rafa Benitez is no longer at St James Park, neither is there any credibility for Ashley and the club.
The debate over what has been minimal transfer activity so far, has mainly centred on the position of Rafa Benitez amongst it all.
Rafa has chosen not to speak at all in public since the end of the season and even when Florian Lejeune met the media on Thursday for the first time, the Newcastle manager was conspicuous by his absence, choosing not to take questions from the media about how he thought the transfer window was progressing.
Which basically means everybody is speculating as to how things are going behind the scenes.
The opposing ends of the debate sees some fans believing that Mike Ashley is undermining Rafa Benitez by not properly backing him, meaning that signings aren’t being made because Newcastle won’t pay realistic transfer fees and wages, whereas other supporters think that it is simply a difficult transfer window and transfers are difficult to complete, plus Rafa is simply wanting to get the right players rather than second choice ones.
In between those two extremes, most Newcastle fans sit, hoping it is the latter but also fearing that Ashley is up to his usual tricks.
For those who are wanting to believe everything is fine behind the scenes, the usual thing you hear is ‘If there are problems Rafa Benitez will walk’. A belief that if the United boss isn’t happy with how Mike Ashley is behaving (via Charnley and others), he wouldn’t stand for it and would be sure to walk out and look elsewhere for a more credible club that will back him.
Is this really the case though?
Rafa Benitez made clear he was very unhappy when Ashley refused to allow transfers, even loan ones, in January. However, after speaking of his anger/frustration, the manager then followed up by saying he and his squad simply had to carry on and finish the job of promotion – he didn’t walk away.
It is informative to look back at his previous clubs and see what went on there.
Rafa Benitez hadn’t been happy about a lack of backing from the club as some senior players didn’t take to the new boss – but he didn’t walk away, instead being sacked in January 2016.
A two year contract ended in May 2015 and Rafa left then, generally enjoying his time at the club though there were downs as well as ups in his time there – but once again he didn’t walk away.
The Chelsea fans made clear their opposition to Benitez due to previous comments he’d made as Liverpool manager. Rafa wasn’t impressed with the way the West London club handled things and especially giving him a title of interim manager which he felt undermined his position, however, yet again he didn’t walk away despite a lack of support both inside the club and on the terraces. Roberto di Matteo had left a mess when sacked in the November and Rafa did a brilliant job of winning the Europa League and easily qualifying for the Champions League, only leaving in May 2013 when his short-term contract was up.
Didn’t enjoy the best of times with Inter and Rafa Benitez demanded that the club backed him with the necessary signings he needed, or sack him. They sacked him in December 2010. Once again though, it wasn’t he who walked away.
After less than three (successful) years at Anfield, George Gillett and Tom Hicks bought Liverpool in February 2007. From very early on Rafa Benitez was in conflict with the new owners, with the manager unhappy with a perceived lack of backing in the transfer market, fans also were in opposition to Hicks and Gillett and backed Rafa. Instead of walking away though, Rafa Benitez stuck it out for over three years until he finally left in June 2010. It was described as ‘mutual consent’ but it was the kind of mutual consent where you get paid £6m compensation!
The only major club that Rafa Benitez has resigned from. Joining in 2001, he won La Liga in his first and third seasons, a remarkable feat when competing against the spending power of Barcelona and Real Madrid. However, Rafa felt that Valencia weren’t prepared to back him properly in taking the club further and he resigned on 1 June 2004, though the fact he was revealed as Liverpool’s new boss only 15 days later, means it is pretty clear he had that lined up when deciding to quit at the Spanish champions.
Which brings us back to Newcastle United.
Rafa Benitez has put in so much work already at the club, would he really be certain to walk away if he felt Mike Ashley wasn’t playing fair?
His past record, especially at Liverpool, doesn’t support that point of view.
He will have a breaking point just like any other decent manager with any self-respect ( as opposed to the likes of Pardew, Carver, McClaren who would cling on for dear life whatever the circumstances) but we just don’t know where that breaking point would be.
He didn’t walk away in January despite the club failing to back him after he’d returned a £40m transfer surplus in summer 2016, so why now?
Quite possibly he is in there constantly arguing the case for Mike Ashley/Newcastle United to be pushing the boat out further, to increase the cash available for transfers/wages as it is proving so difficult to make signings.
One thing is clear and that is IF Rafa Benitez did decide to walk away for whatever reason, it would be disastrous for the club, the fans, and very definitely, Mike Ashley.
Here’s hoping that two or three credible signings in the next week/10 days, means we are talking with excitement about them, rather than fears of a miserable transfer window and/or losing Rafa Benitez.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])