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Opinion

Rafa Benitez to see out the season and leave with his head held high

7 days ago
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With two third of this Newcastle United season gone, we have asked a number of regular/irregular contributors to The Mag to answer a few questions.

Only 13 games to go and two points above the relegation zone, what do people think about where we are now?

Is Miguel Almiron the start of something better, or too little too late?

Writer Travais Bickle is next up…

As a percentage, how confident are you that Newcastle will stay up this season?

75%. Rafa Benitez and the quality of the defensive unit should be enough.

Huddersfield have gone. I fancy the other two to go will come from Fulham, Cardiff and Burnley. The only circumstance in which I can see the wheels falling off badly enough for us to go down is if Rafa up-sticks and leaves. But I expect he’ll see out the season, keep us up, and then leave with his head held high.

Three words to describe how you feel as a Newcastle fan at this moment in time?

Same old story

As things stand, are you going to go to home matches next season?

Whenever I can. I’ve watched a lot worse than this. And I’m afraid I don’t believe a few thousand fans refusing to buy tickets for home matches is going to make the blindest bit of difference to anything Mike Ashley does.

I view fans boycotting matches in much the same way as I view people-of-faith praying for my eternal soul. It’s very admirable of them, and I’m more than happy for them to carry on just in case they’re right – but I just don’t believe that there’s anyone listening!

So I won’t be boycotting matches.

For Newcastle to be looking up and not just surviving, what kind of transfer activity needs to happen in the summer?

It’s basically all about money, isn’t it? They need to spend at least the same amount of money as the clubs they are looking to compete with. I don’t expect Rafa to still be with us come the summer, so whoever is next through the door will need to have enough money to compete. For us to be looking up (i.e to compete with the likes of West Ham, Leicester, Wolves and Everton), that means buying half a team full of players at £15m plus – and pigs will fly before that happens under this owner.

Can Newcastle United ever truly be able to look forward if Mike Ashley is still here?

No, I don’t think so.

Do you think Mike Ashley was seriously trying to sell the club this time?

Yes, I do – up to a point. Ashley is a wheeler-dealer. Everything has its price; everything is for sale. But it’s like putting your house on the market. If you’re desperate to sell you’ll put it on at a keen price. If you’re not desperate you’ll look for the best possible price. I suspect Ashley would be happy to sell – but he’s not desperate to sell – which means he’s looking for a good price.

I don’t rule out that a sale will happen. I never really gave that much credence to the Amanda Staveley or Peter Kenyon stories – in both cases the person people were pinning their hopes on didn’t have the money and was just looking to act as a sort of front-man or broker. Also, both times the proposed deal was moving along (or failing to move along) against the backdrop of a potential relegation – which it seems obvious to me would put any prospective purchaser on their guard. I can only see someone putting up the sort of money Ashley is looking for if they are confident that the club isn’t going down.

That being the case, if over the next couple of months we could get ourselves clear of danger (which is a very big if) then there might be a big enough window for someone who actually has the money to look at it and think, “I can buy this, and have enough time to get things sorted out in time for next season in the Premiership”. But I can’t see anyone being seriously interested if we’re in a relegation scrap.

We asked fans whether Rafa should be expected to sign a new contract after the January transfer business Mike Ashley allowed, only 12% of Newcastle supporters said yes. Do you think it is enough and if not, what does Ashley need to do to convince Rafa?

If Rafa is the man I believe him to be, he will see out his contract and then leave.

I read Keegan’s recent autobiography over Christmas, and found myself with tears in my eyes, reading the last couple of chapters dealing with his spell as manager under Ashley. To read the detail of how such a good and honest man was taken for a ride is just heart-breaking. I’ve no doubt that Rafa is having to deal with a lot of the same sort of crap as we speak. I suspect Rafa is a bit of a harder man than Kev – so I think he will bite his tongue, do his job, see out his contract, and then go.

They say that nothing in life is certain except death and taxes – but I think Rafa’s departure in the summer is pretty close to inevitable.

Which six current Newcastle players (not incl Almiron or loan players Kenedy and Rondon) would you choose to definitely keep as a base for next season?

Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Fernandez, Dummett,

Is signing Salmomon Rondon on a permanent deal a no-brainer in the summer?

I don’t think it’s even worth thinking about it – there’s no way in the world that Ashley is going to spend the money it would cost on a 30 year old. No chance. I’d have him like a flash – but the only way I can see him being back here is as part of some sort of swap or on another loan.

Would you keep Dwight Gayle next season?

Yes. Even now, if Rondon picks up an injury we are pretty much jiggered. I can see very little prospect of us acquiring 2 centre forwards better than Gayle between now and the start of next season – and that being the case, I’d have him back

If everybody was fit now, which 11 players in the current squad would you pick for a must win game?

If the question was “who are our best 11 players” I’d probably include a goalie plus about 7 defenders. But since the question is “who would you pick for a must-win game”, I suppose I’d have to go with 4-4-2.

Dubravka, Yedlin, Dummett, Lascelles, Fernandez, Shelvey, Ki, Almiron, Ritchie, Perez, Rondon

What are your views on the protests this season, anything at all you want to say, whether it is agreeing with them or not, the organisation, the effectiveness, the type of protests etc etc?

As I said above, I’m more than happy for people to protest. I just don’t think match-based protests are going to do any good. Maybe there have been examples of fan boycotts being effective in forcing an owner out of a club – but I’m not aware of them.

At Newcastle there is a proportion of the support who are activists; but the great majority aren’t. It’s easy for people who care an awful lot about something to just assume that everyone else is the same – but they aren’t, and calling them names isn’t going to change that.

So, it’s a beautiful idea that Sky might televise a game where there was a 100% effective boycott, and the stands were empty, and that as a result Ashley flees in disgrace with his tail between his legs, awed by the power and majesty of our scorn for him. But it’s not going to happen.

If anything is going to shift Ashley it is most likely to be a collapse in the share price at Sports Direct. So, I have a lot of time for the activists targeting Sports Direct stores and websites.

I can’t be doing with the keyboard warriors who sit in the shadows calling people who think differently to them idiots. But other than that, it’s a free country – as long as people don’t give those who think differently a hard time, I’ve got no problem with any of it.

Liverpool fans seem to think Newcastle supporters would prefer them to win the title, rather than Man City or Spurs. Discuss.

I’d like to see Liverpool or Spurs win it. You’ve got to be a bit prejudiced against a team such as Man City who are where they are because of massive financial doping. If anything I’d prefer Spurs, as they haven’t won the title since 1961.

The Newcastle United season so far…

Best game

I won’t say Man City, as I wasn’t there. So I’ll go for Watford at home, with Perez confounding the boo-boys by scoring the winner and getting the first three points of the season. They were a long time coming.

Worst game

Again Watford at home – this time in the cup. Profoundly depressing

Best moment

Speaking to my son – who was at the Man City match – after the final whistle.

Worst moment

I’m not sure that there has been a single worst moment – the season has been a depressing grind, with the odd bright spot.

Most impressive player

Fernandez

Most disappointing player

Kenedy

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