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Belief in Rafa Benitez is the only way to prevent return of the old Mike Ashley

5 years ago

We all obviously feel terribly deflated at the way Newcastle’s efforts to get themselves promoted are so far not meeting with success. Don’t we?

The atmosphere at St James Park was tense against Huddersfield, the enormous crowd was quickly disappointed and frustrated, we were terrible in the first half, the team was booed, and the goodwill generated by Rafa is already curdling.

Whatever excuses Newcastle can come up with for this faltering start, and there are plenty of good ones, there is no doubt that the team is utterly different from last year, Rome was not built in a day, players have to gell, they have to learn about each other, and need to get used to the style the manager has chosen.

We are apparently about to spend quite a lot of money on a proven Championship striker who plays for a team, Sheffield Wednesday, which is itself in with a shot at promotion according to many good judges. That’s the kind of deal we never used to do.

I personally have no doubt Rafa will do what he needs to, and that includes changing his own approach to suit the needs of a team battling in the Championship.

I have no doubt the players will continue to trust and support Rafa, and so should the fans, who must, once again, try to be patient.

Where I worry, though, and already I am worrying quite a lot about this, is the lessons Mike Ashley will be learning.

There is no doubt he has bent over backwards for Rafa, and has trusted the Spaniard implicitly to get the Toon promoted.

Chris Hughton, he will be thinking, got his football department promoted at the first attempt, and that was under the old Mike Ashley, the one who bought and sold players when he could turn a quick profit, the one whose placeman on the board decided on transfers, the one that didn’t trust a business to football people.

Of course, that Newcastle team was also pretty much the same one that had turned out in the Premiership. There were good players in that team, including a sturdy defence and a fighting, goalscoring engine room. And all those players knew each other and the way they played. Hughton understood the system that suited them best.

This year’s Newcastle team have only just met. Even Mike Ashley would have wondered how much of a gamble it would be to turn the squad upside down in the month of August. He would undoubtedly have reflected that, under his old autocratic system, Lee Charnley would have taken a longer view. That might have been the reason for allowing so many salaries of expensive players to have continued unreduced in the second tier. It might have been incompetence. But it was undoubtedly the reason why the squad stayed together. And that was undoubtedly the reason why the team came straight back up.

Far too many players last year couldn’t be bothered with putting in much of a shift, and it is doubtful they would have done so in the Championship, of course.

But if it all goes wrong for Rafa, it will all go wrong for Mike Ashley too. Our glorious owner won’t be getting the Premiership money, he can’t expect to have as good a manager once he sacks Benitez, he will still be in the Championship with players who will doubt themselves, and the next, less good, manager will be doing what he can with Rafa’s failed team.

If you were Mike Ashley, what kind of lesson would you be drawing from all that? You’d be thinking you were right all along, wouldn’t you?

You’d be thinking your first instincts, the ones that inspired the revolutionary new template for football club ownership, the ones that derived from your dearest love, piles of cash, weren’t so bad. Wouldn’t you?

You wouldn’t be looking for another Rafa, that’s for sure. You would be wanting to run things yourself again. That would be the last time you betrayed your own, best instincts.

So let’s hope, for many many reasons, that two defeats, featuring a single goal from a penalty, important on-field leaders being abruptly dropped, and a startling lack of penetration upfront, has been just a blip.

Otherwise we might have to put up with the return of the old Mike.

The one we don’t trust, and can’t stand.



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