As the dust settles on Tyneside after yet another disastrous transfer window, the Mike Ashley ploy to hoodwink a city, a club and Rafa Benitez, now becomes clearer than ever.
After ten long years of Mike Ashley on Tyneside, we thought we’d just about seen it all. Abhorrent management, star players sold, club legends treated with disdain and even Joseph F Kinnear!
Yet when the club turned to Rafael Benitez in the spring of 2016, at long last, it really did feel like the tide was turning at the club. Like the penny had dropped, and that Mike Ashley had finally realised that to succeed, he needs to entrust someone more capable that just another Pardew-esque lackey.
Over the last few years, being a Newcastle fan under the current regime was something akin to being stuck in a self-created hamster wheel of mediocrity. Year after year we’d go nowhere, we’d achieve nothing but survival – but significantly and gallingly, that was the club’s target.
The arrival of Benitez finally felt like the release that we’d all craved. Finally, the hope that the club could at last start to fulfil its potential, be realised.
Relegation may have been unavoidable due to years of hideous mismanagement of the club – but that did not stop the ‘Rafalution’ from growing. After years of footballing purgatory, finally the fans could see that the club had a direction, a purpose, and incredibly, were now led by one the best managers in world football.
What has now become clear is that the vision sold to Rafa Benitez, and sold to the people of Newcastle, was a lie. This time last year Newcastle United had fallen from the Premier League gravy train – just as the really big bucks began to kick in. Ashley knew he had to get us back up at the first attempt, so he sold us ALL a lie to get it.
The lie: That this was a ‘new’ Newcastle United. That Benitez was now calling the shots and that he would be in full control. And whilst this may well be true, Rafa may well be in charge of the football, that control only goes so far. We all know there is only one man who really calls the shots at Newcastle United.
The clues were there in January. When the club failed to strengthen its position at the top of The Championship, Ashley was once again gambling with the club’s future to save a few quid. This summer, a return to the penny-pinching ways of the past has returned and Mike Ashley’s mask has well and truly slipped.
Newcastle United has not changed. Their goal has been achieved. They’re back on the gravy train and now once again Ashley gambles by spending the bare minimum to keep them there. Hell, if Pardew could keep them up on a shoestring, a manager of Rafa’s calibre definitely can!
However, Ashley now has a problem with his plan. Unlike Alan Pardew in the past, Rafael Benitez actually has some self-respect and more importantly, has a spine. He will not apologise for the regime. He will not churn out soundbites about the club keeping their ‘powder dry’ or not being able to get players ‘over the line’.
He will rightly point the finger back at the club.
Placing one of the most meticulous and well prepared managers in European football, under the direct employment of one of Europe’s most incompetent and inept clubs, was always asking for trouble.
Make no mistake here, regardless of promotion, it’s perfectly clear that Newcastle United still needs Rafael Benitez far more than Benitez needs Newcastle – so why bother appointing a manager of the calibre of Benitez and then refuse to back him!? It really does beggar belief.
Given Benitez’s imperturbable nature, I do not believe that he will take his ball and go home in a Kevin Keegan style. He is mindful enough to know just what he means to the city and the fans; and acutely aware that a majority of players that the club did manage to bring in, signed on the basis of playing for him.
The major worry for us Newcastle fans now is, just what this whole episode has done to Benitez’s psyche and attitude toward the club. What motivation does he have for staying and to plan for the future when the owner has no long-term ambition to achieve anything!?
When another club with just one shred of ambition comes a calling for Benitez, who amongst us could blame him for going? I certainly wouldn’t.
In a stark contrast to this time last year, all optimism and positivity generated by the ‘Rafalution’ has completely ebbed away. In the space of one transfer window, Mike Ashley has shown the manager that he gave so many promises too, his true colours. They are colours we fans know only too well.
The long con that Mike Ashley has pulled on Benitez, the club and its fans in order to return to the footballing holy land may well have worked in the short-term, but in the long-term, the damage could be far more disastrous.
If Benitez was to walk away, it may well be the final straw for many and there is a good chance that after ten long years of Ashley’s antics, many fans will follow Rafa.
After a decade of benign emptiness at Ashley’s Newcastle United, Rafael Benitez is more than just a manager for the fans – he is the last hope.
After Ashley’s latest act of deception, the ‘Rafalution’ and Newcastle’s last hope now hang by a thread.
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