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Mike Ashley behaviour towards Rafa Benitez ‘all too predictable’

1 year ago
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With Newcastle United having their usual FA Cup ‘rest’, we thought it an ideal time to ask some of the regular writers on The Mag, the important questions of the day.

Premier League survival, Manchester United the turning point(?), Rafa Benitez, Mike Ashley, players Newcastle must keep, the plight of the Mackems, the Winter Olympics…it’s all there.

Comments at the end always welcome.

Next  up is Down Under Mag:

What do you think of Mike Ashley’s behaviour towards Rafa Benitez and his ‘support’ for him in doing the job of being NUFC Manager?

Sadly, all too predictable.

Whether he actually wants to sell or just using that as an excuse not to spend anything, we won’t ever really know, but it was a safe bet that Rafa wasn’t going to get major funds to spend, if any, and that is exactly how it played out.

Fair play to Rafa for staying through it all but hopefully he gets backing from Ashley (or a new owner) in the summer, or I think we will be scraping around for another manager in the bargain bin of the footballing scrapheap.  Given the job Rafa is doing it’s a real shame that Mike Ashley has put us in this hole once again by not backing his manager more in the summer but even more so beyond a few loan signings in the January window, when we desperately needed some quality.

Do you think Newcastle will be a Premier League club next season?

Yes, I think Rafa will do enough to keep us in the league…and more importantly it is a struggle to see us being below the likes of Huddersfield, West Brom, Stoke and Southampton come the end of the campaign – we play three of them and they will be crucial games.

How big was that win over Man Utd in giving Newcastle a decent chance of survival?

To be honest, it was a massive boost and should hopefully give the players confidence, but hopefully they don’t become complacent.  The bigger games are still to come against relegation rivals…the proverbial 6-pointers.  It is no use beating Man Utd and then losing to Huddersfield and West Brom.

Does the Man Utd match make you believe that we do have a decent number of players who can play much better on a regular basis in the Premier League, or was it more of a classic case of everybody lifting themselves for a one-off match?

We don’t really have the depth in quality and we seem to have dropped off in work rate of late…but we were back to that high level of pressuring and team ethic that we need to show.

The addition of Kenedy has been great for our forward momentum and hopefully Slimani comes in and produces from the off much like Dubravka did.

The Man Utd game was (for want of a better expression) a free swing, there was no pressure or expectation so the players didn’t have any pressure of “what if we concede” because even a point was a bonus. The whole squad played really well and we had a little bit of luck for the first time in a long time.

Against the teams below us also fighting the drop, the stakes will be much higher and it is up to the players to maintain their work rate in these games to the same levels they did against Man Utd and not let themselves be pressured into mistakes.

How many points do you guess will be needed to stay up and how many do you reckon Newcastle will get?

I actually think 36 will be more than enough this season, it’s hard to see many clubs below us getting more than that.

Does the Winter Olympics make up for Newcastle United not playing for two weeks?

It would have been nice to still be involved in cup action but personally I love the Winter Olympics and it has worked out well.  Being in Australia also means I got to watch the Olympics AND have a sensible bedtime so all good!

Everybody fit and a game Newcastle have to win to stay up, which 11 players would you pick from current squad?

Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummet, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame (on current form), Kenedy, Perez, Slimani

Do you believe Mike Ashley is serious about selling the club and do you have faith in it happening?

I’ve been dubious on this for a long time.  It just seems that a potential sale always crops up just before a transfer window and suddenly dies down after the window shuts.  It’s always a seemingly convenient way to limit spending without just flat out saying there will be no money.  The excessively high valuation (and lack of any kind of negotiating) by Ashley, it is somewhat suspicious about how legitimate a desire to sell he has.

If the club is to be sold, do you think it would be the Amanda Staveley led bidders, or more likely to be somebody so far unknown?

It’s hard to say.  As I already said, Ashley values the club way higher than most will be likely to pay and as such, a sale itself is not of high probability.  I’ve also been wary of Staveley’s bid and how much financial backing it really has.

If any new owner sees it as a business opportunity then we may end up no better off than under Ashley and then there are always the like of the Venkys and Short to remind us that there are always worse options out there than Ashley (as hard as that may be to acknowledge by some).  All I ask is that any new owner comes in with the club’s best interest at heart – no, I don’t need some ultra-rich oligarch oil baron to come in and personally finance a £500m spending spree, all I expect off any new owner is that they allow the club to compete to the levels it should be able to, sensibly, without putting the club’s future in peril and that they do their utmost to maintain the history of the club while still trying to move us forward.  It’s all about respect of the new owner than them coming in thinking they can do what they want and the fans just have to like it or leave it.

Whatever division Newcastle end up in next season, which six players (in order) would you be most keen to keep?

On one showing Dubravka really impressed…and as long as it wasn’t a Sissoko style debut and we fail to see him hit those heights again, then we should sign him up for sure.  Lascelles for sure as he is a great leader at the back and in the dressing room.  Dummett, despite some fans’ criticism, is a solid performer and great option to have.

Other than that I can think of pros and cons for all the rest and much would be dependent on the division – for example, I would keep Gayle if we went down, I would sell and replace with better if we stayed up.   All up, put on the spot, the six names would be: Dubravka, Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey and Lejeune.

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What circumstances (Ashley staying, Rafa going, back to the Championship, whatever), if any, would make you stop going to matches?

Sadly, I don’t get to matches any more (being on the other side of the world), but I like to think my commitment is no less demented having to stay up until early hours of the morning to watch the matches live…which I have done consistently this season and I can’t see me stopping…unless the next missed game turns out like the Man Utd one which I didn’t watch…then I may stop watching altogether for the good of the club!

What do you think about what is happening at Sunderland?

It is a real shame.

Derby games were the highlight of the season and gave you that almost cup final feeling every season.

The fact is that Ashley could easily go this way with us if we go down this time and can’t sell, so I can’t take pleasure in watching the Mackems self-destruct and plummet out of the Championship.

I’ve a lot of family and friends who are Sunderland fans and what they are going through is a disgrace thanks to Short.  No fans in the world deserve to see their club suffer this much.

I’m all for banter and rivalry but wishing a club to effectively fall out of existence is not something I think any self-respecting football fan should wish on another set of supporters, no matter how intense the rivalry.

In an ideal world we would beat them every season while both clubs succeed in the top flight and do North East football proud…sadly, I think it will be a long while before we see the derby games back on the calendar.

You can follow the author on Twitter @DownUnderMag
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