It is the question that crops up twice a year at Newcastle United…can Rafa Benitez trust Mike Ashley?
Well the answer to that over these last 20 months is a resounding ‘NO’.
The first transfer window after relegation saw both sides relatively happy, Rafa Benitez getting around £50m to help rebuild a squad that had lost more than a full team of players, whilst at the same time generating a £40m transfer profit for Mike Ashley.
Since that point it has been on the up on the pitch but downhill and divisive off it.
All three transfer windows following the same pattern, Rafa talking of targets lined up in advance, then the manager expressing frustration that ‘promises’ need to be kept, before finally each window closing and Rafa Benitez expressing his anger at being let down, before just getting back on with the job…
However, ahead of Everton, Benitez has now went very public with a warning to Mike Ashley, that he can’t just keep ‘getting back on with the job’ and ‘cannot do miracles every year’.
The manager says there has to be ‘a realistic business plan’ and that he has made clear to Ashley and his minions what needs to happen, declaring ‘They know my idea’.
As has been the case throughout the 11 years of Mike Ashley, there is clearly no ‘realistic business plan’ to improve and build the club long-term, it has always been just about trying to get through another season and try to stay in the Premier League with the lowest possible spend. Apart from of course those seasons were the need has been to get back into the Premier League, when Ashley’s minimalist and chaotic way of running the club has led to another relegation.
There are now only 20 days to go until the end of the season and quite clearly, despite Premier League safety being basically confirmed at least 16 days ago when winning at Leicester, there has been no moves behind the scenes to reassure Rafa Benitez that things are going to change and what is going to happen this summer, if anything.
On Friday the United boss made clear he didn’t yet have any idea of what summer transfer budget he will have and so admits he can’t start making plans yet.
Asked now if he can ‘trust’ Mike Ashley, Rafa Benitez took the diplomatic route and instead said ‘I think the answer is…that Everton is the next game, and I have to prepare for that’.
Never, has not answering a question told us something so clearly.
People might say Mike Ashley never responds well to being called out in public but what choice has Rafa got, after being blocked from buying players in both January 2017 and January 2018, then forced to shop for bargains last summer, whilst as he says, even Brighton and Huddersfield were giving their managers several times the net spend Benitez was allowed.
Something has to change and seeing the manager driven out of the club is most definitely not the answer.
Rafa Benitez asked if he can trust Mike Ashley:
“I think the answer is…that Everton is the next game, and I have to prepare my team for that.
“To be in the top four, to win trophies, to win the league, that is what I want to do…it is not just survival or mid-table [that I want].
“We’re going in the right direction but I cannot do miracles every year.
“The main thing is to be sure that we [Rafa and Mike Ashley/Club] share the same ambition.
“I like to win and I want to win trophies, I want to be capable of competing.
“At the same time, I like to improve players, and follow a realistic business plan in modern football.
“I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.
“We have to be sure that we have all the tools to compete, to achieve what we want, because Newcastle United is a massive football club.
“What I don’t want next year…
“Is if we finish in the top 10, for people to [unrealistically] say, “OK fine, now you must finish in the top six.”
“To do that, you must have a real project with a realistic business plan, with an idea of the target and the tools to achieve that target.
“We have to change things if we want to improve…they know my idea.
“Brighton and Huddersfield, they have also done a fantastic job, but it is different, because everybody was expecting more of Newcastle – because of the fans, the stadium.
“But that was not the case as we were spending less than them.
“They [outsiders] were expecting us to beat Manchester City and Liverpool, because we have done so in the past, but it was more difficult for us.”