Cast your minds back to Rafa Benitez and the summer of 2016.
Rafa agreed to stay on as manager despite relegation and a major rebuilding job was needed to create a Newcastle United Championship squad.
There were a lot of players heading out and Rafa Benitez delivered a £40m net profit on transfers that summer.
However, Mike Ashley did allow the manager to get on with the job and spend around £50m to try and correct the disaster created by the owner and his minions.
There was a feeling that maybe the penny had dropped with Ashley and fans were given hope that finally Newcastle might at last have a situation whereby the owner was fully supporting the manager, both on the same page and pushing together in the same direction.
Throughout that summer of 2016 there were regular reassuring updates as Rafa Benitez quotes were constantly released by the club via local media. Only the surprise signing of a goalkeeper, Matz Sels, happened before we got into July 2016, so Rafa’s regular messages did play a key role in keeping the situation calm and avoid the kind of anxiety/hysteria there surely would have been if we’d had one of Ashley’s usual stooges in ‘charge’.
The transfer window turned out well, Rafa Benitez appeared to get pretty much most of what he had wanted with 12 signings, whilst Mike Ashley had seen a £40m net profit on sales/buys. Everybody happy, job’s a good un.
Last summer (2017) was a little different…
I picked up on this and on the 3 July 2017 put in an article (see below) to The Mag expressing my concerns.
Rafa Benitez had previously said that he would need to make a lot of changes to the squad if promotion was achieved, with a squad built to specifically get out of the Championship needing to be turned into one that could cope with the Premier League.
With only Christian Atsu signed before July 2017 anxiety levels were rising for Newcastle fans, this time though there were not many reassuring messages from Rafa Benitez, in fact there were none.
Having been willing to play ball the previous season and no doubt part of that to help ensure healthy season ticket sales, this time Rafa Benitez wasn’t going to play along.
In fact, it was two weeks into July when we at last heard (apart from quotes released by the club when the fixtures had come out in June) from Rafa Benitez (11 July 2017 – see below), with the players having been back in pre-season for a number of days, the manager gave us a neutral update on transfers. In fact it was pretty negative, considering how little progress there had been and with only a month until the new season, saying basically he hoped they could still get the players they needed.
A week later (17 July 2017 – see below) Rafa Benitez was over in Ireland for the pre-season training camp and finally opened up.
This was less than four weeks before the Premier League was going to kick off and we had the first massive warning bells going off, that Mike Ashley had reverted to type and Rafa Benitez was being undermined.
“When I had the meeting with Mike Ashley (in May) I was confident that after that meeting we have the money available and the wages. Everything is in place to move forward. Hopefully, Mike Ashley can keep his word and we can do what we want to do.”
From that point on we did get regular updates from the manager but they were repeated messages from Rafa saying that he hoped ‘Mike Ashley can keep his word’, keep his ‘promises’, when it came to transfers.
As we all know, last summer was a disaster in the transfer window, Rafa Benitez admitting that he couldn’t even compete with Brighton and Huddersfield on transfer fees and wages.
Moving forward to the present day and this is sadly looking very much a rerun of summer 2017 rather than summer 2016.
Martin Dubravka is the only signing and that had to be done by the end of May or else the £4m fee would no longer apply.
There has been total silence from Rafa Benitez, no reassuring messages.
Instead, we have seen the Chronicle reveal that not a single bid has been made for a player.
Not even a single quote from Rafa when the fixtures came out last week, when this point was raised by a local journalist yesterday, Newcastle United’s ‘Head of Marketing communications’ responded with ‘We haven’t asked him (for quotes), the man deserves a holiday.’
Anybody who believes Rafa Benitez is lazing around 24/7 without a thought about Newcastle United, is a very strange person.
I assume he is watching every single World Cup match, rarely off his phone as he tries to make some kind of progress with transfers, and working every day.
I find it hard to believe as well that with the club pushing out the rises on all season ticket prices on the same day as the fixture release, that they wouldn’t have wanted Rafa Benitez to be quoted saying the fans are great etc etc and hope to get their full support again, to offset all the negative publicity brought on by the totally uncalled for ST price rises.
This summer seems to be very similar to that of a year ago, looking at a potentially disastrous transfer window and Rafa Benitez keeping his silence as he hopes Mike Ashley will belatedly see sense and support him.
I hope I am proved totally wrong and I will be looking with keen interest for when Rafa Benitez does finally speak AND what he has to say.
Even better if it is when he is standing next to some new exciting signings…but I am not holding my breath.
My article on The Mag – 3 July 2017:
It is now 54 days since a statement was released (on 10 May 2017) by Newcastle United, and even though it didn’t announce that ‘Rafa Benitez was staying’, that appeared to be the intended message.
Mike Ashley quoted saying ‘every last penny’ of money generated would be part of Rafa’s transfer budget, whilst the United boss was quoted in the same statement saying talks are positive about future plans etc etc.
A week after that news, Rafa Benitez was quoted by the Chronicle (see below) talking about this summer and the work to be done and so on.
I couldn’t remember reading much from Rafa after that and in fact I couldn’t remember anything at all…
So I went through all the articles on The Mag in the 47 days since those last Chronicle quotes and I could find nothing at all, so I looked elsewhere and still no updates or positive messages from the Newcastle Manager – strange.
In these 47 days, I did find Rafa Benitez quoted about the sad passing of Cheick Tiote.
There was also a well done message after Freddie Woodman and Adam Armstrong helped England win the Under 20s World Cup.
Then this weekend quotes from Rafa were included in a club statement on the appointment of Steve Nickson.
However, the only other thing I could find was that when the fixtures were announced, some Rafa quotes were included in the official club stuff just saying standard looking forward to it etc.
However, I can’t find anything about the transfer market and reassurance that everything is in hand.
In contrast, a year ago (see below) I found numerous updates with Rafa talking about the transfer window and giving out messages to fans, happy to be interviewed by BBC Radio Newcastle and regular quotes sent out (by the club you imagine) to the Chronicle and other local papers, keeping things turning over and telling fans that things are ticking over.
I don’t see this summer’s near total silence as meaning sure fire disaster BUT it isn’t exactly good news is it.
I can’t believe that the club haven’t wanted to put out at least the odd update with Rafa Benitez telling fans that ‘progress is being made and so on, don’t worry we’ll sort it’. If nothing else, just to make sure that season ticket sales are kept flowing.
So to have nothing like that, you have to ask why?
I don’t want to go back to the days of pretty much daily updates from Alan Pardew but the absence of a happy medium is a concern.
Why the silence?
Hopefully we will hear from Rafa Benitez very soon as pre-season training starts today – 11 days until the first friendly at Hearts and 40 days until the Premier League kicks off.
The Mag 11 July 2017 – Rafa Benitez:
“We know where we are…it’s not ideal because everybody wants to see a lot of players signed already.
“But we have to keep working and trying to find the players we want.
“We can do nothing else.
“We have to find the players we want and hopefully we can do it.
“It’s not easy for a lot of teams because the market is a bit crazy, we have to try to do our best.
“Obviously, the top sides have a lot of money.
“The other teams are spending some money but we will see if we can do our job.”
The Mag 17 July 2017 – Rafa Benitez:
“We are working very hard and trying to get as close as possible to some signings.
“When I had the meeting with Mike Ashley (in May) I was confident that after that meeting we have the money available and the wages.
“Everything is in place to move forward.
“Hopefully, Mike Ashley can keep his word and we can do what we want to do.”