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Opinion

Wages remain the biggest issue for Rafa Benitez with Mike Ashley this summer

12 months ago
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Rafa Benitez wants as big a budget as possible this summer.

No surprise there, any manager obviously wants the same.

However, the manager has repeatedly made clear that as much as the level of transfer budget is important, freedom to spend it as he sees fit is even more important.

For Newcastle to sign better quality players, it is obvious that money has to be spent.

You will get the odd bargain such as Martin Dubravka but at some time the cash has to be put on the table, with a combination of transfer fees and wages getting deals done.

Mike Ashley and his minions are always keen to talk about buying players as not being just about the transfer fee and at his recent first interview/PR statement in three and a half years, Lee Charnley was keen to put this line out once again.

Journalists were only allowed to ask questions on certain subjects and on behalf of Mike Ashley, Charnley went on at some length about how wages were such an important part of any transfer, so if for example if you bought a £10m player it would really be at least a £25m player, if say he was given a five year contract at £60,000 a week (£3m per year).

Yes you can’t ignore the wages but this kind of explanation/defence of Ashley’s running of the club ignores two things: any player brought in usually means at least one current one leaving and off the wage bill. So for example Dwight Gayle would have come into Newcastle on decent wages as a £10m buy but equally, Papiss Cisse left that summer as well.

Also, the club making a big thing of a long-term commitment to wages, ignores the obvious fact that each year’s wages has to be taken in the context of all the revenue that will come in during each of those future seasons, not just the here and now. So unless you have an owner who repeatedly puts you at risk of relegation…

So back to Rafa Benitez and his struggles with Mike Ashley.

A bit like the 13 year old Michael Owen NUFC transfer record, it is also telling that despite being signed two and a half years ago, Jonjo Shelvey is still Newcastle’s highest wage earner, his £80,000 a week said to be the highest by some distance (13 years ago Michael Owen was put a £110,000 a week contract).

Much as Newcastle fans see it as a massive tipping point when Ashley finally allows the transfer fee record to be broken, supporters should be at least as keen to see when Shelvey’s wages are topped.

In the past, Rafa Benitez has invariably preferred to bring in experienced players at past clubs, rather than relatively inexperienced ones.

For the Championship challenge, the United boss overwhelmingly relied on experienced players, bringing in the likes of Ritchie, Gayle, Daryl Murphy, Gamez, Diame. Clark and others.

The then 22 year old Isaac Hayden was the youngest to get anything like regular football that season.

Moving up into the Premier League, I find it inconceivable that Rafa Benitez wouldn’t have wanted to add some experienced players, ones who might not have carried massive transfer fees, but who would have almost certainly been up there with and probably beyond Shelvey’s eighty grand a week.

The manager made clear he had been blocked in making early transfers last summer, with an experienced older (high wage) goalkeeper amongst them.

Instead Newcastle signed Murphy (then 22 years old), Manquillo (23), Atsu (25), Merino (21), Lejeune (26), and Joselu (27).

Never mind beating Shelvey’s wages, I find it difficult to see any of last summer’s signings even being in the top handful of wage earners, with the likes of Ritchie, Clark, Gayle, Mitrovic etc all beyond what they were brought in on.

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This brings us to another key point on wages, as you can see, Newcastle’s biggest wage earners are almost all players who were bought from Premier League clubs.

Even in January when even Mike Ashley was forced to accept relegation was a possibility, whilst he blocked any permanent buys, he did allow three loans, which included short-term high wages (by Newcastle standards) for two Premier League players – Slimani and Kenedy.

So when we wonder where Rafa Benitez is looking to shop (assuming he now has been told what his transfer budget is) this summer, if there remains similar constraints on wages as there was last summer, it is surely all but impossible for the NUFC record transfer fee to be broken.

It also makes it very difficult to see how the club could recruit any decent player from another Premier League club, even if the transfer fee isn’t too prohibitive.

At the moment we are stuck with a load of players such as Sels (five year contract), Saivet (five and a half years), Mbemba (five years), and Lazaar (five years), all brought in from lower wage overseas leagues, put on ludicrously long contracts.

Just how much of a risk is it really, if Rafa Benitez say wanted to bring in a couple of signings this summer who may be Premier League players 30+, who wouldn’t cost massive transfer fees (maybe free agents even), but would be given say a two or three year contract at £100,000 or so a week?

Unless Rafa gets the freedom to do what he wants to do, what hope is there?

Just like transfer fees, at some point Newcastle have to pay the market rate for some players, which may be at odds with the rest of the squad. Obviously you don’t want a them and us situation but it is a fact of life that some people get paid more than others in every environment and Newcastle United & Rafa need to have this freedom to operate.
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