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Opinion

Why it isn’t this Newcastle team I am worried about

7 months ago
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Well here we go again.

For a fourth transfer window in a row, Rafa Benitez and fans of Newcastle United seem to be being let down by those who hold the purse strings with an iron grip. How unchangingly predictable. How unimaginatively ordinary. How eye-wateringly, heart-achingly unambitious.

Rafa is currently being given all the evidence he needs that to sign a new contract while Mike Ashley runs the club would be utterly foolhardy.

It’s the broken promises and the misleading words and the fingers crossed behind the back: “I promise you every penny the club generates (from selling cans of sprite)”; “I promise you full control of all transfers (that don’t cost more than a Greggs Steak Bake).”

What’s most upsetting about all of this is the hope.

A world-class manager, a fan-base onboard, a hard-working, dedicated squad, a season of Premier League TV money in the bank, £10million pounds from the sale of Merino, and Jack Colback off the wage bill. It should all have boded so well for some marquee signings to propel us into the new season.

Has it? No. Will it? Painful, wearying experience leads me to fear not. Time is fast running out and – as usual – concrete, decisive action seems paper thin. We’re moving through this transfer window like we move through them all: like a cat with no legs.

The most concerning thing about all of this is that Rafa Benitez has proven himself capable of speaking in the language that Ashley speaks. Money. Pounds and pence. He buys astutely and he adds enormous value to the players in his squad.

By my reckoning, Rafa has signed 25 players in his time in charge of Newcastle United. Only 5 of those might have been said to be unsuccessful signings: Gamez, Ben El-Mhanni, Lazaar, Slimani and Sels. (I realise that some fans would probably include Manquillo and Joselu in that list, but I think the jury is still out on those two; they at least do a solid job for the team).

In other words, 80% of Benitez’ signing are successful. That’s the kind of man I’d be trusting with my money.

But Ashley doesn’t really do astute judgement. After all, the only manager he has every seriously invested in is Steve McClaren. He let him buy Shelvey and Townsend and Wijnaldum and Mbemba and Mitrovic.

No such luck for Benitez.

And it’s madness! Consider the four first XI players that Rafa has kept at the club from that disastrous spell. Lascelles. Dummett. Shelvey. Perez. I’d challenge any fan to argue that Rafa’s leadership hasn’t doubled the value of those four players.

Rafa’s nous in the transfer market and skill on the training pitch have given us a solid mid-table starting XI.

newcastle team

That XI proved towards the end of the season that they could give anybody a game, but where the squad looks too thin is in the second team:

newcastle team

With two glaring gaps and Mbemba and Hayden possibly leaving the club, Rafa will want at least two signings just to ensure that he has 22 players to select from.

In an ideal world, those two signings would be first-team players, an improvement on Perez and Dummett and a way of lifting the quality of the squad further.

I don’t have anything against Dummett and Perez – in fact I admire them both – but just imagine what a genuinely marauding left-back and a world-class, creative number 10 would add to our side.

But I just can’t see that happening. Just as the quality of our starting XI – a team that for long spells last season looked like a relegation candidate – has improved not one iota.

The very, very minimum that we need to do in the remainder of the transfer window is sell Mitrovic and bring in Rondon – a striker whom Rafa seems to feels is a better all-round option than either Gayle or Joselu, and a more trustworthy character than Mitrovic. Who are we to argue with his judgement?

At least then our starting XI will have improved a fraction and Rafa might head into the season with some optimism that they could perform on the pitch against most opposition.

But I’m sure – if that’s all we did – that he would also head into the season steaming inwardly with anger. If the figures being bandied around in the media are to be believed, selling Mitrovic and Merino to purchase Dubravka, Ki and Rondon would give the club’s bank balance a tidy £10million profit over and above the money we’ve made by being in the Premier League for a year.

That’s criminal, even if it is a simplification because it doesn’t factor in signing-on fees, agents fees or loan fees.

Even taking those things into account, Rafa will be wondering why, at the very least, that £10 million wasn’t invested into two more bargain basement options to provide him with the squad depth that he desires.

More importantly, he’ll be wondering what on earth Ashley meant when he promised him “every penny” that the club generates to spend how he chooses, what on earth he has to do to earn his trust, and what on earth he would be thinking were he to sign a new contract.

I’ve signed the #IfRafaGoesWeGo petition – but doing so felt like a fruitless act. I fear that fan-voice and online petitions will make no difference to Ashley and that he is going to let this manager, and this opportunity, slip through our club’s fingers.

Dear God, I hope I’m wrong.
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