Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez dominate the headlines when it comes to Newcastle United.
Past experience tells us that when the owner is at the front of our thoughts, you can usually guarantee that on the pitch there are problems.
This summer saw more pantomime behaviour from the Sports Direct supremo, starving the manager of transfer funds whilst at the same time trying to get the Spaniard to agree to an extended contract.
The reports told us that Mike Ashley had supposedly blocked any transfer funds apart from what was generated through sales, UNLESS Rafa signed the new deal.
The window ended with no contract extension agreed and no transfer funds made available by the owner, indeed he even insisted on making a £20m+ profit on deals in and out, restricting Rafa Benitez to only a fraction of the total sales figures. Newcastle making the biggest transfer profit of any PL club
Some supporters were sceptical as to whether Ashley really wanted Rafa to stay on but I think he definitely did/does, after all, why wouldn’t he?
It was most definitely Mike Ashley’s luckiest day possible when the Champions League winning manager knocked on his door.
Whilst clowns such as Richard Keys talk of Mike Ashley having persuaded Rafa Benitez to come to Newcastle United, it was actually Rafa who approached the Magpies, shortly after things didn’t work out at Real Madrid.
The former Liverpool boss seeing the glaring potential of the club IF everything was done correctly. You know the kind of stuff…sensible progressive investment in the playing squad season after season, revamp the Academy and invest in it, update the training complex to the standard of rival Premier League clubs.
Even Mike Ashley couldn’t pass up the golden opportunity that was Rafa Benitez.
His disastrous running of the club and failure to sack McClaren earlier, meant Newcastle were all but down when the Spaniard arrived.
However, with a presence in the Premier League all that matters to Ashley, he knew he had hit the jackpot. Sure enough, instant promotion as champions delivered AND a £40m transfer profit that season.
On a three year contract, Rafa Benitez was tied to Newcastle for at least another two seasons, and Mike Ashley has really milked that fact.
Rather than back (with the club’s money!) his manager in the transfer market, the NUFC owner has instead chose to undermine him at every turn, allowing only minimal spending whilst rival clubs do everything they can to strengthen their teams/squads.
Whilst clubs such as Fulham and Bournemouth spend close to £30m on defensive midfielders, these past two seasons have seen Rafa Benitez desperate for a new first choice striker and Mike Ashley responding by stretching to £5m for Stoke reserve Joselu last summer, and this summer loan signing Salomon Rondon – whilst at the same time selling Mitrovic for a deal that could eventually bring in £27m to Newcastle/Ashley.
We now have a stand-off with Rafa Benitez loving the club and the fans but now having a contract that ends in nine months time, with no signs of having any interest in signing it.
Mike Ashley will be desperate for him to do so and Rafa has now said that what happens in the January 2019 transfer window could be pivotal.
He doesn’t trust Ashley as far as he can kick him, no wonder after all the broken promises.
The thing is though for me, Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez is a poisonous combination for Newcastle United.
An owner who is determined to spend as little as possible, alongside a manager who is most adept at producing minor miracles on the lowest spend, thanks to his expertise and experience.
It is bad bad news, as Mike Ashley must know that any other manager he could attract, would then require far far higher transfer spending, to have any chance of surviving in the Premier League.
At the moment he has Rafa Benitez, a manager who has already delivered promotion as champions, a 10th place in the Premier League, AND a transfer profit of around £30m-£40m in total during his two and a half years.
Newcastle United will never be successful whilst Mike Ashley remains as owner, and the only way to persuade him to leave is seemingly if the club is in serious trouble on the pitch, but whilst Rafa Benitez is still here it is far less likely to happen.
The ultimate vicious circle/triangle.
If only Mike Ashley could finally see the value of doing things properly and backing the World class manager who dropped in his lap – but as we all know – Ashley doing things properly is something that will never happen.