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Opinion

Plenty will have warned Rafa Benitez off but good advice he didn’t take…

6 months ago
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An old man turned ninety-eight. He won the lottery and died the next day.

It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay.

It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late.

On the Wirral, Montse Benitez is shouting “Rafael… are you playing that Alanis Morissette song again?”

It probably sums up how he’s feeling right now.

If this was a game of golf, he’d be in the drink; if it was pool, he’d be getting 8-balled. Backed the hot favourite in the Grand National did you Rafa? It’s fallen at the first and is now being served with fries.

It must be excruciating looking on at other managers, who are being festooned with money as if they were the bride at a lavish Bollywood wedding. The lucky few whose licence to spend is such that they might lose the sort of money Rafa Benitez spent on Joselu down the back of the sofa, simply because they had forgotten they had it in the first place.

Instead he is stuck in a one-way relationship with Mike Ashley who just so happens to be the dealer in this particular game of cards.

Just what has he done to deserve this? Did he set fire to stick insects as a child? Is he paying for sins committed in a previous life? Did he describe his Grandma’s culinary skills as mala cocina?

This summer, El Confidencial reported Rafa Benitez was trapped in a “golden prison” on Tyneside; something the Spaniard must now regret, being perhaps so convinced of success that he agreed to those terms for a handsome remuneration. It’s not so much that Benitez and Ashley are tied together by the same piece of rope, more so that Benitez is clamped to him, only able to impose his imprint on the club at a playing level, and of course on the supporters.

But not where it matters.

Because Mike Ashley is a man who defies logic; someone whose decisions are formed entirely to serve the interests of one man and his bank balance, who when it comes to business is first, second and third.

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Let’s face it, you don’t become a billionaire by thinking of others before yourself.

However, it does not mean Benitez would and should do things differently.

Many times in the past Rafa has been criticised for his obstinate ways, refusing to bend to the will of others; it was his way or no way. Players – usually collateral damage – who were caught in his crossfire have said as much. Sadly however, he has met his match in his boss, and is powerless to change things at board level.

Creative thinking is needed; Ashley’s Kevlar jacket fits just like Donald Trump’s hat. Sometimes it feels like nuclear Armageddon could strike Tyneside, and when the dust settled all that would be left is the cockroaches scuttling around and Mike Ashley still in charge, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a way forward.

Much was made of Benitez’ approach against the top teams; but the way the side set up against the other three should ring alarm bells: either he is without a plan B, unable or unwilling to do things suggested by others, or Newcastle are so toothless and limp they cannot rouse themselves against defences that should bring no fear.

In truth, The Magpies are currently gripped by a lack of confidence under the tutelage of a manager who is, for once, not getting anywhere near the best out of his team. Newcastle are better than this, but are still likely to go down unless there is meaningful January investment, or if Benitez changes his approach.

Caution simply encourages your opponent, and signals a lack of belief, and perhaps the genesis of this is the lack of belief Benitez clearly has in his squad. When Harry Maguire tackled Joselu, the Newcastle man seemed so unprepared for the chance that it almost took him by surprise, as if he knew he was a limited player in a limited team looking to absorb, but not create in abundance. This is the mindset they are currently in – and that responsibility rests with the manager. Whisper it quietly, but it is the sort of negativity David Moyes stained his Sunderland team with, albeit on a different level.

Leicester meanwhile must have known at that point they had got the measure of their opponents.

It was inevitable that Newcastle were going to find themselves in this position from the moment a top-half finish was achieved last season, creating the misleading impression this was a team who truly could compete the following term with little tweaks here and there. But this was not just a misleading impression; it was a justification not to spend. The message was clear: more of the same please, Rafa. Even Richard Keys knows it does not work like this.

Okay, maybe he doesn’t.

What Mike Ashley does not realise is that a side can only punch above their weight for a period of time; countless teams have managed this but have eventually fallen. At this rate Newcastle, a club never to do things by halves (except player investment) are most likely going down, and judging by results right now, they’ll die hard.

And what of Rafa? The poster-boy for Ashley resistance? The Jean Moulin of Tyneside. Who knows, but he is a man who does not deserve to have his reputation tarnished by a situation not of his making.

And of course let’s not forget it was he who incredibly approached Newcastle to take charge.

No doubt plenty will have warned him off.

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?
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