Nearly four months into his third full season and I still have to sometimes pinch myself that Rafa Benitez is manager of Newcastle United.

It’s worth looking over to the dugout and remembering what has been sat in the manager’s seat in years gone by. It remains one of the most incredible managerial coups in football in recent times and as much as I hate to admit it, the day will come when he walks out of Barrack Road, not to return.

When that happens we may be a long time away from getting another manager of the same calibre, regardless of who owns Newcastle United. He will win trophies again at some point. The only hope is that it is while he is the North-East rather than back in Spain or Italy.

Take Monday night’s win at Burnley as a prime example. Rafa outfoxed Sean Dyche tactically with the back three, allowing us to dominate possession and build from the back. The players were excellent at Turf Moor, but it all came from the base of a perfect Benitez gameplan.

Previously we have rolled over easily in game similar to Burnley away. With Rafa in charge we are rarely not still in the game with 20 minutes to play. He has rid us of the soft underbelly that has plagued us for years.

His contract is, as the whole football world seems to know, up at the end of the season. But am I actually worried about Rafael Benitez leaving? Bizarrely not.

Our Spanish gaffer is holding every ace in the history of cards. Mike Ashley knows he will not be able to get another manager who can get premier league survival with the current resources. Even more crucial is the fact that Rafa also knows this. He is also prepared to play the long game.

Whilst it might put unnecessary pressure on the squad if no investment is made in January, I don’t think it would force Benitez’s hand. For him it is in his interests to see out the season. If he keeps us up again it’s another remarkable achievement and his reputation will be even further enhanced ahead of the summer.

Ashley will be facing the biggest crisis in the history of his NUFC ownership if Rafa left at the end of the season, even if premier league status was maintained. Complete fan mutiny with a hit in season ticket sales, players likely to push for moves and losing a manager who was the reason for staying afloat.

Even for a man with his disregard for supporters and feeling around the club, it would not be a welcome scenario ahead of another year of Premier League football. He may not care about improving the team but he does care about revenue, which can only be maximised in the top flight.

He even said a few seasons ago when doing the infamous sky interview pre-West Ham on the final day, that he would spend enough to guarantee premier league football (if you could do such a thing). His manager is as close to a guarantee as he will ever get, and I do think Ashley and Charnley have actually grasped this. This could be the key to Benitez receiving the reassurances of investment required, and hopefully the gateway to another deal.

The contract situation is clearly in stalemate but far from hopeless. It is reaching a decision either way from the top of the club. Either invest or risk long-term downturn in revenues from our club. I think Rafa is also realistic and knows a new owner won’t come out of thin air. The Ashley  meals and attendance to games is odd behaviour but does probably point to the fact a sale is far from imminent.

Personally, I have real doubts over whether Ashley has any interest in selling the club at all, but hope I am wrong. For the time being Rafa Benitez knows this and is prepared to work with base resources and push for more.

I can see one more incoming in January, certainly if we are still in the bottom half, and this might be all that is needed to keep both parties reasonably tolerant with one another. In truth, I think the limitations of the current squad are shown when Rondon is out injured, meaning we are probably a striker short. If Benitez got one more in over the transfer window, it would probably be enough to at least convince him to see out the season.

As history shows, our gaffer is more than capable of riding out political chaos in football clubs, and dealing with difficult owners, albeit perhaps no one as difficult or frustrating as Mike Ashley.

He did it at Valencia and then at Liverpool when Tom Hicks and George Gillett were running the club into the ground. He is wily and shrewd enough to make the best of the situation. We should have no doubt he won’t be forced into walking early, which plays into our hands.

One thing Ashley isn’t, is stupid. He knows the clock is ticking and we are approaching end-game. I still back Rafa to have the last laugh and a new contract to be tied up before the end of the season.

One final thought to finish with however, is that in 11 years of Mike Ashley ownership, predicting his next move is virtually impossible. Therefore even Rafa Benitez will expect the unexpected.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JackLaceySport

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  • mactoon

    Jack you miss out the fact that Rafa also wants investment in the training ground and academy which, in my opinion, Ashley has no intention of fulfilling. A player or two in January (if that happens!) will almost certainly not be enough to persuade Rafa to stay.

    • panther

      In short, Rafa wants it ran like a football club

      • mactoon

        yes whereas Ashley just wants to use it as an advertising medium for Sports Direct with no ambition other than existing in the Premiership
        NO FUTURE
        ASHLEY OUT!

    • KennySamsung

      If its a decent number 10 and striker then he might but its a dream that aint going to happen.

      • mactoon

        As Rafa has stated he wants the additional players for the future of the club, not his. It’s the refusal to invest in other areas of the club which will probably be the deciding factor to Rafa continuing his ‘project’ at Newcastle.

  • JohnnyH

    Ashley will not be held to ransom by Rafa. He has a lengthy track record of obstinacy.
    Rafa will not sign another contract with golden handcuffs, so the best we can hope for is Rafa takes an option on a short term or rolling contract, which would allow him to walk the first time he gets $hit on by Ashley.
    Personally I think he’ll leave on contract expiry.

    • Wezza

      Yep and he always maintained professionalism throughout unlike the owner and minions.

    • Kenny

      He`s a Man child & spits his dummy out then takes revenge through spite.
      Ashley is a very distasteful guy.

      • Shipcote Willy

        Not as nice as that

        • Kenny

          I was being generous

    • NUFCLX

      Spot on about the contract, best thing would be a rolling contract. I have a feeling Fatman will spend in Jan Window but even then, if we were to push on in the second half of the season we all know nowt will be spent in the summer.
      You never know we might push on and finish 5th with great expectations of pushing on again but we know what will happen next. I think Vernon Anita is still available.

  • robbersdog

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Rafa was the manager of Man Utd next season.

    • Kenny

      Stranger things have happened.

    • Billmag

      No chance the fans would revolt because of his allegiance to there hated rivals the bin dippers.

      • Kenny

        good point, it`s toxic between Man U & Liverpool

        • Billmag

          Definitely he stuck the knife in when he won the Champions League with the Scouses.

      • Shipcote Willy

        Aye and they wouldn’t like Rafa’s defensive counter attacking football either

        • Billmag

          Aye the way I look at it Manure could do with someone with a bit defensive nouse, and by the way they are putting up with Maureen’s style of football after spending £500ml +.

    • JohnnyH

      Deffo. Rafa would be a free agent, it would only cost them compen for the special one

    • Paul Patterson

      Someone asked that on Talks***e this morning..

    • KennySamsung

      My thoughts exactly

    • 1957

      He wouldn’t go down well with the Man U fan base, especially the minority who actually live in and around Greater Manchester.

      They aspire to a manger, who will give them trophies while playing football to rival Citeh’s. That ain’t Benitez.

  • Themoscow72

    The only way Rafa will leave is if the protesters continue their pathetic antics which does not help the team at all. Either buy the club, find a buyer or please boycott every match and go away forever.

    • Kenny

      The bells, the bells,

    • JohnnyH

      Ever and ever amen?

    • Toon Arnie

      Rafa will leave because Ashley has lied to him repeatedly.
      Support the club/team Moscow not Ashley.

  • Kenny

    Rafa will leave in May, the Rat has no intention of backing the manager.
    Paradise lost, not Milton`s version, Ashleys.

    • Mike

      Welcome Bruce or pard

  • Carverlier football

    Rafa will see out his contract and leave in May. Next season will almost certainly be an absolute sh**show

    • Kenny


  • Paul Patterson

    “Ashley will be facing the biggest crisis in the history of his NUFC ownership if Rafa left at the end of the season, even if premier league status was maintained. Complete fan mutiny with a hit in season ticket sales, players likely to push for moves and losing a manager who was the reason for staying afloat.”

    This sort of stuff hasn’t bothered him before. .

    • Kenny

      Trouble is, to many fans like the Mad Monk, not as crazy as him but will put up with anything dished out.

      • Leazes.

        He’s not a fan you pillock, its a Mackem Troll

  • Leazes.

    Did you auction off your Man United Shirt jack or have you still got it?

    Charlatan! Fake!

    • Kenny


      • Leazes.

        He closed the whole site and opened up a new one….

        ……the real reason he’s not worried about Rafa leaving is that he’s a Man United fan who did a Course in Media and Journalism at Newcastle, and uses the Mag as a portfolio for his work…..

        • Kenny

          I had a look at his initial profile a while back

          • Leazes.

            Bit embarrassing writing heartfelt nostalgia for the Mag when he’s a Man United fan….. deleting the original site and replacing it well….. he just wants to get away with it…. I think about a dozen on here saw it.

            What does that tell you about Journalists?

            He’s as genuine as your new face!

          • Kenny

            ive opened my profile as well

          • Leazes.

            You don’t want to do that really…. bad move

        • Jack Lacey-Hatton

          Genuinely funny stuff.
          Always happy to meet for a pint in the Newcastle Arms pre-match if you continue to doubt my credentials.
          Keep enjoying The Mag

    • Jack Lacey-Hatton

      Untrue as per, but don’t let truth get in the way of your nonsense.
      Still now sure how someone who isn’t me (a mate) wearing a Man United shirt in one photo of a 5 a side team equals your mentally made up story, but whatever makes you happy.

  • KennySamsung

    Ashley doesn’t care about you, me, Rafa, the players, Newcastle, football. It’s about what we can do for him, even bad publicity is good publicity. 🤑

  • Shipcote Willy

    What you write seems logical but unfortunately I don’t agree with most of it. Ashley has always done what he wants whatever the situation or pressure from outside sources. Nothing will ‘force’ him to invest the amount of money needed for the team, stadium and infrastructure which the manager has indicated is needed. Rafa won’t stay with a survival only policy. Ashley’s attitude is always ‘bare minimum and bottom line’ and he is more likely bring in another puppet manager, invest a small amount and gamble on survival. That’s a much cheaper option for him than proper investment and he always does whatever costs less even whenever logic is otherwise.

    • wheyayeman

      True but it is so utterly ridiculous, he has a multiple trophy winning manager who with some modest investment could fire his asset straight back into Europe over the next 2 years. If he then actually did want to get the club off his back and make a load of money in the process – get a new 3 year contract agreed – give the lad some players of his choice and watch the club spring back to life and the offers to buy it will pop up.

  • 1957

    Don’t know the exact numbers, I expect they are substantial, but those on direct debits for season tickets have to cancel in writing, arriving at the box office before or on the 31st January, I did last year. My advice is do it by e-mail a pal did it 2 years ago by letter and they claimed they didn’t receive it although it was registered post and it was shown as delivered. Despite numerous threats he simply cancelled his DD prompting a letter saying he would be unable to buy a season ticket or be a member in future.

    For me I can see Benitez getting a little bit of money in January and signing a new contract, leaving Big Mike free to continue his reign of destruction.

    • Leazes.

      Good consumer advice.

    • AlanWVX

      No, you don’t have to cancell before the end of January, cancell at the end of the season if you are on DD

      • 1957

        If you are on any of the price guarantee schemes you have to cancel before the end of January, your direct debit runs from March to February. Sam Hepworth did an article on the Mag about this in 2014 warning people.

        You can of course cancel a direct debit at any time but under Big Mike’s machevellian scheme, they can pro rata games to paid to date (at match day prices) and cancel your ticket. The T&C of the scheme are a bit woolly but it seems if you cancel before the season starts you get no refund.

        More power to big Mike’s pocket.

        • mactoon

          I remember when I cancelled back in 2013 the terms and conditions said something like the holder must cancel their ticket IN WRITING BY A DATE SPECIFIED BY THE CLUB. so I contacted them and it was a date that was different to the date I paid my DD so make sure you ask them when the date is. I checked the date by email then wrote to them to cancel it.

  • Tweed Mag

    One minute you say Ashley is not stupid. A few lines later you say he he is unpredictable. Only a stupid person would fail to invest and plan ahead, gambling with the club’s future. So what is he? Or are you just trying to cover every option for a future copy/paste?
    The vast majority of fans want Rafa to stay, build a successful team and for Ashley to go. No need to say much more.

  • Angelswithdirtyfaces

    I think Ashley is stupid actually.

    • Steven05

      I’ve read this article a bit late, but those were my exact thoughts when I read it. I think it gave far far too much credit to Ashley – I think he IS stupid

  • glassjawsh-got-banned

    Rafa leaves in May. A new stooge is brought in and (out of spite from the fat rat) is then backed to the tune of 50 million+…and then will proceed to absolutely squander it by being a clueless moron. Ashley then uses the sure fire failure as a reason to drive the club further into debt, up his asking price, and as an excuse not to back any other managers in the future. As sure as Christmas is in December this will come to pass.

    • TeessideMag

      Exactly, and point out the fact he spent 50 million and it didn’t work, as an excuse to not spend for another couple of years, probably stuck with a load of underpar players stuck in long contracts.

  • Toon

    Eh? As if Ashley gives a toss! He’ll get someone else in and not even flinch at the #ifrafagoes lot, he knows it’s hot air and the majority will be back next year, a few will stick to it but on the whole it’s a load of…..

  • Down Under Mag

    Was I the only one who noticed Moyes in the crowd for the last game?? Ashley probably tapping him up already for the summer.

    If Rafa leaves, make no mistake about it, if we aren’t relegated this season we most certainly will be next season under a yes-man brought in to take a pay-day to be Ashley’s stooge.

    We literally have one of the best defences I have seen at this club in all my time supporting them, all Rafa needs is some funding to bolster the attacking options with players of the right calibre. And yet here we are fully expecting a January of no movement and him to leave in the summer.

    • nufcslf

      I wondered about Moyes being there and could see him in charge when Rafa leaves. Relegation for certain if it proved to be the case. Cashley out……..