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Opinion

Rafa Benitez finds himself in Catch 22 position with Mike Ashley

3 months ago
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Only 10 football matches and around three months of contract still connect Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez.

For much of is three year contract, the assumption has been that Rafa Benitez staying, vert much depends on Mike Ashley leaving.

It is now 87 days since Ashley gave the interview on Sky News where he claimed a sale of the club was imminent and could even be completed by the end of December (2018!).

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Those claims are looking now about as genuine as when Mike Ashley told Newcastle fans back in 2008, that they could stop their protests against him as they were going to get what they wanted, as he would be selling the football club as soon as possible.

So if Mike Ashley is indeed still at St James Park (in spirit if not in body) when we get to the end of the season, is there any chance of Rafa staying?

The north east/national media taking positives from what Rafa Benitez is telling them at the minute is a bit lame. Once the January transfer window ended, just like had happened with previous windows, Rafa simplh has tunnel vision in terms of concentrating solely on the actual games and training.

His message the same, he only wants the players focused on playing and training, the NUFC boss happy to tell reporters that decisions about his contract can wait. Invariably, the local papers in particular (want to?) interpret this as meaning the manager as indicated he is more likely to stay.

It is a marked difference though when he talks to the media back in Spain, the past week seeing two interviews published in Marca and AS.

Rafa Benitez declaring:

“The owner [Mike Ashley] knows it, me and my team are looking for a future project, competitive and ambitious. Let’s see if we are in the same line.

“We [Rafa and his backroom team] are in it to win titles. The idea was to invest to enter the top 10 but the money [for improving the first team squad] did not reach the expected level.

“Now we are once again solving a problem of that lack of investment. Each owner manages his club as he wants. Newcastle has everything to be there, in the top eight, but it is not happening. I hope that it is done in the future.”

and…

“We (Rafa and his coaching staff)  took a risk (when coming to Newcastle), to stay to move up to the Premier and then make a competitive team to be among the top eight … That was the idea.

“After being champions and the promotion, the level of investment did not reach what was expected and that is why we can not get closer to those above.

“I speak of an ambitious future project. With the possibility of competing and fighting to win. When you have won titles, you want to keep fighting for it. I like my job, my people manage technology well and we want to compete to win titles if possible.”

“It depends a lot on the top part. On how people who make decisions allow professionals to act.”

Rafa Benitez now finds himself once again heading towards another Groundhog Day, looking now to have every chance of keeping Newcastle comfortably up in the Premier League despite no net investment in the squad this season.

Or maybe Catch 22 is a better description of the position Rafa finds himself in.

Last season, the ‘every penny’ promise didn’t materialise and the manager had to rely on bargain basement signings such as Manquillo and Joselu to prop up his squad, rather than the promised backing.

He then fashions safety by early April 2018 and an eventual top half finish. The media loyal to Mike Ashley say what was the full all about, this is proof that Rafa had more than enough backing to stay up. The manager punished because he had (relatively) succeeded against the odds, with Mike Ashley then actually insisting on a £20m+ profit on deals in and out in summer 2018.

The owner thinking why invest when his only interest is Premier League survival and the manager currently tied to him looks like he can deliver that even with no net investment, so why not try it now with at the same time making a profit on transfers as well…

Vermin such as Richard Keys and other Ashley people in the media were quick to say it was Rafa Benitez failing early this season – because these same players had finished tenth last season so why couldn’t that be repeated? A ridiculous position to take because if you stand still and everybody else invests then solely on that front, you are heading backward. Never mind the fact that Rafa’s skill and a decent dose of luck had been the key factors in that tenth place finish. That Newcastle team proving far far better than the individuals making it up.

Rafa Benitez once again in that Catch 22 position, Newcastle actually now only five points off ninth place after excellent recent form.

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Currently in 13th, if Newcastle finish anywhere around there (ninth down to thirteenth or fourteenth), Mike Ashley and his sympathisers will tell themselves that the NUFC owner did back his manager with enough to be mid-table.

The signing of Miguel Almiron is undeniably a positive but surely a signing that would make sense no matter what Ashley’s intentions are regarding Rafa Benitez.

Almiron has only cost £16m with £5m of add-ons mainly dependent on Newcastle staying up this season. He clearly looks a player, has attracted a whole load of attention worldwide for NUFC and no doubt Ashley’s retail empire, if continuing his form even in only the next ten games then in the summer I reckon he is already going to be valued at £30m+, such is the premium on quick, creative players who can also score goals.

In this ongoing  game of Catch 22 though, Mike Ashley has ran out of years.

The three years of Rafa’s contract now having counted down.

Benitez was always going to be the true professional he is and see out his contract, throw everything at the job so that there wouldn’t be a third PL relegation in these last nine PL seasons under Mike Ashley.

His professional integrity kept intact, Rafa Benitez will now be pointing every finger at Mike Ashley once safety is assured.

What are you going to do to convince me now…and I want it in writing.

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