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Opinion

Now looks 60-40 in favour of Rafa Benitez agreeing some kind of Newcastle United extension

3 months ago
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Will he, or won’t he? Just one simple question that we all need the answer to.

Like the final episode of an unmissable drama on Netflix, like that comedy about the Mackems’ plunge into League One, we all clamour to see how it ends.

The hero in our story is a Spaniard. A man who understands Newcastle Utd more than any other manager since Bobby Robson. Esteemed company and a measure of the man who has worked another Premier League miracle on a shoestring budget.

We all want Rafa Benitez to stay – that is the clarion call of all but the most foolhardy of Newcastle fans.

It’s been a journey, that’s for sure, and given the owner we fell foul of it’s been an honour and privilege to have a coach of Benitez’s stature at the helm.

He’s made supporting that club almost bearable again.

When he breezed in the door back in March 2016 they finally got something right and since then, despite the political powder keg, Rafa has worked his socks off to stabilise us in a top flight where, more than ever before, cash is king.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years. If it’s a project, something we all hope Rafa sees it as, then the job isn’t anywhere near done.

At most other clubs that are run properly it would all be sorted out by now. In our case – Groundhog Day Utd – we still wait to see if the one man who has turned water into wine can be persuaded to commit some more of his proud managerial career to Tyneside.

I stuck my neck out a few years ago and predicted confidently Rafa would stay long-term, but that was before club’s hierarchy got up to their old tricks in two summer windows, 2017 and 2018, where it was on the borderline of being shambolic.

The lack of investment has made it hard to watch, and Benitez has remained steadfast, despite other teams who seem to find the money that NUFC can’t.

The reality the club currently faces: Rafa Benitez only has three more home games left in the St James Park dugout before his contract expires and he leaves.

He’s stuck rigidly to the line that he cannot talk about his future until the team is safe from the threat of relegation. Well, they look one win and a draw away from that milestone, some even argue that they’re safe already, bar Cardiff City performing a miracle of their own.

So, what are the chances of Rafa staying?

At the start of January it looked low, as the winter transfer window counted down. A club record deal for Miguel Almiron changed the mood around the place and since then a winning run at home has eased the pressure.

At a guess, it now looks 60-40 in favour of Rafa Benitez agreeing some sort of package to remain our manager, recent changes to the structure at the academy are a hint that perhaps he’s made some headway.

But he still needs assurances on investment levels and a way through a draconian recruitment policy so that he has a squad that blends youth and experience.

A written offer is reportedly on the table, allegedly giving Rafa some guaranteed money to spend in each window. We are yet to hear if they’ve agreed anything about new training facilities, a plan which has now been mothballed for six years, pre-dating the Benitez era at United.

Many argue that Rafa would struggle to get a better offer in the Premier League in terms of the adulation, match day buzz and immunity from criticism. None of these can be discounted as factors in his willingness to stay.

Neither can his love for the club. It may be a moot point but I’ve always held to this notion that Rafa loves being our manager.

He loves the fans.

He loves his players.

He loves his staff.

He loves the city.

He could well find it hard to walk away.

If another three years on a reported salary of £6m a year is on the table for a job that keeps him close to his family base on Merseyside then he may ink the deal, though I suspect this time he’ll be insistent on no penalty clauses in the small print.

You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton

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