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How hard is Mike Ashley trying to get Rafa Benitez to stay? NUFC questions posed and answered

2 months ago
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Last season is now receding fast for Newcastle fans, with the hopes and worries of supporters now directed towards this summer and next season.

The days are now ticking by in the transfer window and fans still awaiting news on Rafa Benitez and his contract situation, never mind new signings…

So we have asked a number of regular/irregular Mag contributors various sets of questions about the state of Newcastle United, reflecting on the 2018/19 season and the issues that face us now.

Answering questions here is Newcastle fan/writer Kevin Christie:

How hard is Mike Ashley trying to get Rafa Benitez to stay (as a percentage)?

Coming to an agreement would surely be very easy if he genuinely wanted Rafa (Rafa Benitez pictured above when signing his current contract) to stay, so I’d say no more than 20%, judging by how long the negotiations have been going on. I’m sure that, in an ideal world, he’d love him to stay – but only on his terms and without conceding too much power.

He just seems to have this vindictive, controlling, manipulative streak that ensures that he simply cannot and will never do the right thing as far as NUFC is concerned. In 12 years at the club, hiring Rafa was the one and only occasion when the best man for the job was hired. You have to wonder just what Ashley thinks would happen if Rafa walked away. Is he actually stupid and/or optimistic enough to genuinely believe that Moyes, Allardyce, Hughes or whatever dinosaur he hires, won’t get us relegated….?!

He has had years to sort this contract extension and to implement procedural changes that would ensure that Rafa would be happy to commit long-term but it hasn’t happened. The big question is ‘why?’. Rumours of a takeover are interesting and I’m quietly optimistic but I’d still take them with a very large pinch of salt as they have all the hallmarks of classic Mike Ashley delaying tactics.

How confident (as a percentage) are you that Rafa Benitez will sign an extension?

I’ll be optimistic with this answer and say that it’s 50/50. In reality, the odds are possibly more stacked in favour of him leaving but he’s nothing if not pragmatic and if he can get anywhere close to his terms in the negotiations, then I think he’ll be happy to stay at least another year. Regardless of if the latest rumours are true, a takeover is always a (remote?) possibility, so I think Rafa would love to stick around at least long enough for that to happen and then see what way the wind is blowing.

Three words that describe your current mood regarding Newcastle United?

Hope springs eternal

The three positions most in need of strengthening?

Centre forward, Right back, central midfield.

Unsung hero of the season:

Matt Ritchie – reliable, committed, a dogged, determined presence on the field. He really came into his own when moved to the left-wing back role and if he hadn’t stepped up then, I don’t think the formation switch that changed our season would’ve been viable. The personification of what the modern footballer lacks. Characters like him are vital to have in the dressing room.

Most pleasant surprise:

A successful youth team graduate! Amazing to think that Sean Longstaff only made his league debut on Boxing Day. Jamie McClen came to mind when I saw Longstaff’s name on the teamsheet and it’s safe to say that I expected less than nothing from him. How wrong I was! I initially thought his selection was a political move from Rafa to highlight the lack of squad depth but, whether by accident or design, it proved to be a masterstroke. It makes such a difference to the match-going fans to have one of their own out there on the pitch and hopefully more will follow soon.

Honourable mention too for Isaac Hayden:

Put a very trying family situation to one side and channeled all his energies into giving his all for the club. Was absolutely immense in a number of games towards the back end of the season. Would love him to stay but best of luck to him and his family whatever happens.

Of the current squad…

Definitely need to keep for next season:

Generally speaking, nobody is irreplaceable, so I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over anyone being sold – especially if Rafa is at the helm, as I’d trust his instincts on where he can take the team from here.

The player most central to the way we play isn’t even our own but signing Rondón permanently is absolutely imperative. We have a tried-and-tested team shape and style of play based around him leading the line. What happens if he’s not here again come August?!?!?!

Really looking forward to seeing more from Almirón as well. His arrival has added an extra dimension to our attacking play and he’s just the type of player the fans love to watch – the creativity, flair and unpredictability of Ginola or Ben Arfa but with the added bonus of a work-rate to match!

Don’t mind if they stay but if decent offer comes in then sell:

Everyone has their price. There are certain players who could clearly be upgraded – Yedlin, Atsu, Joselu, Manquillo, Diame – but I would argue that they should stay on as understudies to any new arrivals instead of making way to bring them in. We have a fairly solid first XI now but very little in reserve.

Ashley would also do well to remember that certain players are worth more to the club than their market value (EG Ritchie in terms of setting an example in the dressing room, Longstaff: build the team around a talented local lad instead of cashing in will keep fans happy, etc)

Need to be moved on:

The deadwood who have no chance of becoming permanent fixtures in the first team or who’ve already had their day and shown themselves to not be up to the task: Henri Saivet, Achraf Lazaar, Jack Colback, Rolando Aarons, Dwight Gayle, Jacob Murphy, Karl Darlow.

If you could relive one day from last season which would it be?

News of Almirón’s arrival on the night of the Man City game brought magic to the air and gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that I got back in the days when we used to show ambition. It also paved the way for our most unexpected and impressive win of the season. I could live with more of that!

What’s your choice for best three Newcastle goals of last season (in order)?

1. Schar vs Burnley – the type of goal we all score once in a blue moon in 5-a-side! They look good then but translate it to the full-size pitch at St James’ in a game that really matters and it becomes a thing of real beauty.

2. Rondón vs Bournemouth – leapt like a salmon to power in a Ferdinand-esque header. A real throwback.

3. Schar vs Cardiff – the goal that cemented his status as a crowd favourite. A jinking Ben Arfa-esque run from a centre back, with a finish to match! Brought glorious memories of Philippe Albert in his pomp flooding back.

Would you like to see Sunderland back in the Premier League?

Definitely. Batman needs The Joker!

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