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Opinion

Mike Ashley just running down Rafa Benitez contract and transfer window – Sees squad strength ok

3 weeks ago
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Mike Ashley sees things very simply.

A lot of people credit him with far too much interest in Newcastle United.

However, the NUFC owner will not give the football club a second thought from one second to the next.

No more than he gives the Sports Direct store in Chesterfield or Flannels in Sunderland.

It is only when there is a crisis that Mike Ashley will take any notice.

Does he see a crisis now?

I don’t think he does at all.

Ashley sees a team/squad that ended up in the top half of the Premier League in 2017/18 having spent a pittance after promotion, then a 13th place finish in 2018/19, 11 points clear of relegation and not having  laid out a penny in terms of net transfer spend.

Crisis, what crisis?

Mike Ashley doesn’t value managers like we do, Newcastle fans see Kevin Keegan, Sir Bobby Robson and Rafa Benitez for what they are, supporters also seeing Pardew, Carver, Kinnear and McClaren for what they are too.

It is all blurred for Ashley though, so when he met Rafa on Thursday 16 May he will have let the manager have his say but not really listened to him.

Just paying lip service, the club’s owner will have been told about the need for realistic investment in the squad, the academy, the training complex and so on, yet all the time in his head, Mike Ashley will have been thinking ‘You’re having a laugh, 10th and 13th spending next to nothing, why would I want to lay out so much of MY (the club’s!) money when this is working?’

I honestly think that Mike Ashley has walked away from that meeting and his only thought was, that’s out the way, now we can just crawl to 30 June, another month of the transfer window will have gone with everybody more concerned about the manager situation, then Rafa Benitez will walk away and plenty other managers out there.

As it stands, these are the players contracted to Newcastle United next season:

GOALKEEPERS

Martin Dubravka, Freddie Woodman, Karl Darlow, Rob Elliot

FULL-BACKS

Paul Dummett, DeAndre Yedlin, Achraf Lazaar, Javier Manquillo, Jamie Sterry

CENTRAL DEFENDERS

Fabian Schar, Florian Lejeune, Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernandez, Ciaran Clark

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS

Jack Colback, Henri Saivet, Isaac Hayden, Jonjo Shelvey, Ki Sung-yeung, Sean Longstaff

WINGERS

Matt Ritchie, Rolando Aarons, Jacob Murphy, Christian Atsu

STRIKERS

Joselu, Dwight Gayle, Ayoze Perez, Yoshinori Muto, Miguel Almiron

The only ones with just a year left on their contracts are Sterry, Elliot, Manquillo, Darlow, Joselu, Ki and Fernandez.

The first four are squad players and the latter pair were older players brought in on short-term two year contracts. If Rafa goes then I’m guessing if any of the seven were offered an added year on their deals, they would all accept.

So the only players that Newcastle would be losing from last season would be Rondon, Barreca, Kenedy and Diame.

Kenedy was terrible, Barreca not even good enough for the bench, whilst Diame has been poor to average this past season and the late run of form was achieved without him.

As for Rondon, Mike Ashley will see Gayle returning and no real need for panic.

Last season the late run of form was built on a team of:

Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Schar, Lejeune/Dummett, Ritchie, Hayden, Longstaff/Ki, Almiron, Perez, Rondon

In 2017/18 the late run of form saw the following regulars:

Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy, Perez, Gayle

Of all those players in the two teams, only Kenedy, Diame and Rondon won’t be here as things stand.

The fact that Rafa Benitez was manager will mean little/nothing to Mike Ashley, for people like him he will no doubt see himself (Ashley) as being the true architect of this (relative!) success.

The fact Hayden is desperate to move for family reasons won’t bother Mike Ashley, he’ll just be thinking, he can stay here and alongside Longstaff, Newcastle have a great pair of young English midfielders who I can sell for a fortune if they do well next season.

Ashley doesn’t see any value in having a proper squad, having a load of extra players earning money despite potentially never/rarely playing.

So if there is a team there plus a few others that are good enough, then more than enough to get by.

On transfers/signings, Mike Ashley will decide with his people to maybe use the two loan signings they can make from other Premier League clubs on a striker and an attacking midfielder and maybe allow a couple of buys as well, allow a £10m or so budget and top that up with money from selling Joselu and a few others, maybe meaning £20m or £25m spent in total.

Then hand this squad over to another puppet manager in the style of Pardew/Carver/McClaren and expect another safe survival season.

What has he got to lose (as he sees it)?

Even if relegation happens, there is all the money that hasn’t been spent this season (or the previous two), plus Premier League parachute payments as well.

After two previous relegations ended up with instant returns as champions, Mike Ashley thinks he has got this cracked.

Every day that goes by without news, I will feel that my worst fears are being realised.

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