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Unimaginable that Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez meeting is the start of contract talks…

2 months ago
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Rafa Benitez met Mike Ashley on Sunday.

The Newcastle United owner was there to see the most comprehensive victory of the season, as NUFC hammered Fulham 4-0.

When Mike Ashley was spotted going into Craven Cottage pre-match, a number of journalists speculated that this could be really positive news, the owner could be there specifically to rubber stamp Rafa’s new contract.

However, after the game, Rafa Benitez was asked about the presence of Mike Ashley and stated:

“He (Mike Ashley) said congratulations (after the match) and thank you very much for the season. He was congratulating the team. We will have a meeting soon…and then we will see.”

When pressed by media on whether Mike Ashley would definitely be at this meeting, as well as Lee Charnley, for talks on his contract. Rafa said that the owner needed to be at such a meeting but he didn’t know for absolutely sure whether Mike Ashley would be.

I saw a comment on social media from a Newcastle fan on Monday, who said that it is surely ‘unimaginable even by Newcastle United standards’ that this imminent owner and manager meeting is the start of talks.

However, I would suggest that it looks like it very much is (the start of talks).

Rafa’s representatives have met with Ashley’s people over the course of this past season with no doubt information relayed back and forwards to the owner.

Then some seven weeks ago, towards the end of March 2019, Rafa said that at Ashley’s request he had sent him the conditions that needed to be met before he would sign a contract extension.

The reality of course is that we are talking a year(s) that the club’s owner has known what needs to change for Rafa Benitez to be convinced to stay. The manager has repeatedly spelled it out in public, as well as no doubt in messages via Lee Charnley and Justin Barnes.

The newspapers are incredibly laidback about all this, repeatedly pointing  out that Rafa’s current contract doesn’t end until 30 June 2019, as if that has any significance.

Time is absolutely of the essence. It is a massive own goal that it hasn’t been sorted long ago and this is far different to a player in the same position. If a player was due to see is contract run out in six or seven weeks time then it wouldn’t be ideal that an extension hadn’t been sorted BUT his (the player’s) job in these next six or seven weeks is to go away on holiday and relax. So if a contract is sorted later on in June then it is no real handicap, as it doesn’t/didn’t affect the fact that early July for pre-season training was the next time he would be needed.

For a manager, this time of year is the most crucial, putting deals in place for players to plant the foundations for next season and beyond.

Rafa Benitez himself has said any number of times that every day that goes by without an agreement reached is a massive negative. He is putting  a brave face on these much delayed contract talks and not kicking off/rocking the boat, because he does want to stay and is giving Mike Ashley every opportunity to still change his position.

The newspapers are happy to spin stories saying this, that suggest Rafa Benitez is going to stay, particularly quoting players…as though they are going to say they think the manager will definitely leave! The fact is that the papers know that fans want to read positive stories claiming it looks like Rafa is going to stay, even when all the evidence is to the contrary!

Mike Ashley knows exactly what he has to do to convince Rafa Benitez to stay and he could have invited the manager to join him post-match for a meal/drink on Sunday and shook hands on the deal. An announcement on Monday to say that the pair had agreed to all the major issues that needed sorting and a formal final confirmation would be forthcoming once the contract was drawn up and signed.

Instead, we have a meeting to take place ‘sometime soon’ that the owner will ‘probably’ attend. Meanwhile, the transfer window opens on Thursday and everybody else has been cracking on with their summer/pre-season work for some time…

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