Comment – Rafa Benitez forced to accept in August 2018 that he would be leaving Newcastle this week
The latest and potentially biggest insult from Mike Ashley has just landed, forcing out a credible manager in Rafa Benitez, who had given the club at least a hint of respectability once more.
I always thought that only a takeover of the club would see Rafa Benitez sign a new deal and as the days ticked by with no news, it became ever more inevitable that the Spaniard wouldn’t still be here in July.
I honestly think that Rafa accepted last summer he would be leaving this month.
A fourth transfer window (summer 2018) in a row when the NUFC manager had been badly misled and undermined by Mike Ashley.
Within minutes of the final whistle of Newcastle 3 Chelsea 0 in May 2018, a statement from Mike Ashley was released, once again claiming Rafa would have access to ‘every penny’ and that the manager would have his full support.
Only three months later and Rafa Benitez had been prevented from bringing in early transfer targets, blocked from making any offer to buy Salomon Rondon, only allowed a late loan for Rondon if he agreed Gayle was part of a loan swap, no net spend and a profit of around £20m on deals in and out, then following the window closing, Mike Ashley took £33m out of the cash flow of the club, claiming via the Fans Forum minutes that this hadn’t been all planned and instead was simply because the money happened to be there because certain transfer targets handed agreed to come.
Rafa Benitez took a deep breath and decided, rightly or wrongly, that he wouldn’t call Mike Ashley out on this and walk away as Kevin Keegan did 10 years earlier, suing for constructive dismissal.
Instead, in my opinion, Rafa privately accepted he was wasting his time and Mike Ashley wouldn’t change, leaving him no option but to leave when his contract ended on 30 June 2019. The manager though 100% committed in the meantime to ensuring that Newcastle would not be relegated, on behalf of the fans, as well as his personal pride and not wanting the relegation on his CV.
From that point I don’t think Mike Ashley has had any intention of seriously trying to persuade the manager to stay, nor indeed did he have any intention previously.
The signing of Miguel Almiron was a positive but even that almost didn’t happen, due to Mike Ashley refusing to budge on the price he was willing to pay.The Paraguayan was eventually signed on the very final day of the January 2019 transfer window after Atlanta United brought their asking price down, Almiron’s agent going public with that after the deal was signed off.
Of course we all hoped that if Mike Ashley was to remain, that this was a sign of better to come but in my opinion, it was more just a case of a number of factors coming together. Newcastle were very much in danger of relegation and in particular, missing a creative attacking spark, somebody to carry the ball, that Kenedy had supplied on loan a year earlier to help lead Newcastle away from (yet another) disaster. Miguel Almiron looked as if he could provide that and at last as importantly, Mike Ashley knew that if the striker could translate his MLS form to the Premier League, you could have a rapidly increasing in value asset, especially good when Atlanta agreed to drop the price.
That was very much though the exception to the rule though. Also, not forgetting as well that Rafa Benitez got absolutely nothing else that he wanted in that January window. Yet again making clear for example that he wanted to buy a left-back that would provide something different and compete with Paul Dummett, instead handed a last minute loan in Antonio Barreca who almost certainly wasn’t even at the bottom of Rafa’s list of targets – Barreca getting four minutes on the pitch and deemed not even good enough for the bench.
Mike Ashley and his minions making it otherwise very clear in this past year/season that this football club was going to run in exactly the same way it had done previously. If it could keep crawling along, with a chance of clinging on to safety season after season, why fix it?
Rafa Benitez has repeatedly said that improving the infrastructure of the club was vital, yet in April Lee Charnley said there were now no plans in the foreseeable future to build the new state of the art training complex that was promised in 2013, scheduled to be finished in 2016, and which Mike Ashley had said back then in 2013, was essential if Newcastle were going to be able to compete.
The Salomon Rondon farce of summer 2018 had shown that in reality Rafa did not have the freedom to operate as he saw fit and months before the end of this season the striker went public, saying he had told the club’s hierarchy in meetings what was needed for him to stay on and sign permanently. Wolves signed successful loan striker Jimenez for £32m some six weeks before the end of the season, Mike Ashley was happy to see Newcastle’s player of the season walk away in May without even any attempt to buy him.
All the noises from the club, such as when Lee Charnley gave us Mike Ashley’s spiel when the club accounts were published in April, as well as what we were told by the odd credible journalist, was that it is ‘business as usual’ at Newcastle United and it is down to Rafa Benitez to buy into that.
In March, at the owner’s request Rafa Benitez provided him with exact details of what needed to happen to convince the manager to sign a contract extension.
Press conference after press conference, Rafa was asked if he’d had any reply from Mike Ashley and the answer never changed.
The meeting in London on 16 May 2019, no doubt this was when the manager at last had his suspicions confirmed as to what Mike Ashley thought about those conditions.
Once there was no early announcement of that meeting being simply a handshake to seal negotiations going on secretly in private, the writing was surely massively on the wall for us all.
Rafa Benitez had nothing to lose in waiting until the very last to see if a takeover would become reality, or failing that, for even Mike Ashley to accept that bending towards Rafa’s position made sense in every singe way, to rely on an experienced talented operator who knows exactly what he is doing.
Yes, some decent funds would need to be made available to get the whole thing properly sparked into life but nobody knows better than Mike Ashley, that often when a business is at a low ebb and isn’t performing as it is capable of, you do need at times to invest heavily to then get even bigger rewards later.
However, it predictably wasn’t to be.
Rafa Benitez maybe even realised as far back as January 2017 that he was wasting his time with Mike Ashley. Rafa wanted to bring in players to ensure promotion and to start building towards a return to the Premier League, Ashley didn’t even allow him any loan signings. If you remember at the end of that window, Benitez did go public with is frustrations but then immediately got his head down and said they had to simply concentrate now 100% on promotion, now the window had closed.
Newcastle fans have been waiting for 11 years or so for Mike Ashley to change but the vast majority have long accepted that will not happen, Rafa Benitez identified the issues just as quickly but found it impossible to change things from within.
He is at least able to walk away and I don’t blame him.
The only show in town now that Rafa Benitez has removed the respectability he supplied to this regime, is for Mike Ashley to sell up as soon as possible.
This has in reality always been the case because as has been shown these past three years, even when a top class manager falls into his lap, Ashley still refuses to change his season by season short-termism survival plan on an unrealistic budget.
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