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Comment: ‘Unreasonable’ Rafa Benitez demands and higher wages could change his mind – Telegraph

5 months ago
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As we get to the business end of things with Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez, media intensity is sure to increase by the day.

In only seven days time we arrive at the final day of the manager’s contract and whilst contracts only count for so much these days, the expectation is that at the very least the ending of this contract will spark some reaction/comment from the parties involved.

Neither Mike Ashley nor Rafa Benitez have commented publicly since their London meeting on 16 May, nor indeed was there any commenting via stealth through trusted journalists or other people in the media.

Recent days may have seen that start to change from the owner’s side though, with the odd piece in the newspapers whilst the likes of Sky Sports and Talksport have given a platform to Dennis Wise and Steve Harmison to put out pro-Ashley and anti-Rafa nonsense.

George Caulkin gave an excellent but worrying update on Friday night, stating that from what he had been told/understood, a takeover was nowhere close and Rafa Benitez is almost certain to leave.

Following on from this we have seen another long-time commentator on NUFC step up, Luke Edwards of The Telegraph.

His overview of the state of play and how we have got to this current edge of disaster situation, saw him point out many of the failings of Mike Ashley.

However, he has also gone down the path of looking for the blame to be shared between the owner and manager, if Rafa Benitez walks (is forced?) away. Luke Edwards says he had to think and rethink, rewrite parts several times, before he put forward his piece for publishing.

I agree with some of his sentiments, up to a point, but not a lot of the detail and most definitely not his conclusions.

He says he will not sign up to blind hero worship of Rafa Benitez and that he has his flaws, which I totally agree with.

I think a decent number of Newcastle fans do go overboard about Rafa but I think a lot of that is due to having endured five years of nonsense from Pardew, Carver and McClaren, all of them far too grateful to have the job and willing to say and do anything that Mike Ashley and his people told them to do. People who weren’t good enough for the job and who when they spoke, embarrassed the fans of NUFC and the club itself. Having somebody of the stature and class of Rafa Benitez was such a relief, no wonder fans have been so over the top in their praise. The first manager since Chris Hughton that carries himself in the proper manner and is shown the proper respect in return.

As Luke Edwards points out, Rafa Benitez isn’t faultless, he does get some things wrong – but that is the same with every manager and only the truly daft would insist otherwise.

I also think it is daft when you hear some fans saying that Rafa is the very best manager in the world and he is the be all and end all where Newcastle United are concerned. I would say there are a number of other managers out there who as good as Rafa Benitez, indeed I am happy to hold my hands up and say the likes of Guardiola and Klopp, possibly Pochettino as well, are all better than Rafa on the evidence of recent years, yes they have had more money to spend on players and/or inherited far better players but their achievements are there for all to see. Rafa may well have done the same if in their position(s) but that will always be an unknown.

On the other hand, Rafa Benitez is a very good manager and one who is deservedly still ranked amongst the top level, he has done an excellent job at St James Park and by a million miles is the best manager we will have whilst Mike Ashley still remains. With new ambitious owners then who knows which credible managers could be attracted? My preference would still be Rafa if there was a takeover but with new owners it wouldn’t necessarily be the near certain disaster it will be if Mike Ashley stays in control.

However, there are massive issues where I can’t agree with Luke Edwards whatsoever.

He focuses a lot on Rafa’s own personal wage and indicates/claims that if Mike Ashley had been prepared to pay him more, that could have been a game-changer with regard to signing a new contract.

You can never say never but I think it would be a huge shock to Newcastle fans if it was ever proved to be the case that being unreasonable about his wage claims was a reason for the Spaniard not staying on. I think he is no doubt somebody who knows his own worth and that would have been reflected in the contract he signed in 2016. So with football inflation and the excellent job he has done taken into account, then if that has been fairly reflected in whatever he had been offered by Mike Ashley in 2019, Rafa’s personal wages wouldn’t have been an issue. Edwards talks about the possibility of Rafa choosing a Chinese club because they will pay higher wages but this is surely a big fat red herring, even if any Chinese club is really interested they aren’t the reason as to why no contract has been agreed throughout this past 12 months. Which credible owner would allow it to get to the point were an excellent manager’s contract actually runs out, instead of negotiating far earlier to a successful conclusion?

The Telegraph piece states that no manager can expect everything they want and that when it comes to what Rafa has demanded/asked for  ‘some of those demands are unreasonable within the Newcastle business model.’

It is a strange line of arguing that this is somehow Rafa’s fault, that he knows what Mike Ashley is like and the last three years are proof of that, but it is the manager who is being ‘unreasonable’ in thinking/expecting that should change. Surely that is the whole crux of the matter, the club needs to change or else it will be continually fighting relegation and adding to the two relegations that have already happened under Mike Ashley. Indeed, fans and most neutrals will agree that these past two years would have been guaranteed a third if it hadn’t been for Rafa.

Whatever the club/Ashley say, the figures don’t add up at NUFC. One of the lowest wage bills and net spends in the Premier League but one of the best supported, as well as one of those with highest revenues outside the top six.

Luke Edwards says that Rafa Benitez knows NUFC are a ‘self-sufficient’ club but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. No other club has an owner who uses the football club solely to benefit the rest of his business interests, at the expense of the club.

Repeatedly Rafa Benitez has been misled and last summer was the ultimate in the manager being undermined, not even allowed to buy Rondon for £16.5m despite selling Mitro for £22m (potentially rising to £27m). Instead there was a profit on deals in and out of some £20m and then Mike Ashley took £33m out of the cash flow. Yes he is the owner and he can do what he likes but no decent owner would put the club in such a position, actively inviting relegation by taking that loan to his own football club back out, instead of leaving it in and allowing investment and/or the infrastructure – such as the new essential training complex that was promised by Ashley in 2013. Ambitious owners would instead look to build a far better club and then get a far better price when they eventually sell it.

Mike Ashley wants it both ways.

Maybe the daftest notion, in my opinion, is that Rafa Benitez would be the one leaving Newcastle United ‘in the lurch’ if he walks away at the end of his contract.

That is absolute nonsense, it is Mike Ashley who owns and controls the club and at any time during this contract he could have acted to tie Rafa Benitez down to a new deal, if he had been genuinely wanted to and been prepared to be ambitious.

Rather than engage with his manager and keep regular/irregular contact, instead Mike Ashley has just ignored Rafa, even when attending matches.

As for claims of Benitez leaving things in a last minute lurch, the manager said at Ashley’s request he had supplied to the owner in March his conditions on signing a new contract.

If Mike Ashley wasn’t prepared to meet those conditions then it was up to him to make whatever counter offer and then if Rafa Benitez didn’t agree, then it would be down to him (Ashley) to set whatever deadlines and line up a replacement etc and make whatever preparations are necessary.

Interesting that Salomon Rondon weeks earlier than Rafa’s conditions were asked for in March, told the media that he (Rondon) had met the club hierarchy and laid out what needed to happen for him to agree to stay on.

All roads lead back to Mike Ashley, he is the one to blame 99.9999%.

Whatever blame Rafa Benitez should carry is miniscule in the great scheme of things if he parts company with Newcastle United.

Whether they are the right moves or not for their respective clubs, Manchester United tied up Solskjaer on a new contract long before last season ended, Wolves did the same with star striker Jimenez when they agreed to pay £32m to ensure the loan player would be there next season.

If Rafa Benitez is sticking to his guns and telling Mike Ashley he will only stay if things are now done properly and in an ambitious manner, then good for him. Rafa staying on with things carrying on in the same way would be pointless, unless Ashley goes or changes completely how he does things then any manager is wasting his time, sadly this is the case for the fans as well.

Newcastle United are in a continual mess because of Mike Ashley, end of story.

If they end up in an even bigger mess with Rafa walking away, it is down to Mike Ashley once again.

Extracts from Luke Edwards writing in The Telegraph:

‘If Benitez has, indeed, decided to leave, he cannot do so without reprimand either. He is not blameless, he does not walk on water, he is not without flaws and someone has to point that out before the first shots are fired in the next battle for St James’ Park.

He will leave Newcastle in the lurch, manager-less on the eve of pre-season training. He told the club he wanted to stay months ago, but he has been unwilling to compromise enough to make that happen so far.

There will be some who admire his principles, who applaud the fact he could not stay and work for a man like Ashley, but no manager gets everything they want.

He was told what his transfer budget would be, but it appears that is not enough. He was told what the wage budget would be. That appears not to be enough. He was asked to sign young players, if he could, but he was reluctant to work under those parameters. He has been reassured the club would not sign any players against his wishes, but it seems Benitez wants the power to sign whoever he wants. No football club works like that.

It appears as though Benitez will not sign unless he gets everything he desired and, unfortunately, some of those demands are unreasonable within the Newcastle business model. Newcastle are a self-sufficient football club. He knew that when he took over three and a half years ago, and he has known it every year since. He has not been told anything he did not know already this summer.

Newcastle could undoubtedly have done more to improve his personal terms. They should have been willing to give Benitez a substantial pay rise rather than link increases– as Telegraph Sport understands they have – to performance-related bonuses. They need to make him feel wanted and nothing speaks louder than financial reward. It could still happen. There is still time for Benitez to alter course.

However, when Chinese clubs are willing to double his salary, how many of us can say, hand on wallet, that we would not be tempted by that sort of offer. I would be.

But I would not have pretended otherwise, I would not have claimed the things that mattered were different. I would not have talked about wanting to stay in England for family reasons, I would not have claimed my sole motivation on Tyneside was to help Newcastle’s realise its vast potential. Because he was doing that, slowly, but surely. He was improving the team; improving the football club.

If you really are going Rafa, then be honest about the reasons why. And if you stay – and I really hope you can be pulled back from the precipice – I will be the first person to apologise and thank you for remaining to finish the work you have started on Tyneside.’

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