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Opinion

Mike Ashley apparently sticking to his ridiculous terms means we are yet to see a breakthrough

1 year ago
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Last season now feels like a distant memory 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, new signings, never mind a takeover…

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 David Punton:

What is your best guess as to what is happening with Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez with regard to the manager staying on?

An entire city is waiting on this huge decision. Like a Papal conclave at the Vatican we are anxiously looking for the signs of white smoke coming from our most holy of footballing shrines.

Sadly, with Mike Ashley apparently sticking to his ridiculous terms we are yet to see a breakthrough. I truly hope that by the time this has appeared the story has moved on and Rafa will be our manager for another three years.

It’s a tricky issue to second guess. Newcastle is a great fit for Benitez, but the treatment from those upstairs clearly mean that it’s also become a huge headache for a manager with a glittering CV and a burning desire to win things. The chances of a long term deal may be receding. The best we can hope for now is perhaps a sticking plaster of a one year extension, which kicks the can down the road and leaves the door ajar for new owners to sort it, should they really appear.

If 10 was Mike Ashley totally changing his outlook on running Newcastle and 0 not at all, how far do you think he has moved (if at all) in the 39 months Rafa Benitez has been at St James Park?

Four. There was clearly some slight shift in the strategic approach after the club went down in 2016, though that looked more like a roll of the dice to get back at the first go, and thanks to Rafa it paid off.

Benitez has still had his hands tied since the promotion season and it would seem he’s only got his way on some players incoming when it has suited the club. He’s been badly let down in comparison to what other Premier League clubs manage to do with their TV cash and progressive owners.

Things could be about to get worse as it is now being widely claimed the club have resurrected this ridiculous policy of no signings over the age of 25. That just ties the manager’s arm up his back even more. A squad must have a blend of youth and experience.

Three words that describe your current mood regarding Newcastle United?

Frustration. Worry. Confusion.

How would you rate (out of 10) Rafa Benitez last season on:

Transfers

It’s still not entirely clear what the power lines are on signings at NUFC. Rafa has a say but not when it comes to paying the fees. All of the players that did come in did the job though. 8 out of 10.

Tactics

Despair in the run up to Xmas. Brilliance in the run in when it mattered. 7 out of 10.

Entertainment

Rafa has to cut his cloth with the players he’s got at his disposal. I heard a tale from a fan who was lucky enough to meet Rafa, who spoke at length about the need to be so defensive given what he has to work with. It’s not easy on the eye and some games were dross. 6 out of 10.

Overall

Rafa is a wily old fox. That was a season that had some astonishingly bleak moments. We headed into that Cardiff home game in the bottom three (in January) and in serious trouble. I was concerned about Rafa’s belligerence and his unwillingness to change the team’s approach to games.

As ever, the Spaniard was right, I was wrong. He stuck to his guns and turned the situation around beautifully and we stayed up comfortably in the end.

For that he has to get 8 out of 10.

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

Leicester away was only a 1-0 win but it was a game where Rafa oversaw a tactical masterclass to see off the Foxes. Every player knew their job, stayed in position and executed the game plan to perfection.

If Newcastle stuck with exact same squad of 2018/19 (not including the loan players), what would happen in 2019/20?

Relegation battle. After promotion in 2017 that squad needed a major overhaul and rebuild. Instead it has been make do and mend.

The players that are there have been magnificent in their approach, effort, and levels of commitment. It has seen two consecutive miracles of survival when the level of spend has been paltry in contrast to others in the Premier League, many of who have thankfully wasted money on players commanding high fees.

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

You can wear two different hats in answering such a question.

With my partisan, NUFC fan’s hat on then I’m duty bound to say no. It’s utterly hilarious that they are League One and they’d find it utterly hilarious if it was t’other way around.

With my ‘North East football hat’ on I’d say it is better for them to be up there too. It would bring the derby game back and it would make our area look like less of a footballing backwater. Sunderland have to earn their right to get back up there and many clubs are seeking the promised land of the Premier League. I certainly don’t take it for granted that NUFC remain there, given the way our club is run.

Is signing Salomon Rondon for £16.5m and paying him Premier League wages a no-brainer?

Rondon has done enough to earn a move to Newcastle United. He’s a bear of a man and has filled the Number 9 shirt very well indeed. He has offered more leading the line than Gayle up there on his own in Rafa’s system. Set to turn 30 in September he has experience and he’s got three to four more good years left in the tank. It’s a no-brainer.

Eight players (in order) that Newcastle definitely need to keep for next season (not including this past season’s loan players)?

Longstaff. Ritchie. Perez. Shelvey. Schar. Lascelles. Almiron, Dummett.

The three positions most in need of strengthening?

Striker. Centre mid. Full back.

Best goals from Newcastle players last season, what is your top three (in order)?

1 Schar against Burnley. 2 Schar against Cardiff. 3 Ritchie against Bournemouth

As well as a decent transfer budget, Rafa Benitez has made clear that Newcastle have to also show ambition when it comes to the new training complex that was promised years ago, as well as investment in a fit for purpose Academy. How integral do you think these things are for both Rafa and the future of the club?

The facilities that the players are using were state of the art in the late 1990s. This is 2019. If Newcastle United aspire to be better then they have to build a new training ground and academy on the same site at Benton.

There were plans back in 2013 that got shelved due to the cost and they’ve never been revisited.

We’re so far behind other clubs when it comes to facilities for the players. It’s embarrassing. Top drawer facilities are essential for the 21st century. It may not be something that is a red line for Rafa but the club really needs it.

You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton

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