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Opinion

Mike Ashley has replacement already lined up for Rafa Benitez

3 weeks ago
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Mike Ashley will shortly appoint his ninth manager/head coach at Newcastle United.

After inheriting the then recently appointed Sam Allardyce, it has been a chaotic and varied tale of appointments from the Sports Direct fat controller.

From Kevin Keegan right through to Rafa Benitez.

With Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren filling in the gap.

As well as the outpouring of anger and disgust over Rafa’s departure from fans, the media are quickly turning their attention to likely replacements.

By Monday night I had seen at least 10 different newspapers/media, giving us 10 different names that they had an inside track on.

It is manna from heaven for them, the chance to put out article after article that is totally made up, yet which is just seen as fair game when it comes to next manager and transfer stories.

The common underlying theme to all this that doesn’t get a mention anywhere really, in the rush to catch the eye/clicks of the public, is that it all relies on no new manager already being lined up.

I think this is all another con job from Mike Ashley.

Just as they had Alan Pardew lined up as soon as they could find a supposed justification for sacking Chris Hughton (losing three of five PL matches leaving NUFC in mid-table, only a month after winning away at Arsenal which had quickly followed a 5-1 hammering of Sunderland), I believe that Ashley and his people have somebody ready to step into Rafa’s shoes.

I didn’t see anybody else pick up on it but as the end of Rafa’s contract got nearer and nearer, we had a series of stories quoting club sources, all of them saying that there was no ‘Plan B’, no new manager lined up if Rafa didn’t renew.

When Mike Ashley’s people are putting out such strong messages, I tend to believe the opposite.

I think the PR strategy was very clearly to try and make it look as though they were desperate to keep Rafa Benitez, that Ashley was attempting to give as far as possible to give the manager what he wanted to convince him to stay. The over the top PR message even going so far as to be saying ‘Hey, look at this, we are so focused on trying to keep Rafa, he is the only show in town, and to prove that we haven’t even considered looking at possible alternatives, despite the players coming back for pre-season on 4 July.’

I think it has become pretty clear that unless a takeover had happened, there was no chance of Rafa Benitez agreeing to stay on. The rubbish one year deal on offer with no fundamental changes, fully intended to ensure the manager would walk away.

Unlike the Chris Hughton situation, Mike Ashley knew he had a perfect scenario of a contract running out, at an ideal time – as far as he is concerned. All he had to do was sit back and watch the clock tick around to 30 June 2019 and then Rafa Bentez would be walking away.

Mike Ashley doesn’t see any need for urgency in terms of preparing for a new season, more than happy for signings to come in late on with no pre-season with their new teammates and manager, no doubt thinking he can save a few quid on last minute bargains and no summer wages on new recruits. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at how few players Newcastle have signed early on in summer transfer windows whilst Ashley as been here.

As for a manager needing time, Mike Ashley sees that pre-season begins on 4 July for the Newcastle squad so no real need to have anybody in charge until then.

Rafa Benitez sees his contract run out on Sunday and then four says later pre-season starts. Perfect!

I would bet a fair few quid that a new manager (or head coach…) will be announced next week.

I would also wager that whoever it turns out to be, will have already agreed to take the job.

We can guarantee it will be somebody out of work so no compensation needing to be discussed or paid (Ashley has never appointed anybody who was working as a manager elsewhere), simply sitting waiting there to be announced when Ashley dictates it.

In the final months of the season we had exclusives from newspapers abroad, claiming that Mike Ashley had engaged agents to sound out potential Rafa replacements, with Genesio (in final days at Lyon back then) and Gattuso (then in final days at AC Milan) the two making most headlines.

Newcastle fans were happy to dismiss these claims at the time but I have a feeling that they may have had more than a grain of truth.

It is all guesswork but I think we are very likely to see the first Mike Ashley appointment of a manager who previously hasn’t managed in England, somebody who I believe has probably been lined up since before last season ended.

We were all hoping for new owners from overseas but instead I think we are set to see an unsuspecting out of work manager from beyond these shores, set to climb into Mike Ashley’s web.

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