Where do we turn from here? What next? The questions and fears on every NUFC fans mind following last night’s news that a deal between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley if off.
In reality, things look bleak and it’s hard to be hopeful or ignore the situation we could now find ourselves in following Mike’s latest acts of incompetence. He’s more than likely burnt bridges with the one ‘serious bidder’ who’d come to the fore following October’s ‘up for sale’ announcement.
Not only does the news plague us with doubts that we’ll ever be able to get rid of Ashley, but it creates a huge surge of negativity around our hopes of survival, a crucial two weeks on the transfer front and Rafa Benitez’s future – the one man whose given us reason to be hopeful as NUFC fans over the last two years.
Moving on (it’s all we can do), we can only pray that things somehow work out in the end and we manage to keep a hold of Rafa Benitez. This is a situation that is currently hard to imagine, however.
Here’s three scenarios that await us (we are almost certain to encounter one) and a look into what each may mean for NUFC, Benitez and Mike Ashley. We’ll start with the potential bad news first, as this is what seems most likely at present, unfortunately:
Relegation – Rafa leaves (even if Ashley sells up in the summer)
We sit just 3 points above the relegation zone at present. Our run in looks the toughest out of all those scrapping in the bottom 10 and last night’s news will have done nothing to help our momentum in the race for survival.
It’s accepted that signings and an upturn in form at St James’ Park are essential to us staying up, but it’s hard to bank on either coming good for us in our current predicament – especially when you consider how the atmosphere could become negative and toxic (towards Ashley) at home games from here on in.
In all honesty, even if Ashley sold the club in the summer following our potential relegation, I don’t see Rafa hanging around. He was clearly having second thoughts about spending a gruelling year in the Championship last summer and I don’t see him doing it again unfortunately.
The worst case scenario in all of this is Ashley remaining and Rafa leaving following relegation. For now, let’s avoid thinking about how we’d tackle that scary scenario.
Survival and Ashley stays – Rafa almost certainly leaves
Now, even if we do manage to beat the drop this season and still be a Premier League side come the end of May, I do really struggle to see how Rafa remains at NUFC if Ashley isn’t looking like sealing a sale.
Rafa has experienced Ashley’s constant lies and awful communication as much as anyone over the past 12 months. Failure to do deals last January when Benitez wanted Townsend to seal promotion and prepare for the Premier League. Penny pinching over the summer and failing to secure his top targets when Rafa made it clear we MUST strengthen to compete in the top flight. And now, this month, he’s back at it again. When the club was officially put up for sale in October, Ashley’s lawyer confirmed that money would be spent in January even if a takeover was not completed. We are now in that exact situation, and not only have we not signed a soul over half way through the window, Rafa STILL doesn’t know his budget. What has Ashley been playing at over these past few months?
Benitez took over Newcastle as he believed we had the potential to become big again. With each passing moment, Rafa realises that his potential will never be unearthed under Mike Ashley’s ownership. Benitez stayed for us and I’m 100% sure he won’t walk out on us mid-season, but I think he’ll almost certainly leave in the summer if Ashley remains – regardless of what league we’re in.
Ashley has this club tied to chains and Benitez will have been desperate to see a takeover go through to break those. If it doesn’t happen, Benitez knows it’s a battle he can’t win and I don’t think any NUFC fan would blame him for leaving.
Survival and new owners arrive – Rafa stays
Now this is the scenario we must cling onto and pray comes off.
Starting with survival, we must use all our energy to get behind Benitez and the boys over the comings months. I totally understand why turning up at St James’ Park and remaining upbeat may seem difficult right now, but there’s still a relegation battle to be won here. We must come out on top in this race for survival if we have any hope of keeping Rafa – regardless of new owners arriving or not.
If we can secure safety, Ashley is then in a stronger position to receive his asking price. Don’t forget that the club is still up for sale despite last night’s major setback, and us securing our Premier League status will almost certainly attract more buyers. Dare I say it, Staveley and PCP *may* even return with an acceptable offer in the summer if this were to happen. Why? Because it seems one of the biggest sticking points for them was the threat of relegation and one of Ashley’s biggest issues with their offer appeared to be the relegation clause they insisted upon.
The fear would be Ashley driving up his price if Premier League safety was sealed, however he does want out and I imagine potential buyers would be far more receptive to firming up their interest if they knew they were buying a Premier League club with Rafa at the helm.
To say this is a huge few months for the future of NUFC is an understatement, but, for now, let’s focus on supporting Benitez and the team. That’s all we can control and something that is essential if we are to stay up. What follows in the summer is out of our hands, but the chances of an Ashley sale and Benitez remaining may go up considerably if we remain in the top flight.