We had a form of break through recently with West Ham unable to poach Rafa from Newcastle and it being reported that the Spaniard has committed to being at Newcastle next season. However, he stopped short of signing a new deal, with the just 12 months left on his current contract.
Some may wonder just why he didn’t sign a new deal if ‘positive talks’ had led to him committing himself to the club for next season, but he’s a wise man and knows exactly what he’s doing.
Rafa is a master politician and knows once he sings his leverage also goes with Ashley, so is wisely using the contract to get the reassurances he wants in place before he commits. He wants to sign, but he’ll use this summer and next January as a test – ‘show me you’re capable and willing to match my ambitions over the next two windows and then i’ll sign’. Why would he commit to a new deal before he’s seen first hand whether Ashley will deliver on his ‘promises’? After all, what Ashley says he’ll do and what he actually does are often two very different things, so Rafa’s bound to demand proof before he makes the same mistake again. Once bitten, twice as shy..
So, with this in mind, what will be the priorities for Rafa before he considers a news deal?
Will they match his ambition?
This is the biggest sticking point – Rafa wants to win trophies and Ashley wants to stay up, spend as little as possible and continue to use NUFC as a vehicle to promote Sports Direct. There needs to be some intent from Ashley to do something with the club or sell up – and Rafa is forcing him to do one of them. Even Ashley must know it would be toxic to a whole new level if he let Rafa walk away. He back McClaren with cash – so why not do the same for a genuine, world class manager?
If you have some free time, watch an interview Sky Sports La Liga expert Guillem Balague did with Rafa on his YouTube channel. It is an hour long but near the end he covers NUFC and Rafa tellingly says it is always easy to agree salary and contracts with him, deals are held up when he wants the club to back him in making things more professional – the academy, growth for the future and a commitment to wanting to win trophies. The ball is firmly in Ashley’s court.
Will we sign a proper striker?
After a frustrating last few windows, Rafa bailed us out with two shrewd loan moves in Kenedy and Dubravka last January to fire us to a top half finish. However, with TV money now secured again – he will want a quality striker and not on loan. He is always linked to us but if we did manage to get someone of the ilk of Bas Dost this summer it would be a real signal of intent to Rafa that we mean business and that his future lies here for the longer term.
Rafa will also be keen to ensure we do these type of deals quicker. We lost out on the likes of Caballero, Loftus Cheek and Abraham last summer as we dragged our heels. Ashley needs to lay the budget out clearly and let Rafa get on with it – and now.
Can we even compete to sign Kenedy?
Fresh speculation has surfaced claiming German side RB Leipzig are now also keen on the Brazilian, along with Arsenal and PSG. He seems open to returning, but a move is looking more and more unlikely for us based on his likely cost and those big guns interested.
Regardless of where he ends up gong, it will be telling for Rafa to see the club even compete to sign a player of his quality and potential price tag. That will at least be a sign for Benitez that finances/ a show of ambition are in place this summer. If we weren’t able to sign him or bring him back on loan, there’d be another big whole to fill out wide.
Will we finally break our transfer record?
This ties into our pursuit of a top striker but it is long overdue we break our transfer record. Every other top flight team had broken it within the last two years and our record should not be half of the likes of Leicester. We have went backwards under Ashley but even he must realise we need to spend more to even just stagnate. We can likely sell Gayle and Mitrovic for a combined fee of nearly £30m so that £17m fee paid for Michael Owen must be a thing of the past come August. In fact, to sign a new deal, Rafa will want the record broken 2/3 times this summer which in today’s climate, isn’t much to ask.
Rafa forcing these questions is brilliant for the fans, even if we live in fear in case he leaves. At least someone is making Ashley answer for his lack of ambition and Rafa knows he has the power and pedigree to back Ashley into a corner.
Long may it continue; we can celebrate finally having such an ambitious manager at the helm. It does mean though we don’t get the news we want this summer, that Benitez has signed a new deal. But while he stays in some capacity – he must have hope he can win the power battle with Ashley – otherwise he would take up one of the other offers he will no doubt be getting.