Another week and more rumours of crunch talks between Chairman Mike Ashley and Manager Rafa Benitez. This time it has been reported that Ashley is preparing a new contract for the popular Spaniard and has even offered to discuss it over a meal between the pair. What can we read into these latest reports as Newcastle fans?
Is this genuine?
10 years of Ashley’s ownership has taught Newcastle fans to be careful on a few fronts; with what the press reporting being actually accurate and also Ashley making a sound football decision.
Ashley has tried to control the press in recent seasons, even restricting the Chronicle at one stage and then also having designated ‘preferred media partners.’ These media partners have then since reported a raft of inaccurate ‘news’ about Newcastle United, much like the national press as a whole. For this reason alone, it is difficult to give much credence to these stories; especially as the same outlets claimed Rafa had walked in August, or that we had a £150m war chest this summer.
There always seems to be an ulterior motive with Ashley and the timing of this certainly feels odd. Tensions appeared to be at all time high between the pair after our disappointing transfer window and a pitiful £11m net spend. So, for talks now to take place either mean that Ashley is trying to rebuild the trust with his Manager or more likely, there is something in it for him.
A logical explanation could be the rumours that Ashley is trying to sell the club being true. Keeping Rafa would be the cheapest way of stabilising the club and confirming or improving its re-sale value. Sure, Benitez is one of the highest paid managers in football even at NUFC, but his estimated £6m a year salary is far less than purchasing a new striker in today’s market for example. After all, players or managers are merely viewed as assets on the balance sheet in modern football.
Having Benitez agree a deal to keep him at the club beyond the end of next season would be a boost, but you can’t help but feel Ashley’s instigated this first and foremost to make Newcastle a more attractive proposition to potential buyers.
It could be seen as a win win if Benitez commits and Ashley’s in a greater position to sell, but I question just why Ashley has waited this long to make contact with Benitez after months of silence during a long and frustrating summer for the Spaniard.
Benitez would have every right to think ‘too little too late’ ahead of Ashley’s apparent request for talks.
Could a takeover be in the pipeline?
Takeover rumours won’t go away. The asking price has been dropped from £400m to £380m according to The Times, suggesting Ashley is seriously looking to cash out. Links to Chinese investment have been mooted, but have died down since initial talks at the start of the summer, however our new Chinese sponsor may add weight to this.
Before this summer, I was of the belief that maybe we are in the better the devil we know camp with Ashley in charge, if we still had Rafa. But such a lack of investment is stopping the club from matching Rafa’s and the fans ambitions. If we can tie him down to a new deal and a takeover happens, it could be exciting times for Newcastle fans.
Will Rafa stay for the long term?
As always, this is more hope than expectation; which has been the situation since Rafa surprisingly arrived at the club. However, if you remove emotions and press speculation, the facts are that he took over when we were in dire trouble, stayed when we went down and has stayed despite no investment this summer. He clearly enjoys being at Newcastle and although he will have his gripes, he sees his future here – for now!
Either way the constant press reports are quite tiresome. We know Rafa wants more ambition from Ashley and as always, he seems to have to make a mistake before he does anything about it.
Rafa has big plans for the club, but in the past two windows has been given little backing in the market. He may be biting his tongue for now and getting on with the job in hand to the best of his ability, but I can’t help but fear his position could become untenable if Ashley stays and continues to show an unwillingness to match his ambition for the club.