Rafa Benitez is undoubtedly one of the most likeable and professional managers in football. Despite operating under one of the tightest budgets in the Premier League, the Spaniard produced a minor miracle in guiding The Magpies to a 13th place finish last campaign. After their less than acrimonious split over the summer, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley are now locked in a war of words with Rafa Benitez which has so far involved back and forth insults, accusations and other general playground antics. But is Mike Ashley really the bad guy in all of this? Or does Rafa have to take some responsibility for his own actions?
The weird and not so wonderful world of Mike Ashley
For those looking from the outside in, it would appear that the appointment of Steve Bruce as Benitez’s successor has managed to upset even the most indifferent and unflappable Newcastle fans. However, this isn’t Mike Ashley’s first rodeo and the Newcastle owner has very rarely been out of the headlines in the past decade or so.
Back in 2008, Ashley scooped £1.3 million on a single roulette spin. Despite Ashley’s claims about having no money, this is just pocket change to the owner of high street giants such as House of Fraser and Sports Direct. He’s also been up in front of MPs to answer questions relating to zero-hour contracts in Sports Direct warehouses and under his tenure, the club was ordered to pay £2 million in damages to Kevin Keegan for breaching the terms of his contract with regards to transfers.
Rafa Benitez and accusations of “money-grabbing”
In the ongoing feud, Mike Ashley has accused Rafa Benitez of putting money before Newcastle United. After leaving Newcastle, Benitez joined Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang on a contract which is rumoured to be worth £12m a year. Cynics would argue that operating at the highest level for the longest period possible should be the remit of any top manager or player and although not terrible, the standard of the Chinese Super League is a million miles away from the Premier League. If we’re being honest, the Chinese Super League is a football burial ground and players choosing to ply their trade on the continent of Asia are interested in one thing only: money. And there’s plenty of it going round with the league sponsored by sports giants such as Nike.
Nonetheless, it was up to Ashley to fight tooth and nail to keep the best manager we’ve had at the club in the last decade (at least). What does it say about the club and management that Benitez has decided to lord it over in Asia as opposed to managing in the most competitive league in Europe? To us, it says that the combination of Charnley and Ashley was enough to pull what little hair out that he has left and that it simply wasn’t worth the stress. Betway, as of August 23, have United amongst the favourites to be relegated this season. And rightly so after recent performances against Arsenal and Norwich. Did Rafa really need a relegation on his CV? Absolutely not. Do we blame Rafa for walking? With broken promises, a pathetic transfer kitty and two guys working above him who quite possibly don’t even know the offside rule? Once again, absolutely not.
It IS about the money, money
Mike Ashley is quite clearly competent when it comes to the world of business and one could argue that this is the crux of the problem. Ashley simply sees Newcastle as an investment and a profitable business opportunity. He quite clearly has absolutely no interest in seeing the football club evolve, grow and reclaim its place back atop the tree of English football. To top it all off, the players don’t even seem too keen on him either.
The fact of the matter remains that in order to break into the top 6 of the Premier League, you need to spend money. With the greatest respect to players such as Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin, they are not the kind of signings that a club makes to propel them back into the upper echelons of English football. Of course, we wish them both well and hope they take like ducks to water in the Premier League for the good of the football club. However, to the most ardent of Newcastle fans, the aforementioned players feel like token signings from a man who has thrown a bit of money around in the summer – £55.8 million on those two players to be exact – with absolutely no idea what he’s doing.
Doing the right thing
Make no mistake about it, for Newcastle to grow as a club, Mike Ashley needs to leave. The appointment of Steve Bruce was, for many, the final nail in the coffin. Although Bruce managed those who must not be named, we don’t really have anything against him. He’s just not a very good manager.
Whilst there are plenty of competent managers out there who are capable of managing the club, they will simply look at the Benitez walk-out as a sign that managing at Newcastle is a nigh on impossible task. And who can blame them? If Charnley and Ashley had anything about them, they’d do the right thing and let someone take over who has the club at heart. Unfortunately, doing the right thing hasn’t ever appeared to be on the agenda for the pair. So why would they start now?