In an excellent exclusive released by The Athletic, Rafa Benitez has shared his honest thoughts about his time as manager of Newcastle United.
‘Rafa the Gaffa’ spoke with great respect for Newcastle fans, but had some choice words for Mike Ashley and those who criticise Newcastle fans.
Rather than copying over the whole article, I’ve picked out my five favourite quotes from the piece; which perfectly sum up just how special he really is as a manager.
1 – Bemused by a baffling Mike Ashley
“What is Mike Ashley looking for?”
“He’s a businessman who I don’t believe really cares about his team.
“He wants to be in the Premier League and he wants to make a profit. We did it. Everything he was expecting, we did it.
“We kept the team up and we finished 10th and 13th, creating the structures to keep growing.“
No wonder he was so adored during his time at the club – he challenged Mike Ashley and wanted more than just survival.
Mike Ashley is public enemy number one on Tyneside, and always has been. The way he drove Benitez out of the club was the final straw for many. As an owner, he should’ve been excited by ambition, by the will to win.
Unfortunately, the only thing that will ever excite Mike Ashley is £‘s and zeroes. We will never progress under him.
2 – His plan to “build something” and give back to NUFC fans
“When I went to Newcastle it was an opportunity to keep a big club in the Premier League and to try to build something from there”.
“Some people criticise the fans and say, ‘Oh, they want too much’. No. They just want to be at a level they deserve. You have a whole city behind you. And we were with them and the players were with them.”
That verb. Build. That’s exactly what Benitez wanted to do with Newcastle, to build us into a great club once again. Under Steve Bruce, our aim is to survive. We are capable of so much more.
Much has been made of Newcastle fan’s expectations in the last few weeks. Pundits such as Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton try to tell us that we shouldn’t expect anymore than we’ve already got, that we should be happy with our lot. But not Rafa, he understood. He understood what this city deserved, what we have achieved in the last twenty years. He wanted to bring back the glory days.
3 – Why he knew there was “no hope” under Ashley and had to leave
“I didn’t have any other option (but to leave)
“When we had our last meeting, I was sure there would be no investment in the academy or the training ground.
“I could see there was no hope we would be progressing or improving. They didn’t want to invest.
“They didn’t want to have a project or exploit the potential of the club. It was just to stay there (in the Premier League).
“At that point, they knew 100 per cent that I would not be staying.
“I told them I was cleaning out my office.
“They were playing games at the end. If it was just about staying there, I can understand that.
“But you have to tell me before and don’t play games. That’s it.”
Damning comments, but ones that help make sense of his sad exit last summer. Yes he left for China, but he didn’t want to lead us on and remain under an owner who had no interest in funding anything other than a fight for survival.
4 – The bond between him and the fans – “you are fighting for them”
“You see it on the film (‘We Are The Geordies’) from the perspective of the fans, how they love you, how they appreciate what you are trying to do and the feeling that we had at this time, that you are fighting for them.”
It’s actually quite hard to read this. Especially when thinking about how we have lost the last two games; the lack of emotion in the performance, it could have been so different.
It always was during his reign. We had a team that fought to the very last. But Rafa Benitez himself was fighting a losing battle at Newcastle. He had no choice but to leave in the end.
We can only look back at his time at the club and smile at the memories. Because now, because of Mike Ashley, that’s all they are.