Until now, any talk of Rafael Benitez’s departure from Newcastle United has been spoken about from his point of view. It is nothing new; speculation over his future as manager on Tyneside is almost as old as his reign itself, but over the weekend, all the rumours and reports took a new twist.
Before taking anything into consideration, it should be remembered that the story in question appeared on a Sunday at the height of an international break, which is essentially prime time for wild news stories designed solely to create debate and, in some cases, panic. If Newcastle supporters didn’t understand this having seen so many examples in the past, panic may have ensued, but years of disappointment and negativity have taken their toll; seeing is now the only way of believing on the terraces of St James’ Park.
But when the story emerged that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley was considering sacking Benitez and replacing him with Celtic boss Brendan Rodger, it opened up the possibility that one of the hardest men to read in football could get trigger-happy. Reports from elsewhere suggested Benitez himself is fearful of being forced out of Newcastle, because Ashley does not want to face up to a post-season revolt should his incredibly popular manager refuse a new contract and leave, as the original narrative suggests. If that is true, it is rather counter-intuitive; Ashley would effectively be paying off Benitez only to be faced with an even harsher, and potentially more damaging reaction from the fan base now. It has been said so many times and it will be until he leaves; Benitez is the structure holding Newcastle together and without him, they will crumble.
The most obvious way of disproving these reports is to point out that Ashley will not only have to pay £6million to part with Benitez, and a similar sum to get close to pulling Rodgers out of Celtic. His refusal to fully back his manager with sufficient funds in the transfer market suggests he wouldn’t be willing to spend so much money. If, as some suspect, he wants to end his relationship with Benitez and find a more willing and submissive replacement, why not wait until the summer when it won’t cost him a penny and there is a greater chance of him owning a Premier League club by then?
Even if Ashley is wanting to act now, Rodgers would not be the kind of man he would go for; a fiercly ambitious and forward-thinking coach, it would be out of the fire and into the frying pan for the Northern Irishman who, like Benitez, hasn’t hidden his disdain for his club’s recent transfer activity. Benitez is putting up with restrictions on his job; there is no way Rodgers would accept them too.
Ahead of Newcastle’s Premier League return In 2017, Ashley did a rare television interview admitting his mistakes over the previous decade at the helm, but he is hurtling towards his biggest yet at breakneck speed. Allowing Benitez to leave anyway is only going to end badly for him; forcing him out would be the greatest admittance on his part that he has no desire to listen to the fans at Newcastle. He doesn’t appear to realise, those same people would ease the recent protests against him if he backed the manager and allowed him to get on with his job.
In a recent Fans Forum meeting, the club appeared to blame protests for a lack of concrete interest in buying the club from Ashley. In the minutes detailing the discussions, they claimed many potential investors had been put off by the scrutiny which comes with running such a famous institution. If it is the case that the fans are being indirectly blamed, then it is another example of Ashley focussing on the wrong point; the protests would instantly cease if a takeover happened, and said buyer would be welcomed as the hero who had finally brought an end to his poisonous, lifeless tenure.
There will only be a club worth buying if Benitez remains in charge, though, and even if the reports don’t stand to have much credibility, the notion that he could be sacked is nothing short of ridiculous. Finding a better man for the job is impossible; he has the tactical nous and the required temperament to mend the current situation, with Newcastle winless in all competitions this season, and if it were possible to find a man as good as him to take the reigns, they are unlikely to buy into the community around the club like Benitez has. Nobody has enjoyed a bond to the people like him since Sir Bobby Robson, and he grew up in County Durham, not Madrid.
Right now, it is hard to see Newcastle parting with Benitez and even harder to see them replacing him with someone as accomplished as Rodgers. Ashley has a history of treating managers poorly, though, notably Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer and Chris Hughton, and pinning blame for the current situation on Benitez after months of blatant negligence would be astonishing, but also rather inkeeping with his ownership.
The only thing Mike Ashley should be focussing on is backing Rafael Benitez ahead of the January transfer window and convincing him, if possible, to stay and finish the job he believed he was startling three years ago. That and that alone is what the manager deserves.
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