The Benitez Blunder

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is hated on Tyneside – almost as much as Sunderland are. His time as owner of the Magpies has been nothing short of catastrophic with the club having suffered two relegations, numerous close escapes as well as plenty of off-field shenanigans.

From the so called ‘Cockney Mafia’ that invaded St James’ Park when Ashley took over way back in 2007, to Joe Kinnear’s infamous TalkSport interview and all the way to present day, as the club maintains radio silence while the fans descend into anarchy, it’s been a whirlwind.

Despite all of that, if Mike Ashley allows Rafael Benitez to leave the club this month, it will officially rocket straight to the top of the list of the worst things he’s done as owner of the club. Rafa Benitez has been the only thing keeping the fans sane since his appointment in 2016 and should he leave, chaos will ensue.

He was a dream appointment for fans when he joined, nobody thought that there was any way that could ever happen. Unfortunately, the damage done by Steve McClaren and his crew was too deep for even Rafa to keep the club in the Premier League that first season. Feeling as though he had unfinished business, Rafa stuck around and led Newcastle straight back to the Premier League with a fantastic title winning season in the Championship.

Since then, with a shoestring budget and a Championship level squad, Benitez has lead his side to a top ten finish in 2017/18 and then a comfortable mid-table finish last season. I truly believe that any other manager would have been relegated with that squad – what Benitez has managed to get out of his team is nothing short of miraculous.

Despite all of that, the club have allowed his contract to dwindle down into its dying embers. With just seven days remaining on his deal and newspaper reports saying he has refused all offers he’s received, it looks as though his time at St James’ Park has come to an end. With talk of a takeover looming over the city, the club are in a unique position right now.

They are one step away from celebration – picture this, new owners come in, Rafa signs a new deal, the club bring in new signings galore and there is a light on the horizon. Worryingly though, they’re also one step away from pandemonium – the flip side of that coin would see yet another takeover attempt falls through, Rafa leaves and the team club revert right back to where they were six years ago – with a bang average manager, a bang average squad and a fan base who have had enough.

If the latter of those scenarios comes to fruition, Newcastle will struggle to stay in the Premier League next season. They’ve lost their star striker in Salomon Rondon, they look to be shipping out a few players and there’s currently no incoming players on the horizon. With a squad that is still terrifyingly similar to the one that won the Championship two years back, they’ll struggle to find wins next term.

That would mean a third relegation in 11 years, but unlike the first two times, I’d struggle to see them coming straight back up this time. Quite a worrying thought for Mr Ashley too – he certainly won’t receive £350m offers for a Championship club, that’s for damn sure.

Putting all of the potential consequences of this appalling move to one side, let’s talk about Rafa once more. As opposed to the frankly stupid quotes by Steve Harmison this week, Rafa deserves all the respect in the world if/when he leaves. Fans shouldn’t be having a go at Rafa for leaving, they should be having a go at Ashley for allowing it to get to that. Rafael Benitez has the gratitude of most everyone on Tyneside after everything he has done for the club this last three years.

He’s been the ray of sunshine in what’s been a pretty bleak period of time for the club. No matter how bad things seem, it’s always been a case of “Ah, Rafa will sort it out! We trust in Rafa!” Just about every single time, he lived up to that faith and provided for the fans.

As a Newcastle fan myself, I just want to say this:

Thank you Rafa. Thank you for everything you’ve done for my club, by God I wish it could have ended in a better way. I’ll never forget the feeling of sheer satisfaction watching you tuck those specs in your pocket following a win. I’ll not forget the humility you showed every time we lost a game. Most of all, I’ll never forget the feeling of being at SJP, looking down at the dugout, seeing Rafa there and just thinking, “Jesus Christ – Rafa Benitez is our manager. How in the hell did that happen?”

We wish you good luck and good fortunes for whatever it is you choose to do next. Whatever team you decide to manage, I hope they realise that they’ve become the luckiest football club in the world.

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