Managing Newcastle: Rafa Benitez’s ‘lack of trust’ with Mike Ashley and his multi-million legacy

Using two of his fingers to simulate a gun, Rafa Benitez pointed them beneath his chin and stated: “If we don’t act now with transfers, we’re here.”

We didn’t know it then, but Benitez was about to kick off his final season as Newcastle boss and the noises coming from the boardroom in summer 2018 had been far from encouraging when it came to signing new players. He’d already signed South Korea star Ki to bolster his midfield and was then afforded £3million to sign Fabian Schar for what has proved to be a bargain from Deportivo La Coruna.

Schar is part of Benitez’s impressive legacy at Newcastle with the Swiss star, Jamaal Lascelles, Matt Ritchie, Martin Dubravka, Miguel Almiron and Jacob Murphy all still playing big parts at United plus the Academy graduate Sean Longstaff, given his chance by Benitez, clocking up over 160 appearances for the club.

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But as the team prepared to set off for pre-season, Benitez felt that his squad was light in the attacking areas and ahead of a stormy trip to Portugal that summer the problems behind the scenes began to unfold. Benitez and Mike Ashley had not always seen eye to eye on transfer matters despite the Spanish boss leading the club back to the Premier League in 2017 and then stabilising them with a 10th place finish.

It was in Braga that Benitez began to contemplate he was going to have to sell one of his popular players Dwight Gayle in order to accommodate an incoming deal. As Gayle buried a goal into the top corner in during a training session a mischievous team-mate shouted: “West Brom!”.

Yet things were starting to boil over at United and having scraped a creditable 0-0 draw in Porto at the start of the trip, a 4-0 thumping against SC Braga underlined there were bigger problems. As the three journalists who’d made the journey from Tyneside took a seat in an otherwise deserted Press room in the bowels of Estadio Municipal de Braga, a unique stadium with one side of the ground having a rock face behind the goal, Benitez pulled no punches.

The scene during Rafa Benitez’s terse press conference after the Braga defeat

The former Real Madrid boss began: “Things are not going well off the pitch and you can see a reflection of that on the pitch.” He was then asked what isn’t going right off the field, and Benitez replied: “Everything.”

And when asked if he was close to signing any new players, Benitez followed up with: “I have no idea.” When asked if Ashley had made money available to spend, Benitez replied: “I have no idea.”

Without saying anything, he had said it all as fans back home began to question Ashley’s intentions once again. After Benitez’s Press conference, it was on to the mixed zone to see if any players would speak, but it was soon obvious there were even deeper problems than many thought.

As Jamaal Lascelles led the squad through en masse, the squad politely told journalists they were unable to speak. The reason? A seasonal bonus had not been agreed and the Newcastle stars would not even talk to the official website as they worked to rule.

Benitez was the ultimate communicator at Newcastle and would ensure that every section of the media had more than enough to report on. Incredibly, I would spend hours with Benitez at the training ground as he talked through his fascinating life story with tales of his time at Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

Managing Newcastle series

This did not feel like a manager giving a journalist quotes, this felt like an elite-level coach offering degree-level lectures to a student of the game. At times, Benitez would set up a mini scenario with cones and a ball, to demonstrate what he was trying to say, it was clear he never switched off from football.

As journalists travelled home from Portugal, a phone call from club insiders followed and Ashley had actually conceded the fact he was going to have to spend more money. Yoshinori Muto arrived from German club Mainz before Gayle was involved in a loan swap and Salomón Rondón came from the Baggies in the other direction.

For all the arrivals were deemed as a positive, managing director Lee Charnley later described the Gayle deal as one of the “worst” in club history. Newcastle not only wanted to keep Gayle but the striker wanted to stay and a condition in him agreeing to the move was for his salary to increase.

The signing of Federico Fernandez a few days later from Swansea completed Newcastle’s summer business. As Benitez had warned the season did go as planned after rushed business and a lack of early co-operation from the board cost them dear.

Newcastle did not win a game until November as Ayoze Perez’s winner against Watford secured a victory at the 11th attempt in the Premier League. Despite the bad start to the season, Benitez was not under any pressure from fans who saw Ashley as the problem.

Perez himself uttered after a game: “The wish of everyone at the club is for Rafa to stay.”

Benitez led Newcastle to a much better second half to the season with wins over Man City, Everton, Southampton and Fulham proving some of the highlights. But as Benitez’s contract edged towards expiry, fans feared Ashley would not give him what he felt he needed to build the squad.

CALLOSA DE SEGURA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 15: Newcastle United Manager Rafael Benitez speaks to journalists during the Newcastle United Warm Weather Training session at La Finca Golf Resort on February 15, 2019 in Callosa de Segura, Spain. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

Benitez explained his reasons for leaving in 2019 and said: “Newcastle’s board had a year to sort out my contract but, when we met after the end of last season, they didn’t make me a proper offer. They told me they didn’t want to invest in the academy or the training ground – if they like, I can explain the reason why Mike Ashley refused to do that.

“After that meeting, I knew they would not come back with a serious offer and, when it arrived, 19 days later, it was for the same salary as three years earlier and with less control over signings. After three years of unfulfilled promises, I didn’t trust them.”

Within weeks of Benitez’s exit, Perez was sold to Leicester City and Steve Bruce was appointed, another storm was brewing.

The former Liverpool boss still holds warm memories of his time on Tyneside and the feeling is mutual by supporters. Benitez was definitely the right man for Newcastle but under Ashley there never seemed to be a “right time” for any manager to take the club forward.

View news Source: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/managing-newcastle-rafa-benitezs-lack-29024924

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