There was nothing surprising about the confirmation that came on Monday that Rafa Benitez would be leaving Newcastle United at the end of the month.
Fans knew this had been coming for a while with the Spaniard widely reported to be unhappy at the lack of backing from boardroom level. But even looking beyond those reports, this was typical behaviour for Newcastle. Mike Ashley’s Newcastle.
During his time at St James’ Park, Benitez restored the Magpies as a Premier League outfit, giving the club a sense of identity again.
It is with disappointment that we announce manager Rafael Benítez will leave Newcastle United upon the expiry of his contract on 30th June 2019.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) June 24, 2019
Last season, he led Newcastle to a 13th place finish, well away from the relegation zone many expected them to occupy. Benitez said it would be a “miracle” if his team avoided the drop. By his own words, he was a miracle-maker.
Benitez apparently had a plan for the future of the club, a blueprint to take them even further.
Ashley, it seems, wasn’t interested, though. The former Chelsea and Liverpool boss wanted too much, according to reports. Benitez might have ultimately walked away from St James’ Park, but Ashley, by all accounts, forced him out.
By doing this, though, Ashley has committed an almighty act of self-sabotage. Benitez will find another top-level job somewhere else. He has already been linked with Marseille and clubs in the Chinese Super League. It won’t be long before he forgets all about Newcastle United. Ashley, on the other hand, will feel the impact of his decision for a long time to come.
For the past three years, Benitez has been a buffer for Ashley. There has been protest and dissent directed towards the Newcastle United owner, as has become customary over the past decade or so, but the Spaniard ensured that full-blown revolt never materialised. Benitez seemingly had his own issues with Ashley, but he did inadvertently act as protection to his boss.
Now that protection is gone and Ashley is more exposed than he has ever been before. Who of all the names linked with the newly vacant Newcastle job can measure up to the stature of Benitez?
Garry Monk, a man who only just recently left his job at Championship Birmingham City due to a fall out with the owners, is one of the favourites. Not even the appointment of Sean Dyche would compensate for the loss of the most popular Newcastle manager since Kevin Keegan.
The only way Ashley can escape this situation is if he finally sells the club.
Newcastle supporters were teased about a potential takeover by a Dubai-based company fronted by billionaire Sheikh Khaled, the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour, although doubts over the validity of the bid were raised.
Jose Mourinho has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Benitez should the takeover go through, but it’s difficult to envisage that he would ever take the job if he has to work under Ashley. Consider all the issues Mourinho experienced with the ownership and boardroom at Manchester United and then imagine the extent to which Ashley would aggravate him.
Newcastle United find themselves at a critical juncture in their recent history.
Benitez provided their supporters with a brief hiatus from the madness that has enveloped their club with Ashley at the helm, but now the harshness of their reality will confront them. The helplessness of their situation will become acutely apparent.
Ashley is the most hated owner in the history of the Premier League. He has taken a great institution and hallowed it out. It is a mark of the city and the fanbase that they haven’t yet fallen out of love with Newcastle United. This is a club that deserves so much better. They deserved Benitez and instead they got Ashley. He will feel the impact of that.