Newcastle United: Is Mike Ashley forcing Rafa Benitez out?
Newcastle United and manager Rafa Benitez are poised to begin the 2018-19 campaign, as this week sees the squad return to the pitch for pre-season friendlies. The Magpies will be anxious to improve upon last term’s tenth-place finish, but owner Mike Ashley certainly is not giving the club an easy path to find that success.
This past summer saw the arrival of defender Florian Lejeune and striker Joselu amongst others, with Lejeune certainly having the greater influence of the two mentioned. Mikel Merino was added also, but the midfielder has already left Tyneside after a move to Spanish side Real Sociedad. Ultimately, Ashley is not bringing in the type of transfers needed to make a splash in the Premier League, and it is only creating frustration for both Benitez and supporters.
The Chronicle reported these struggles recently for the Spanish tactician, as Newcastle have found themselves priced out of potential moves. When asked about the subject, one could feel the angst coming from Benitez. “It’s not necessary to say anything. As soon as the price goes a little high I know we can’t buy them. We have to be realistic.”
Thus far, the Toon have made three signings ahead of deadline day. Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and midfielder Ki Sung-yueng were added on permanent deals, with Chelsea winger Kenedy back for another loan stint (this time for the full season). Positive moves of course, but fans are expecting more than just Dubravka’s £4 million transfer fee to be spent ahead of 2018-19.
Another season back in the top flight brings with it significant television revenue, and Ashley should be looking to improve the squad as opposed to hoping Benitez can once again work miracles on the pitch. With a squad made up mostly of the same group that finished atop the Championship in 2016-17, a tenth-place Premier League place was nothing short of remarkable.
The Toon scored 39 goals in 38 league matches last season, a figure that absolutely must change if the club are going to become a top-six contender. With so little production from the striker position, it is impressive what Benitez was able to accomplish what he did last season at St. James’ Park.
This type of situation has come up previously, as seemingly each transfer window sees a list of targets that never actually sign for United. Benitez was linked with other jobs late in 2017-18, and one can understand why he would consider them. The 58-year-old coach has lifted the Champions League trophy, and knows what it takes to build a successful football team. Unfortunately, Ashley has not matched his ambitions.
It’s been seen before, and it is difficult to see how this would truly change in any significant way. Ashley assumed full control of Newcastle United in 2007, two years after their club-record transfer fee of £17 million was paid for Michael Owen to join from Real Madrid. Since that time, they have yet to eclipse that milestone, even while every other Premier League club seems to have smashed their own transfer record in the past couple of years.
Benitez is realistic in this sense, as are the fans. Nobody is expecting Newcastle to sign Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but there should be something legitimate done about the issues facing the squad. Whether it be Nicolai Jorgensen or Alassane Pléa as recent examples, at some point Ashley has to take a chance financially for the Magpies to progress.
Only a few years before their new owner took over, Newcastle were involved in Premier League title races and competing in the Champions League. The club currently have a manager that is capable of one day soon delivering those moments, but does not have an owner willing to make it happen. A sad tale, indeed.