Monday saw the sudden announcement that Rafa Benitez had decided not to extend his contract as Newcastle manager beyond this summer. Though the news stunned and rocked the black and white portion of the North East, many Newcastle fans might be not totally surprised that controversial owner Mike Ashley allowed Rafa to leave his post as boss. Benitez’s exit is just another twist in the tiring tale that has been Ashley’s tenure as owner of what many would deem to be the sleeping giant of English football.
Benitez’s departure from Newcastle will temporarily diminish the chink of light he continually gave the ‘Toon Army’ during his three year spell at the club which saw him guide the club back into the top flight back in 2017 before working hard to stabilise the club’s position in the premiership in the past two seasons. In staying loyal to the club longer than many would have and continually remaining extremely professional in the midst of his ongoing frustrations with the board, Rafa he will leave the club with heroic status . All of this despite the former Liverpool, Real and Chelsea boss being continually told that ever tighter purse strings would disallow him build on what he was more than capable of building. A club that could begin the journey of fulfilling its potential.
Instead though, despite the fact that fans were given the new signing of Miguel Almiron in January, it seems like Benitez decided that enough was enough. Though of course an apparently genuine and extremely lucrative opportunity to manage in China, probably hastened Rafa’s walk towards the St James’ Park exit door. In doing so he will no doubt look back on his time in the North East with an immense sense of pride for what he achieved with what was an average squad that he was told he wouldn’t be able to much improve much on any time soon. Conversely, those very shackles placed on him will no doubt frustrate Rafa no end as he and many others will wonder what might have been if he was given the financial backing most felt he deserved.
Rafael Benitez, plus a thriving city with passionate fans was there, as was one of countries’ largest stadiums, a limited yet hungry squad of players was also in place. Add a steady influx of new signings and Newcastle might have been on to something, yet now it’s back to a weary and despondent drawing board that needs replacing.
As the shock of Benitez’s departure sinks in fans will hope that that an apparent £350 million takeover of the club by Bin Zayed Group is still on, though some may wonder why Benitez chose to leave if the green light was still on for such a bid. If the takeover falls through and Newcastle are only left with a seemingly heavily disliked Newcastle board scrambling for any sort of replacement, things could turn uglier still. Benitez always had the crowd on his side and his replacement will have to win them over quickly if they are to survive until May and beyond. Names such as Steven Gerrard, Patrick Veira and Pep’s number two Mikel Arteta are being tentatively linked to the job however you doubt many would relish following a man who worked wonders with the squad of footballers he had before him. Some of whom are reportedly looking to follow their beloved former manager out of Tyneside.
As stated above the long term future of Newcastle United surely ties directly to whether the reported takeover of the club takes place as if it does the club can likely shake off the stinging pain of Benitez’s departure much quicker than if a new manager comes in under a static Mike Ashley business-oriented directive. As if a manager of Rafa Benitez’s ilk could not change the current culture of the club then it’s unlikely the names being linked with the Newcastle hot seat will be able to. With the likes of Everton, West Ham and Leicester looking to break into the top six of English football, Newcastle can not afford to keep standing still while others brush past them without much resistance. The time is now for things to change, whether they will or not is anyone’s guess.
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