Rafa Benitez and Mike Ashley: a combination people never thought they’d see and a potentially soul-wrecking one at that.
In the January window, it was widely reported that Ashley had returned to the boardroom once again, this time to adjust a perfectly working transfer plan. Benitez was in control; he had executed his summer perfectly. The right players came in, and all of them, bar two or three, have worked out in great fashion. A promotion winning team had been assembled.
But Ashley wasn’t happy with certain aspects of the deals that had been done. Age and sell-on value were the two factors he was reported to be unhappy about. Diame, Murphy and Gamez were three investments seen as not having an economically positive impact.
Rafa was told upon hiring that he’d remain in charge of all footballing aspects of the club. Transfers were believed to be a part of that, but it’s believed Ashley found a way to bend it to the financial part of the club.
It ended in a dry January window, which Rafa was clearly not happy about. He made no room for misunderstanding and fired shots against the responsible parties.
Rafa has previously in his career left Valencia for not managing to sign the players he’s wanted.
He also came close to quitting Liverpool when he wanted to sell Alonso to finance the purchase of Gareth Barry, a decision where he wasn’t initially supported.
Benitez’s vision is clear, and he’ll make no bones about it. He also recently, during the Derby pre-match press conferences, stated that he’s not going anywhere. He’ll be here to secure promotion and urged the club to not repeat past mistakes.
This shows that Rafa is ready to put things behind him, but there will likely be a reckoning when Newcastle close in on the summer and targets are being found. He’ll both need and want, total control.
At the same time, the manager is using his contacts to ensure that the youth teams at United are being strengthened.
Yasin Ben El-Mhanni, Stuart Findlay, Otto Huuhtanen, Juanito Lopez, Victor Fernandez and Tyrique Bartlett are young names Newcastle have picked up since Benitez arrived at the club. He’s taken note of the thin underbelly and has hired a new scout, Paul Baker, to make sure they’re well stocked in that department. Benitez has relied on youth twice this season to make ends meet.
Rafa is at United for the long term. He’s here because of the fans; he’s here because he wants to build something.
It’s also been reported that United will have a hefty war-chest to do their transfer work with in the summer, should they be promoted.
The January window proved a stumbling block and a mistake in the eyes of Rafa. That can be amended. He’s strengthening the team’s underbelly and he’ll have the means to make sure United can compete in the Premier League.
A lot of good lies ahead for Newcastle United, starting with promotion.