Rafa Benitez and Mike Ashley couldn’t be further from a match made in heaven. The former is one of the most political managers of the last decade and the latter despises the thought of anyone using political nouse against him to get what they want.
Chris Hughton achieved a similar feat to United’s current manager in 2010 when he guided the Magpies to an immediate return to the Premier League.
Not only that, the now Brighton boss was doing a great job of keeping the club in the Premier League when the unpredictable Ashley pulled the plug on his time on Tyneside.
Granted, Hughton was not as popular as Benitez is now. However, Ashley’s decision to sack him caused outrage amongst the fans. The uncertainty over Hughton’s proposed new long-term contract, and the unwillingness of the board to adequately replaced Colin Calderwood made the usually calm Hughton angry behind the scenes.
He was popular. He rarely played the political game. And still, the stupidity of Ashley shone through when he sacked Hughton without hesitation.
The situation is eerily similar to what United face now. They have bounced back to the Premier League and the manager is immensely popular. That same summer in 2010 saw rumours of a sale emerge.
Those same rumours came to the fore this summer too.
Upon Hughton’s sacking, Michael Walker wrote for the Daily Mail:
“There is now a theory that Ashley’s plan is to raise the profile of the club to attract a better sale.”
That worked out well.
The profile of the club right now is as big as it has been for some time. United were the fastest-growing brand of the 2016-2017 season and will not attract a better manager than Rafa Benitez; that much is clear.
Now is the perfect time to sell for Ashley. I’m sure he knows that when he puts his business hat on (is it ever off?).
He has sold all of his shares in Rangers and is under intense scrutiny in court right now. Ashley clearly wants out.
Is he desperately trying to seek investors before sanctioning hefty transfer dealings? If so, it is a risky game and one that Rafa Benitez will want no part in.
Ashley is no stranger to a gamble. Take January as an example. Benitez was desperate to sign Andros Townsend and felt that was the signing that would push Newcastle over the line.
Our frugal owner vetoed the move which could have cost United dearly. Thankfully, Benitez used his knowledge and experience to win the title still
Rafa is also playing a risky game in clearly leaking his frustrations to the press on a regular basis. Newcastle fans have had their hearts in their mouths ever since January, which is crazy considering the team’s success on the pitch.
However, it is also understandable. We are watching a very fragile relationship get worse and worse as the days go by.
It cannot continue and will end in one of two ways; Rafa will opt for the nuclear option and walk, or Ashley will finally find a buyer and leave.
Both men need to at least try and come to a compromise for the good of the club, at least for this transfer window.
Only one of these two figureheads will be at Newcastle United this time next year if this conflict keeps up, of that I am certain.