Today is the day after one of the most gut-wrenching days in the recent history of Newcastle United. Mike Ashley deciding not to back Rafa Benitez on the final day of the transfer window wasn’t surprising. It was par for the course and we should have seen this summer coming from a mile off. The owner we all despise has shown no ambition since buying the club. Why would he start now?
Benitez saw the warning signs in January. The squad didn’t need reinforcing at the beginning of the year. It was always likely that we would clinch promotion with the players that we had, but Benitez knew it wouldn’t be as easy as it could have been.
Another addition would have provided fresh impetus into the camp and the opportunity to buy Andros Townsend should have been taken. Our former winger would have cost a little more than we sold him for, but it was worth paying.
This summer, Leicester City were willing to pay upwards of £20 million for him. We could have signed him for a significantly lower price. This was just another mistake made by the Ashley regime and there were more to come this summer.
After the disappointment of January, Benitez dusted himself down and led us to promotion. His stock was at an all-time high and there was positivity around the club again. Everything good about Newcastle United during the last twelve months (Gallowgate Flags; Wor Hyem; season ticket sales and promotion) were all down to the Spaniard. He reignited the club’s support and it was great news that he decided to stay on after the debacle of January.
Days after the Championship title was secured, it was announced Benitez would stay on after positive talks. Sky Sports reported that he had been promised a transfer budget in excess of £70 million and he spoke after this announcement, finishing with the line ‘I wish fans an enjoyable summer!’.
It was far from enjoyable and will go down as one of the worst windows in the club’s history. We started the summer with excitement about the upcoming season. At the beginning of September, the general mood is a mixture of uncertainty and dread.
How did the summer go?
The incomings were not of the quality that Benitez expected. He has regularly spoken about how he has signed the players that he needed rather than the ones that he wanted. This summer saw us buy six players and one of those was Christian Atsu, who was on loan at St James’ Park last season.
According to transfermarkt, we spent £38.07 million on transfer fees this summer, which is considerably lower than the £70 million that was earmarked in May. Sky Sports are close with Mike Ashley, which likely means that their report on Benitez staying was accurate. However, it now looks like a very calculated piece of PR.
The decision to make Atsu’s loan a permanent deal was a good one. He impressed last season and has started well in the Premier League. Florian Lejeune looks a great signing, as does Mikel Merino. It isn’t a surprise they were two of Benitez’s priority targets.
They arrived for a combined cost of £11.7 million this summer. The latter will cost more next summer if his move becomes permanent, but these figures show that Benitez can do the job on a budget.
Javier Manquillo and Joselu were both unfavoured after poor stints in the Premier League, but Benitez has taken a chance on them. He wouldn’t have been looking at them at the beginning of the summer. However, they have done well so far and look like they will be solid players for Newcastle United.
The player who commanded the highest fee was Jacob Murphy. He is an exciting player, but he doesn’t look ready for the Premier League. During the first three matches, he has only played twelve minutes. That is a concern, as we spent 26.7% of our budget on him. Hopefully, he grows as the season goes on.
It isn’t Murphy’s fault that he commanded so much of our budget. He should have been a signing viewed for the future and given time to adjust, but the lack of other business means that he will be in focus.
Six players arrived, but 16 were moved on, either permanently or on loan. It was clear we needed to gut the squad, as there were too many high earners that were no longer needed. Benitez kept his word and managed to get the vast majority out of the door. Up until the final hours of the window, the line was he would get money to spend if players left. The latter happened, but no more players arrived.
How bad was this window?
It was terrible. There was so much hope after the Barnsley game last season as we were finally progressing as a club both on and off the field. That has been completely eradicated thanks to one man, Mike Ashley. There are no problems with the players that were brought in.
They all look to be smart additions, but they aren’t enough. This is the bare minimum that we needed and as ever with Ashley, that is what we got.
The next few months are going to be interesting. Benitez won’t see his long-term future at St James’ Park after two poor windows. The first one was forgivable. The second is not. Ashley doesn’t realise how good he has it with Benitez. If the Spaniard walks away, then all of the good work will be undone and we will be a club divided again.
It is impossible to predict what will happen if the unthinkable happens. The mood would likely be one of apathy and there would be a lot of supporters that gave up on the club under Ashley. Nobody could blame them, like nobody could blame Benitez if he did walk away.
There was once a banner that read ‘we don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries!’.
Mike Ashley and the board aren’t trying. They never have and they continue to destroy Newcastle United. Things will never change for as long as he owns this football club. Benitez was his lifeline and he looks set to throw it away.