Despite keeping the club afloat last season, and earning promotion the season before, Rafa Benitez must once again sell-to-buy for the upcoming campaign. Mike Ashley’s promise of allowing Benitez to have ‘every last penny that the club generates through promotion, player sales and other means’ has, once again, turned out to be untrue.
Now, a standoff has ensued: Benitez won’t sign a contract extension until funds are made available, and Ashley’s not giving the Spaniard cash until he signs the contract. Because of this, it looks set to be Benitez’s last season with Newcastle, with supporters threatening to leave the club behind, too.
It may appear to the owner as though extra funds are not needed considering just how well the club did without any last season, but Ashley fails to grasp that ambition slowly replaces apathy in the Premier League. As promoted Wolves and Fulham come up willing to spend money and improve their squad, the neglected slowly slip away to the Championship.
Ever since purchasing the club for £134 million in 2007, Ashley has presided over and been the central cause of the darkest ever period of Newcastle United’s history. His antics throughout this time has taken fans to the brink. While every other club in the Premier League – particularly over the past few years – has grown exponentially, Newcastle, under Ashley, have ossified. You could forgive supporters for their unwavering love of Benitez.
The past couple of years under his reign have offered a glimpse into what the club could be: with just an extra 20 or so million for the budget in transfers this summer – a fraction of what some clubs pay for a single player today – Newcastle will be showing Benitez some ambition and he’d happily sign the contract.
The former Real Madrid manager has built an emotional connection with the fans but knows there’s no point in continuing with a club that refuses to evolve. It’s vital he remains. Right now, he is the single entity binding the whole side together – the difference between proudly waived flags filling the air, or an empty stadium. It’s only Ashley, the man in power, who is unable – or unwilling – to see that.
Benitez isn’t asking for 100s of millions for the transfer window, though. Just some cash to compete. All he wants for Newcastle is stability, with aspirations of forging a proper academy, and making a push for the future.
And for this reason, for the fans at least, Benitez has become more than a manager making the decisions on tactics and formations. He’s an embodiment of a better future, an individual representative of what supporters believe the club should be like. To be ‘run well’ seems like such a tiny requirement for a club this size, but it still appears to be too much of an ask for the owner. It’s childish to presume he purely hates the club, but it seems like Ashley is hellbent on pulling in the opposite direction of Newcastle at every opportunity, even at the expense of himself.
But supporters are now biting back. Twitter account ‘If Rafa Goes We Go’ has reached over 10k followers on Twitter in just under a week. That’s unprecedented. It shows just how many of the Geordie faithful carry the same sentiment – without Benitez, his direction, and his vision, the club is nothing.The site has done well in gathering a large number of followers and earning the attention of Newcastle United legends, the national and local press, and even a local Labour MP, who’s attempting to take the matter of Ashley’s cruelty to the club to parliament.
The account has snowballed a mass movement, and a hashtag of the account’s name has trended all across Football Twitter.
There have been protests and cries of outrage against the Ashley regime before, but with Benitez, Newcastle has never had so much to lose.