Newcastle United announced today via their club website that Rafael Benitez is leaving after three years at the helm. After returning the side to the Premier League at the first attempt, he kept them afloat with limited resources. Now, Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to tie down their most-loved manager since Bobby Robson accentuates his lack of ambition. This is dire news for the Geordie faithful, which could have fatal consequences for the club ahead of the new season.
Rafael Benitez Leaving Marks Newcastle United’s Return to Mediocrity
Beníez: The Overachiever
Many were left bemused by Benitez’s decision to stay at Newcastle while in the Championship; a manager with a Champions League trophy in the second tier is not a regular occurrence. Stay he did, though, and (surprisingly) with sufficient backing he drove Newcastle to the Championship title. However, murmurs of Benitez’s discontentment in January presaged a more rocky relationship with the club’s owner in later seasons.
This ire about transfers would soon turn into a perennial dispute with the Sports Direct tycoon. Over his three seasons at St. James’ Park, Newcastle had a net transfer profit of £11 million. Significant funds were not available to him, and more was going into Mike Ashley than was coming back out. Instead, Benitez had to trust his managerial ability would work on a squad largely the same as his Championship-winning side. Despite a dreadful November and December, he guided the Magpies to a tenth-place finish in Newcastle’s Premier League return. This was not enough for Benitez, though, and he envisioned a Newcastle side rooted in the league’s upper reaches.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the club had turned a corner after finally breaking their transfer record, signing Miguel Almirón this year; perhaps Ashley was beginning to see the error of his ways. More signings of this ilk were what Benitez desired, and sadly this led to his departure. The transfer budget promised was insufficient, and there were no promises of investment in the youth system.
Who Next? – The Frontrunners
According to Sky Sports, the favourites for the Newcastle job are currently Garry Monk and José Mourinho. Mourinho managing a side like Newcastle, however, seems a pipe dream to say the least. Apart from being the most expensive manager listed as the bookies’ favourites, he is too far from what is becoming an unfortunate reality at the club. If Ashley’s team was unable to convince Benitez to stay, then the chances are Mourinho will be just as hard to sway. Wherever the Portuguese manager has gone he had a transfer war-chest ready to splash. Thus, Mourinho’s appointment hinges on the takeover going through. If the projected takeover does go through, then at least this dark cloud may have a silver lining.
Garry Monk, on the other hand, would represent a gamble akin to that of appointing Steve McClaren four years ago. Despite relative success at Swansea City in the dawn of his managerial career, his more recent positions have been less fruitful. He was unable to finish Leeds United’s play-off push in 2017, then was sacked after an indifferent start at Middlesbrough. His time at Birmingham City was relatively successful, given the squad and circumstances he inherited. However, the way relations with Birmingham’s owner became strained after the sale of Jota are a sign for concern. If his last job came to an end after such disputes, he will surely face more frustration working under Mike Ashley.
Whoever comes in as the new manager will likely deal with the adversity of being Benitez’s replacement. They will always be the fan’s second choice, as there are scant few Newcastle fans who did not want the Spaniard as manager.
Dark Times Ahead
Benitez leaving the club should act as a warning sign to any prospective new manager at Newcastle United. While Ashley is still at the helm, the job is a poisoned chalice. After seeing the poor treatment of such a respectable manager, there’s no reason why anyone else would want to put themselves through that.
That is why more ‘yes-men’ are on the horizon for the Magpies, scapegoats like the John Carver and Steve McClaren of yesteryear. Ashley will look for a manager who can go under the radar, losing as little money possible in the process. A world-class ambition is needed to match a world-class manager like Rafael Benitez, and sadly Mike Ashley is merely an amateur in this regard.