Why Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley would like to sack manager Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez may have guided Newcastle United back to the Premier League but it seems that owner Mike Ashley may look to replace the Spaniard before the next season.

football Updated: Sep 07, 2017 19:08 IST
Himanshu Dhingra
Himanshu Dhingra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Newcastle United,Rafael Benitez,Mike Ashley
Rafael Benitez is currently the manager of Premier League side Newcastle United.(Action Images via Reuters)

When Newcastle United hired Rafael Benitez in March 2016, it came as a pleasant surprise to a lot of fans who were previously used to less than inspirational choices. It was also a move away from hiring of managers who had previously failed to succeed elsewhere.

Former Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew was sacked from lower league teams like Charlton Athletic and Southampton while his predecessor - Steve McClaren – failed miserably at Derby County and Nottingham Forest. However, Rafa Benitez was different.

It can be said that if Newcastle weren’t so close to the relegation zone, there was no chance that they would not have even thought about pursuing a Champions League winning manager like Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard was appointed for the shock effect - a last gasp attempt to pull the club out of relegation. However, it was so near yet so far for the Toons as Newcastle eventually did go down.

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No one would have given the club a chance of retaining the manager after such a season but the electric atmosphere during 5-1 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur in the last game of the 2015-16 season left owner Mike Ashley with no choice but to retain him with a revised contract.

For the 2016-17 season where promotion was the sole aim of the club, the noises coming out of the club were “What Rafa wants, Rafa gets.” That ultimately proved successful as not only did the club got promoted automatically, they did so as League One champions.

This season, the expectations were that money will be made available for big-name players to come in and help the club finish as high as possible in the table. However with a net spend of about £10-£15 million, it has proven to be quite the opposite.The team has managed just one win out of their three games and are currently struggling at the 14th position.

Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner and Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez during their Premier League encounter. (REUTERS)

The rumoured appointment of Justin Barnes as a key boardroom figure has muddied the waters even further. The talk of a potential sale has been another stumbling block. Now, the question remains - Does Mike Ashley really want to sell the club and sacrifice the money it brings to Sports Direct? Or is it just some sort of rearguard against spending money?

The club saw something similar in the 2008-09 season when legendary manager Kevin Keegan had to report to Dennis Wise. The calibre of players the latter brought in was not what the manager wanted as players like Xisco and Nacho Gonzalez were not really Kevin Keegan’s cup of tea.

In the end, Keegan quit and went on to sue the club for a constructive dismissal - a case that he won.

The general feeling is that Rafael Benitez is being pushed towards the same fate. Mike Ashley needed someone to prevent the club from getting relegated and although he was unable to do so, Benitez made sure that the team came back to reap the riches of the Premier League.

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Benitez is currently earning a salary of £5 million a year and Ashley just doesn’t want to pay that much. More importantly, he knows that as years go by, Benitez would want the club to be competing with Europe’s elite and the money required for that is something which the owner just does not want to part with.

Unlike his predecessors, Benitez is not a yes man. He won’t get in line and just follow orders and there have been some instances of him being at loggerheads with owners, famously at Inter Milan and at Valencia.

Ashley knows firing Benitez will bring him the wrath of all the Newcastle fans and it could spell trouble. However, with his antics, he is pushing him closer to the exit door, knowing full well with the Toon back in the richest league in the world he would easily get someone who wouldn’t question his decisions.

DISCLAIMER: All options expressed in the copy are completely personal.

First Published: Sep 07, 2017 19:08 IST