Could Newcastle be looking over their shoulders this season?
Rafa Benitez has been here before. The top class Spanish coach will feel more than a little deja vu about his current situation with Newcastle United.
Starved of funds by a miser at the top, having to make do with an inadequate squad and yet backed by a majority of a loyal fan base, it’s all rather familiar.
After their 4-0 thumping at Sporting Braga last night, Rafa has come out guns blazing. His team fielded against the Portuguese side featured ten players who had played in The Championship in 16/17 and Benitez is yet to receive anything like the required back up. His prickly quotes were only ever aimed at one man.
“Things are not going well off the pitch… I’m really worried.”
“We’re not doing things well on the pitch or off it.”
“This should be a wake up call for everyone.”
The key question now though will be whether or not Mike Ashley finally acts. There are a few days left in the window and they could be the most important ones in defining Newcastle’s season.
Rafa not only got Newcastle up at the first time of asking, he somehow dragged a fairly limited bunch of players to 10th in the league when relegation seemed more likely. Such achievements on a shoestring budget are remarkable. Everyone in Tyneside subsequently held their breath. The hope was, Ashley would finally open his wallet and back the top class manager he had at his disposal.
Nine days before the new season begins, and it’s clear the bated breath in the North East has been in vain. Yes four players have come in, but for minimal sums in comparison to their Premier League rivals.
It’s clear Rafa needed three or four extra bodies of real Premier league quality this summer. Ashley though has not stumped up the funds and his stubborn ways look likely to leave his club exposed. His defiance of a clear need to strengthen is only going to hurt everyone in the long run. Perhaps it’s time to spend less time at the bar and more energy on turning things around at Newcastle.
This is a Premier League era in which Fulham and Wolves can outspend the likes of Spurs. West Ham, Leicester City and Everton have all got financial clout to keep their squads healthy and more than good enough to stay safe this season. Even the likes of Huddersfield and Brighton have invested over £40 million and £50 million in their respective squads this summer.
All of this makes for rather grim reading for Newcastle fans. Their outlay of just over £13 million has been cast against a backdrop of nearly £40 million recovered in player sales. When you couple this with the TV revenue and full houses at St James’s Park every week, the fans anger is righteous.
They are in real peril of being eclipsed by at least half a dozen teams they finished above last season. Ashley’s lack of investment in the squad will only ever take them one way ultimately and things currently look very bleak indeed. If they fail to invest over the next nine days then a relegation dog fight could well be on the cards.
Rafa to the rescue…again?
One of their big trump cards is their European Cup winning manager. Benitez is a man who is oddly derided by certain sections of the press, but he is one of the few managers capable of doing anything with the average players at his disposal.
His past loyalty to Liverpool during the dark age of Gillet and Hicks, suggests he may well stay out of dedication to the fans at Newcastle. If he does, they have a shot at staying up and digging in. However if he does choose to throw in the towel and move to a more fertile football club, the future status of Newcastle as a top flight side will be all the more flimsy.
Perhaps their best hopes of keeping Rafa and indeed their prolonged status as a Premier League club rest in the possibility of Ashley selling up and finding a buyer. Amanda Staveley and the group she headed in January were more than keen in purchasing Newcastle but couldn’t get past Ashley’s asking price. Their chances of finding a buyer willing to invest with things looking so bleak and the squad so bare are currently slim; yet another sign of Ashley’s tight finances hurting the prospects of the club.
This is obviously all the more frustrating for Newcastle fans and their manager. Whatever happens between now and the end of the window, many will just want to see the light at the end of the very dark tunnel that has been Ashley’s ownership of this once proud football institution.