Newcastle are once again in turmoil after revealing manager Rafael Benitez will leave the club when his contract expires on Sunday.
Fans who have railed against controversial owner Mike Ashley for much of his 12 years at the helm have been engulfed by fury once again after their hopes of a brighter future under the 59-year-old Spaniard were torn apart and with their prayers for a takeover yet to be answered, a fresh rebellion is brewing on Tyneside.
Here, Football Paradise takes a look the position in which a club which seemingly lurches from one crisis to another has found itself.
Why is Benitez going?
Having spent much of his time on Tyneside begging for the backing to compete for something more than mere Premier League survival, Benitez laid his cards on the table when he met Ashley for talks over a contract extension in May. His blueprint for lasting success was not based purely on greater spending power, but also on the freedom to invest in the players he wanted regardless of age – the Magpies hierarchy has repeatedly baulked at West Brom’s asking price for 29-year-old striker Salomon Rondon, who excelled on loan last season – and improvements to the club’s training ground and Academy set-up. Ultimately, Newcastle were not prepared to meet those demands or, despite weeks of negotiations, close the gap between the two parties to the point where an agreement was possible, with a lucrative offer from China complicating matters.
Is his departure a shock?
Sadly for the club’s fans, no. There were optimistic noises during the summer that a deal could be struck and there is little doubt Newcastle wanted to keep their manager, and that he wanted to stay. However, as the weeks wore on, it became clear that the differences between two famously stubborn men were significant and it emerged that the proposal on the table was a short-term arrangement designed to give both sides breathing space in the hope that a longer-term arrangement would follow. As Benitez’s existing deal ran down into its final few days, there was an expectation that there would be a final round of talks this week, but Ashley finally lost patience and pulled the plug.
How has that gone down on Tyneside?
Not well, to say the least. Perhaps Benitez’s greatest achievement at St James’ Park was to reconnect the fanbase with the club. Like Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson before him, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss harnessed the power of the Toon Army and gave them something in which to believe. Having been unable to prevent them sliding into the Sky Bet Championship at the end of the 2015-16 season, he brought them straight back up and subsequently secured 10th- and 13th-placed finishes despite his relative lack of spending power. Ashley’s desire to sell the club sparked hopes of new investment and a return to the days when they competed for honours with a proven winner in charge.
Who is likely to replace Benitez?
The big question, with the answer not at all clear. In essence, the role and identity of the new manager will be dictated by whether or not the business remains part of the Sports Direct magnate’s portfolio. If a sale was imminent, the appointment would surely be left to the new owner, and the fact managing director Lee Charnley has been asked to draw up a shortlist suggests that is not the case. With the players due back for pre-season training next week, a short-term appointment might bridge the gap while talks with interested parties continue, but should Ashley remain, he will need to find a replacement who is prepared to work under the constraints which proved unacceptable to Benitez. Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Eddie Howe are among the names under consideration, but with the current manager officially in post until midnight on Sunday, formal approaches are yet to be made.
What is happening with the takeover?
Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Bin Zayed Group declared their hand in May, but they are not the only prospective buyer to have entered negotiations. However, none yet is understood to have been granted exclusivity or begun the process of meeting the Premier League’s owners requirements. History suggests Ashley will wait only so long, as Amanda Staveley and Peter Kenyon can testify.
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