The decision by Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, to allow Rafa Benitez to sensationally leave the club has been met with outrage from a group of supporters who are already disillusioned and furious with how the club is being run. It is also a worrying sign that the once proud Toon Army is being paralysed by the short-sightedness and underinvestment of their owner and its board.
Just a few weeks ago there was a sense of optimism after discussions of an investment from a firm in the Middle East, and positive contract talks between Ashley and Benitez. So, when the news broke that the much-adored Benitez would be leaving the club after three and a half years of hard work and unrewarded loyalty, it was met with astonishment and anger by many in the city.
There has been a long running disagreement about the vision and ambition of Newcastle United between Ashley and Benitez, which has ultimately caused the split. While many fans knew it was always possible that Benítez would leave, few were actually prepared for the news – it seems Benítez knew nothing either, finding out from a friend who heard the news on Sky Sports.
He was acclaimed by the Toon army because he saw the value in the Newcastle United project and the fans, and realised the potential of a club that had been stifled for too long. He knew they were not yet in a position to compete with clubs like Manchester City or Liverpool, but he wanted to return some sense of pride to a club that had for too long been held back by a lack of investment.
For more than three years Benitez had a battle on his hands to lift a demoralised club back from the Championship and, with little investment, defied all odds by twice keeping them in the Premier League.
His gritty managerial style saw Newcastle earn famous victories against Manchester United, Manchester City, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal. It could be argued that no manager has done more with less at his disposal.
Off the pitch he forged a deep connection with the community, supporting the NUFC Foodbank and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, whilst also attending the disabled supporters’ association the day he signed a new deal. Benitez is and was a class act.
That is something that certainly cannot be said about Mike Ashley. Controversy has once again surrounded him and his leadership this summer, with fans taking the brunt of his decisions. Their new Puma home shirt has been put on sale for an incredible £65, the most expensive shirt in English football, and despite them receiving massive annual TV revenues, the club has raised season-ticket prices by 5%.
If there is one silver lining in the dark clouds hanging over Newcastle United, it is that Ashley might well follow Benitez out of the door soon, supposedly remaining in talks with several potential purchasers, including the Dubai-based billionaire, Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed al-Nahyan, of the United Arab Emirates.
With pre-season just days away, Newcastle have no manager, no signings, and seemingly no hope. A very sad state of affairs that have been caused by the actions of one man.