Ashley's final act? We hope so; THE WRONG MAN IS SET TO LEAVE TYNESIDE - AND THERE'S ONLY ONE SATISFACTORY END TO THIS SAD SAGA...
THE names change, the dates change and the black and white bitterness ebbs and flows but one man remains constant through all of the agonies of Newcastle United's tempestuous decade: Mike Ashley.
The United owner is a problem. Given the club is up for sale - the second time he has made it publicly available to buyers - he seems to recognise that fact himself but it may only be this year, if the momentum continues to curdle and this crisis cannot be arrested in time for the start of the Premier League pre-season, that he realises quite how stark things can get on Tyneside.
Benitez was Newcastle's insurance against that discontent for these past three years.
Even his allies will recognise he can be difficult, demanding and even disingenuous at times but there is also a brilliant, undimmed singularity about the man that United fans recognised from the off.
He represented the values that Newcastle fans want their club to stand for: in the era of Ashley it felt like a throwback. But now he's gone - and Newcastle are facing a reckoning.
So what next? United feel that the agenda that preceded and then directly followed Rafa Benitez's desperately disappointing departure has been skewed in favour of the Spaniard. And there is merit in their point that there was fault on both sides in the way negotiations abruptly ended and then descended into deeply entrenched positions.
But there are also a set of thudding questions that Newcastle haven't provided answers for yet: Why was Benitez not made to feel more valued? Why was he appointed and his judgement not backed? What, if Benitez's ambition was too fierce for them, is the point? United might suggest they have comebacks for those queries but Benitez is no isolated case under Ashley. Instead he joins Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan in the list of disenchanted ex-employees and Joe Kinnear (twice), the renaming of Sports Direct, that damned Cup policy, the media bans, "no comments" as exhibits in the case against an owner who has alienated a city. Consider all of those and it's difficult to escape from the conclusion that the wrong man left Newcastle on Monday lunchtime.
In retrospect, the austerity owner and the brilliant coach-cum-politician always made odd bedfellows. Ashley is difficult to read, stubborn, superb on the numbers but immune to the romance that Benitez instinctively 'got.' .' His manager was not afraid to rub him up the wrong way; to cajole Ashley publicly and privately.
It was probably not the best idea to go into last summer's transfer meeting saying Newcastle needed 10 first team players but he did it anyway.
When United told him he could not have Salomon Rondon, he simply re-stated that he was the only player he wanted to the point that a transfer logjam ensued. Similarly, it got to the point with Aleksandar Mitrovic where he indicated he would put him in the reserves if United didn't get on with selling him.
That was Benitez, though. And when you saw him work - and witnessed first hand his staff talking about the club's meticulous knack for making marginal gains - you got why he is how he is. Last month I was lucky enough to speak to Jamie Harley, the club's head of sports science and you got an idea for just how precise Benitez's attention to detail was.
Why, I wondered, did his teams have a knack of finishing the season well? Because he and his coaching team are used to challenging for league titles and major honours in the final weeks of the season. It was a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.
What he leaves behind is a club who desperately need leadership from the top. Lee Charnley will spearhead the club's hunt for a manager, still the most senior What he leaves club desperately leadership the
man at the club but now without any of the football knowledge that Benitez brought. Last time he changed manager there was Graham Carr and Bob Moncur at his side.
Now the only person inside the club with experience of managing a club at any level is Neil Redfearn. In an era where Premier League clubs are packed full of talent and sharp, shrewd minds it's extraordinary.
If Ashley was serious about Newcastle, he could use this break from Benitez to head hunt some of the best football minds and build a club infrastructure that could withstand this sort of storm. But he's not interested in doing that.
The owner needs to own this dysfunction but in 11 years he's been immune to it, unable to grasp what he has in Newcastle.
(Benitez) behind is a who need from top The club has "no commented" its way through the summer and will now hope that a brave managerial appointment and some backing in the transfer market - unhindered by Benitez's insistence on targets with Steve Nickson freed to assume greater influence - will see them ride out the storm. But all eyes will be on attendances and whether the threats to boycott on social media will be backed up in the stadium.
The only way out that will satisfy all parties - the escape from this damaging cycle - is for the takeover to go through.
But sources claim we're not close to a conclusion yet, although things are far from dead. Bin Zayed Group have gone quiet, two other mystery parties check in and out with Justin Barnes, Ashley's influential lieutenant without yet satisfying the need to provide substantial funds to get into the latter stages of a deal.
Ashley's asking price was rumoured to be PS350million but that was for a Premier League club that can be re-shaped as new owners see fit with Benitez in charge, as close as it gets to a cast iron guarantee of Premier League survival.
Will this week's developments focus minds? Does Ashley really want to go much further with this, knowing the asset could be significantly devalued by the uncertainty and strife to come? The hope remains that this is the final act of the Ashley drama.
What he (Benitez) leaves behind is a club who desperately need leadership from the top
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|Publication:||Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Jun 26, 2019|
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