Two games back in the PL and two defeats and no goals. I thought Rafa had us well organised at SJP against a much superior Spurs team and we were containing them well enough with Atsu and Ritchie combining really well down the flanks and Gayle’s willingness to run all afternoon always useful for us. A moment of madness from Shelvey handed the game and points to Tottenham and despite his apology he still misses three games when we desperately need all of the quality we’ve got. It’s not the first time and he needs to grow up quickly. Off we went to Huddersfield on the back of their morale boosting win at Palace and we were beaten 1-0.
We can mutter about the narrow margins in games as well as some genuinely appalling refereeing but the truth is we were wholly unconvincing and lacked any kind of cutting edge in attack. Fundamentally, we played like many of us expected us to play if there was not some astute and well considered purchases of players in the summer. It’s too early to make any kinds of judgements of the players Rafa has been allowed to sign but one thing is for certain, the manager is far from happy at what he has been given to work with and there are well-placed reports of significant tensions behind the scenes at United. Everything changes, nothing changes.
All of the noises are that Rafa believes promises made to him by Mike Ashley have been broken. I would go further and say I believe Benitez has been lied to and Ashley has significant form for this. See enclosed:
This is just my reading of the situation but I don’t see anything fundamental changing in the last two weeks of another tortuous transfer window. I can’t see Ashley who has made a rare appearance on SKY to tell us all about how a billionaire such as he has no money and won’t be putting any dough into United, will suddenly find money to put into the club and give Rafa what he needs and indeed what he was promised back in May.
Frankly, Rafa and the supporters have been taken for a ride by Ashley, who is a man who simply cannot be trusted. I’ve been fond of repeating that Rafa is the best thing that has happened to our club since SBR was taking us into the Champions League. He is the best chance Newcastle United has for sustainable success over the longer term but that belief is draining away with the dawning realisation that isn’t what Mike Ashley wants for the club.
I want Rafa Benitez at United, building and investing in every area of the club so that we improve year on year and move forward, no matter how difficult it is at the top of the table. But it’s not going to be possible and frankly Rafa owes it to extricate himself from Ashley sooner rather than later for the sake of his own career, self-respect and credibility. The risk for Rafa of course is to lend Ashley some remaining credibility and defence by staying at United and offering a thread of hope that things will change when we all know under Ashley, they never will.
The big question of course is what will happen if Rafa walks. I don’t doubt some desperate dope in the Pardew, McClaren mode will be delighted to get a way back into football and be prepared to take the flak in return for a large salary and a way back into football. It would not surprise me one iota if those approaches were not being made already.
It’s a very personal thing but I really don’t think I could continue to click through the turnstile at SJP to bear witness to a Zombie club going through the motions when the owner is simply interested in its increasing value (on the back of improving TV deals) whilst sucking all of the joy out of the place. I know I’ve more or less paid for my season ticket and I’ll have to write that off but I don’t think I could sit, wasting my time with the stomach churning upset of seeing something I’ve loved being turned into a commodity for the benefit of a man who generates so much contempt in me and many others.
What others do is up to them. I know some will feel like me and chuck it. Others won’t and will keep going because they haven’t reached their own low just yet. Some will feel qualified and justified to insult people like me and reckon I’m not a proper supporter and all of that. Frankly, what those type of people come up with is irrelevant to me. I’m not interested in their opinion. There might be some who want to organise, take action and make attempts to make Ashley’s ownership of United untenable. I was massively up for this after KK was pushed out because that was the point when everything we needed to know about Ashley was presented right in front of us in all of its ugly detail. But for one reason or another it didn’t happen.
Some might step forward and attempt to arrange the support into some clever and well organised action but I doubt they will get meaningful backing from those in the stands. One of the big surprises I’ve had over the last ten years is just how much our support has changed. It is by and large docile and has lost its edge. For large swathes of the support going to home games is a social occasion. It’s one where people meet up with friends for a drink, a meal and the football is just a vehicle to bring all of that together. I’m no different to be honest but the event for me has lost its sheen as so many of my match-going mates have reached their own personal points of no-return and chucked it. They all love Newcastle United and as one explains to me in painful detail, that is why he can’t bear to be inside SJP watching a fake version of his team. Whether any Rafa resignation would generate a new period of supporter activism remains to be seen but I seriously doubt it. I’m not really sure enough people really care to engage with something so admittedly difficult or have the gumption to do something that interrupts their social lives.
I’ve also heard people say things have been worse and we’ve stuck by United. In my time I’ve experienced the real lows of the McGarry and the Smith-Ardiles era. They weren’t fun but this is different and much worse. Under Ashley, the mediocrity of United is being deliberately orchestrated by him for his own personal ends i.e. the increasing value of Newcastle United because of the ever expanding TV deals and the global exposure television gives his businesses. You just couldn’t buy that amount of advertising.
We’ve got Forest this week in the League Cup. On the terms of Mike Ashley, we can’t really afford to compete in that competition when the meagre resources available to Rafa need to be deployed to gild his asset and its increasing value by staying in the PL. Does anyone think we’ll have a go at this competition? I remain to be convinced.
West Ham on Saturday could be one where the balloon goes up because if we lose the alarm bells will start to ring and the mood will change massively. It is an absolutely massive game for both clubs but it would not surprise me in the slightest if Benitez ends up in the dug-out of the Hammers in the not too distant future given Bilic being so unconvincing for so long and the well-reported interest the East Londoners have in Rafa.
But back to the transfer window. It’s been reported Rafa needs to get players out of the club who he doesn’t need. We do have too many players who contribute nothing and are highly unlikely to any time soon:
The problem with these players of course is they are on far too much money in relation to their talents. This is the difficulty presented by consistently failing to pay the going rate for good players and pissing what money you do have up the wall paying poor players more than they deserve. No agent is going to advise his client to leave a massive salary for a poor one so we are stuck wit them unless Charnley (don’t laugh) can work some kind of financial magic and arrange deals that allow them to leave.
It really is a huge problem of Ashley’s own making but it is one which is going to threaten another relegation if it isn’t resolved (and it doesn’t like being).
So far, Ashley’s incompetence and venality has cost Newcastle United north of £170m in lost revenue through his two relegations and with Rafa undoubtedly on the brink and a squad woefully short, the prospect of adding to that total is very real.
Other than that, things are great.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
MICHAEL MARTIN – Follow Michael on @tfmichael1892