Miles Starforth: It's the beginning of the end for Rafa Benitez and Newcastle
It's said you don't know what you've got until it's gone.
That’s not the case with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United.
The fans know what they’ve got at the club. And the journalists who cover the club on a daily basis know too.
Unless anything significant happens in this month’s transfer window – or the club is taken over in the coming months – it’s the beginning of the end for Benitez, whose contract expires in the summer.
Benitez has been the glue that’s stuck everything together at St James’s Park for the past two and half years. Nothing has seemingly fazed him, not even dealing with owner Mike Ashley.
United’s manager, after all, had more or less already seen it all before he arrived on Tyneside.
A year ago Benitez had his frustrations – there was a similar stand-off over his contract and transfer funds – but he was calm, and that calmness rubbed off on his players, the club’s fans and those reporting on the team.
Benitez maintained that his team would be stronger in the second half of the season, and he was right. The club finished 10th in the Premier League.
However, things had unravelled by the time Benitez reported back for pre-season training.
“I would like to stay here five years, 10 years, if it’s possible, because I can see the potential, the fans, the city – everybody pushing in the same direction,” said Benitez last July.
“But we have to do things like I imagine has to be done in a football club.”
Every week, Benitez sits down with reporters at the club’s training ground.
The 58-year-old answers, happily, just about every question thrown at him. Yes, he can be guarded and, yes, he can also be diplomatic. But he knows the importance of communication with fans.
Down at Middlesbrough, Tony Pulis stands up for his press conferences in an attempt to keep them short. Benitez, by contrast, is never in a hurry to get away. And, unlike some of his predecessors, he’s always polite and punctual.
Benitez doesn’t seem nearly as calm as he was a year ago, when the club was in a similar position.
After admitting he was “worried” on Boxing Day, Benitez has refused to discuss incoming transfers.
Benitez – who submitted his lists of targets last month – is waiting for news. He fears that it could be a long wait.
Without a budget of his own, he’s had to put a business case forward for signings, and Ashley, yet again, seems reluctant to invest in a squad which lacks quality in key positions. Benitez just can’t understand it. Why take the risk? Why?
Nothing lasts forever, and this season will be his last at St James’s Park unless there’s a change of ownership or change of transfer policy.
When Benitez talks about football, you listen.
But has Ashley been willing to listen to anything he’s said?