Rafa Benitez waits on Mike Ashley as takeover hopes fade at Newcastle

Newcastle United fans will take their protests to Mike Ashley this week.

Monday, 12th November 2018, 11:04 am
Updated Monday, 12th November 2018, 12:49 pm
Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.

There are demonstrations planned for Saturday at Sports Direct's flagship London store and the company's Shirebrook headquarters.

The Magpie Group, formed by a network of supporter groups, wants Ashley to sell up – and quickly.

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"We all want what's best for the club and do all we can to achieve this aim," they say. "The Magpie Group support everyone working for a better Newcastle United, however they feel is right.

"One man is working against Newcastle United and all of us that make the club.

"Mike Ashley is the reason The Magpie Group was formed and we will continue to fight for a better future for Newcastle United."

Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.

Ashley put the club up for sale just over a year ago, and the Gazette reported earlier this season that the billionaire – who broke off talks with financier Amanda Staveley in January – would consider offers close to £300million.

There have been expressions of interest, but, crucially, no formal offers.

Ashley may want to sell, but he's not so keen to sell that he's willing to sell at a personal loss.

More protests are planned before the end of the year – supporters are planning to boycott the December 9 home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers to make a powerful statement in front of the TV cameras – in an attempt to force Ashley to sell at a lower price.

Rafa Benitez.

Ashley, however, is stubborn, very stubborn.

The 54-year-old has re-engaged with the club over the past seven weeks, having started attending games again in late September. Ashley also took Benitez and his players out for a meal.

Ashley was at St James's Park for Saturday's 2-1 win over Bournemouth, which lifted the club up to 14th in the Premier League.

The question is just how much Benitez will get to spend in January's transfer window.

In the summer Ashley wanted Benitez to sign a new deal before agreeing a funding package. Benitez wanted to talk figures before committing his long-term future to the club, so there was a stand-off.

Benitez, in the end, had to sell in the summer to finance his spending.

Will Ashley be any more prepared to back Benitez without him signing a new deal given the club's precarious position? Benitez, for his part, doesn't want to consider his future until late this season, and it's clear that if he's not backed, he will walk next summer when his contract expires.

A sale looks unlikely in the meantime.

Ashley has made it known that he wants any buyer to have the financial strength to invest in the club – something he hasn't been prepared to do in his 11 years as owner.

Investment is desperately needed. It's needed in the squad, the training ground and the Academy.

Ashley's re-engagement suggests he'll be around for some time to come. Benitez, diplomatically, said his attendance at games was "positive", given that he was able to see for himself what's needed on the pitch.

Seeing is one thing. Doing something about it is another thing.

Benitez was jokingly told to be careful after the Bournemouth game, as Ashley might be even more reluctant to invest in a winning team.

“It’s a nice problem to have," smiled Benitez.

Newcastle's problems, however, haven't gone away after two victories.

And Benitez – who has been sifting through potential transfer targets with head of recruitment Steve Nickson – is waiting for Ashley to show him the money.

If he doesn't, he will be gone next summer.