Why can't Andy Gray, Richard Keys and Dennis Wise see what's in black and white at Newcastle?

It'll be there in black and white.

Thursday, 23rd August 2018, 4:00 pm
Richard Keys has branded some Newcastle United fans as 'vile'

When the teamsheet is handed in at St James’s Park on Sunday, it’ll be a case of spot the difference.

The Newcastle United XI which takes on Chelsea won’t be much different to that which faced the club in May.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Maybe Salomon Rondon will start. Maybe we’ll see Yoshinori Muto.

But the team, more or less, will be the same.

Rafa Benitez – who had to sell to buy in the transfer window – feels that he strengthened his squad, but not his starting XI, by “wheeling and dealing” this summer, and that should be clear an hour before kick-off time.

Surely even Richard Keys and Andy Gray, and maybe even Dennis Wise, will be able to see it.

Rafa Benitez.

Benitez’s team, again, will more or less pick itself.

Keys and Gray, once the mainstays of Sky Sports’ live coverage, will be watching from Qatar, where they work for Bein Sports. They’ve both had a lot to say about Mike Ashley’s running of the club in recent weeks. However, not a lot of what they have said has made sense to Newcastle fans.

“You have to be very careful, because Newcastle fans have an expectancy maybe beyond what they should have,” said Gray.

“They haven’t won a domestic trophy since 1955. That’s a long time. They haven’t won any trophy since the Fairs Cup. 

Mike Ashley.

“Yet they (the fans) still think they are entitled to whatever Mike Ashley has got, whatever his millions are.

“I think Mike Ashley has done a really good job with them, they finished 10th last year. I heard last year that Mike Ashley was ridiculous (as) he didn’t give Rafa enough money. They were this, they were that. They finished 10th. Rafa spent more money and brought more players in and they might finish ninth this year. I dunno what they want.

“Do they want Mike Ashley to say ‘here’s a quarter of a billion pounds of my money, you can have it and spend it how you want, Rafa’.

“It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

“If you look at the investment he’s made in Newcastle, I don’t get the stick he gets, I really don’t. Then again, I’m not up there seven days a week the way the Newcastle fans are.”

And that’s the thing. Newcastle supporters are here. They live it, they breathe it. They know.

And they expect high-profile figures who comment on their club to at least get their facts right – and not rely on alternative facts.

Newcastle made a profit of more than £20million on transfers this summer.

In fact, the club has turned in a profit on transfers, overall, since Benitez took charge at St James’s Park.

Gray says that he “doesn’t know” what United supporters want. What they want is ambition. It’s that simple.

They don’t expect Ashley to hand Benitez £250million, though £25million would have been nice.

That, plus the money brought in from player sales, might have allowed Benitez to strengthen his starting XI.

Gray also had a bit to say about Benitez, whose contract runs out next summer.

“Rafa has done really well there, he’s won the fans over, they love him,” he said.

“He’s very good at that. He did that at Liverpool. Rafa, as a manager, he’s very single minded – he manges for himself. Never forget that.

“I think Rafa has played the fans really well. He’s got them on his side – they love him, they don’t want him to go.”

Yes, Benitez has got the fans “on his side”. That’s what happens when you manage well. And yes, he’s good with communication. That’s what happens when you communicate well.

Benitez wants to take the club forward, but that can’t happen without investment.

Speaking last month, Benitez said: “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. But we have to do things like I imagine has to be done in a football club.”

Benitez was left disappointed – again – by the club’s efforts in the transfer market, and he’s not minded to sign a new contract.

Fans, fed up with a lack of ambition and fearful of what will happen if Benitez leaves at the end of the season, are taking the fight to Ashley’s Sports Direct empire.

There will be another protest outside the Northumberland Street store before the game. Then those supporters will head to St James’s Park to back their team, as they always do.

If only Benitez had that kind of backing from Ashley.