Here we go again? It seems that way.
It’s now just over three weeks since Newcastle United ended the season with a 3-0 win over Chelsea.
It was a memorable end to a memorable first season back in the Premier League.
But Rafa Benitez wants more, much more.
Talks opened between Benitez’s representatives and the club’s hierarchy over a contract and transfer budget before the end of the season.
However, those discussions have not yet reached a conclusion.
It’s not enough just to finish 10th with four or five teams around you. What I’d like is to be sure that the team is able to compete to finish above 10th.Rafa Benitez
United owner Mike Ashley wants Benitez – whose contract runs out next summer – to sign a new deal, while Benitez, for his part, is unwilling to commit his longer-term future to the club until he gets a transfer budget.
There was a similar standoff in January before the club signed three players – Kenedy, Martin Dubravka and Islam Slimani – on loan.
Benitez, keen to strengthen his squad, is frustrated.
Benitez outlined his position at his press conference after the Chelsea game.
“It’s not enough just to finish 10th with four or five teams around you,” he said. “What I’d like is to be sure that the team is able to compete to finish above 10th. That means having the right quality, the right mentality and the right level through the whole season.
“This group of players have done so well, so it would be easy to say, ‘OK, well you are already in the top 10’. I think we have to do something more to make sure the group is stronger and more competitive.”
Benitez – who sees the “potential” at St James’s Park – knows Newcastle’s fans share his ambitions, but does Ashley?
“The fans have ambitions and we have ambitions, and we have to know if everybody has the same feelings too,” he added. “The potential is there. It’s easy to see what we have. Now we need to do something more and be a little bit better.”
Does Ashley – who put the club up for sale late last year – want more? For him, a 10th-placed finish, on the back of a low transfer spend the previous summer, might be more than enough.
Ashley is unwilling to put any more money into United, so Benitez’s transfer budget must come from the club’s own profits.
Benitez – who has been disappointed by the club’s efforts in the last three transfer windows – wants to agree a sum which he can work with.
Ashley, up to now, has wanted Benitez’s contractual situation to be addressed first.
Is the billionaire happy to pay Benitez a reported £6million salary because he feels Benitez can take the club to the next level? Or is it because he feels Benitez can keep United in the Premier League and improve cheaper players through his coaching?
Newcastle have already been linked with a lot of players, including some expensive ones, this summer.
But if the club, which last month signed Dubravka on a permanent deal, is to move on more targets, then Benitez and Ashley must come to some kind of agreement.
It’s still early in the summer – the transfer window doesn’t close until August 9 – but Benitez doesn’t want to leave it late.