Rafa Benitez will always make his point at Newcastle United – whether Mike Ashley likes it or not
Everything was wrong off the pitch at Newcastle United.
That was the stark warning from Rafa Benitez, delivered to a handful of journalists deep in the bowels of the Estadio Municipal de Braga, after a heavy pre-season defeat in Portugal last August.
The club was seemingly in disarray less than three months after Benitez’s side had secured a 10th-placed finish in the Premier League.
Benitez had just seen his team beaten 4-0 by Braga – and he wasn’t happy.
“Things are not going well off the pitch – and you can see a reflection of that on the pitch,” said Benitez.
Asked what he meant when he said things “weren’t going well off the pitch”, Benitez bluntly added: “Everything.”
Benitez also said he had “no idea” if there were any players coming in before the transfer deadline.
United’s manager doesn’t do slips of the tongue.
Almost everything he says before and after games is carefully considered. Even his infamous “facts” rant while Liverpool manager wasn’t really a rant.
So this was very deliberate. Benitez, trying to get owner Mike Ashley to back him in the transfer market, had very publicly upped the ante.
Benitez had delivered a series of clipped and curt responses to questions after the Braga game.
Asked about the concerns of fans on Tyneside, Benitez said: “They have to be concerned. We are concerned.”
Outside the press conference auditorium, Benitez was more relaxed. He had made his point.
That same night, Benitez’s players refused to speak to the media in the mixed zone because, for the second season running, they were in dispute about their bonus scheme.
Jamaal Lascelles, the club’s captain, politely explained the situation as he left the stadium, hewn into the walls of an old quarry.
Benitez – who got Salomon Rondon on loan from West Bromwich Albion the following week – and his players managed to dig the club out of trouble.
And Newcastle secured their Premier League status with three games left to play.
However, Benitez, again, is getting increasingly frustrated.
The 59-year-old, out of contract in the summer, has been “waiting for answers” from Ashley after outlining what it would take to get him to sign a new deal.
Benitez has four more press conferences left this season – and he’ll be asked about his future in each of them.
Speaking before the Southampton game last month, Benitez said: “I understand that’s your job – and fans are waiting for an answer.”
Benitez, looking for ambition and autonomy in the transfer market, needs answers sooner rather than later – and so do supporters.