Rafa Benitez hints at Newcastle United uncertainty as Mike Ashley waits on Bin Zayed Group

Rafa Benitez is normally a man of many words.

Sunday, 2nd June 2019, 9:05 pm
Rafa Benitez.

Newcastle United's manager, however, has said very little about his position at the club since holding talks with Mike Ashley last month.

In fact, Benitez has gone out of his way not to talk about talks over his future.

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Benitez instead spoke at length about Liverpool, his former club, ahead of Saturday night's Champions League final in Madrid, his home city.

The 59-year-old was reluctant to speak about Newcastle, though was pressed on his situation by Sky Sports Italia amid reported interest from Roma.

"I have excellent memories of Milan and Naples, but now I think of Newcastle, where there is still a lot of work to do," said Benitez, who had hoped for some kind of resolution within days of the final game of the season against Fulham on May 12.

That is right. He still has a lot of work to do at St James's Park. And fans, concerned at an apparent impasse in discussions, want him to continue.

Rafa Benitez.

Benitez, out of contract on June 30, told another Italian outlet that he "didn't know" what would happen this summer.

Meanwhile, another television journalist recounted an off-camera conversation with Benitez after an on-camera interview.

Benitez, according to the reporter, was "in the dark" about his future – and, interestingly, takeover talks with the Bin Zayed Group.

One respected journalist claimed over the weekend that representatives of the Bin Zayed Group – who last week claimed to have "agreed terms" over a sale – had told him that Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger were "other options" for the job if he left.

Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.

That, if correct, is both worrying and baffling.

Benitez is the glue that stuck everything together at Newcastle over the past three years.

And whether Ashley or a new owner is in charge next season, it's clear that Benitez is the best man to take the club forward. He must stay.

The club is saying nothing on or off the record, and supporters are becoming increasingly anxious.

One thing that is clear is that a takeover isn't imminent. There's a lot of work to be done, and it seems that Ashley himself isn't convinced that the would-be buyers have the money to buy the club, despite their claims of having shown proof of funds in April.

Ashley is waiting. And waiting.

But Benitez can't wait too much longer. He needs to start work soon both on and off the field. His players are back for the start of pre-season training in a month's time, and there's work to be done in the transfer market before then.

Lists of potential targets were drawn up by Benitez and Steve Nickson, his head of recruitment, in the second half of last season.

Benitez wants to know just how much he would be able to spend if he does commit to the club. A £100million budget over three or four transfers windows has been mooted.

The other thing Benitez wants is the freedom to bring in who he wants.

At present, he has the final say on incoming and outgoing players, but his proposed deals can be vetoed by the hierarchy.

That was an issue last summer when he wanted to sign 29-year-old Salomon Rondon from West Bromwich Albion for £16.5million. That move was blocked because of the striker's age.

Rondon eventually brought goals to Newcastle on loan.

Benitez, we know, didn't expect to get everything he wanted from Ashley when he started talks.

Last month he made it clear that he was willing to compromise, though more ambition was non-negotiable. Is Ashley so willing to meet in the middle? Does he have any ambition for the club beyond Premier League survival?

The Fulham game, won 4-0 by United, gave fans at a sunny Craven Cottage a glimpse of a bright future under Benitez, who is happy on Tyneside and reluctant to move abroad and uproot his family from Merseyside.

However, Benitez wants to win trophies in his final 10 years in management – and that position could yet change.

“I had a contract with Newcastle and was happy there, especially as my family loves being in England," said Benitez.

"Now I'm open to new possibilities. I don’t know what will happen over the next couple of months."

Benitez hasn't said much, but that last comment is telling.