As widely expected, Rafa Benitez is to leave Newcastle when his contract expires.
The Spaniard has declined to commit to a £6million-a-year extension after Mike Ashley refused to grant him assurances about the club’s transfer policy going forward.
Managing director Lee Charnley has told Benitez that at most, a meagre £50million will be available this summer, and that his preferences regarding older players will continue to be overruled.
There will be no negotiating on either matter and as such, the head coach has not met with either Ashley or Charnley since mid-May, the final discussions taking place remotely over e-mail.
The former Liverpool boss also has the option of a £12million-a-year deal with Chinese Super League outfit Dalian Yifang, which he must consider – and who can blame him?
Benitez has displayed more loyalty to Newcastle than could ever have been expected, staying with them in the Championship against all odds. He subsequently guided them to promotion at the first time of asking and has kept them in the Premier League, reasonably comfortably, for two successive seasons.
He has had to withstand criticism of his defensive tactics, while making the most of what, for large parts, is essentially a second-tier squad.
If he does walk away, the board might well point to the offer from the Far East, but there was no reason for it to come to this. Benitez enjoys living in the north-east, he has built up a special rapport with the supporters, and were he backed properly, the bare bones are there for him to do an impressive job.
As it stands, he sees no future at St James’ Park, and it is easy to see why. Ashley’s hesitancy in the market has seen the Magpies miss out on numerous targets, while those Benitez has highlighted himself – such as the permanent signing of striker Salomon Rondon, who will be 30 in September – have been batted away.
The timing of the manager’s imminent departure could not be much worse. His contract ends on June 30, while pre-season training begins on July 1.
In the time that has lapsed between it becoming apparent that Benitez is leaving, and him actually walking out of the Darsley doors for the final time, the board could have been proactive. Instead, they insist the official line is that they have a manager, and are not looking for another. It is an approach bloody-minded beyond belief.
The fact that he has even been offered a new deal at all may be a PR bluff by Ashley, who knows full well he won’t sign it under the current conditions. The tycoon may have himself grown tired of their fractured working relationship, complaining earlier this season that Benitez hadn’t personally invited him to watch a Newcastle game.
Should Ashley’s contract offer have been genuine, then it speaks volumes about the billionaire’s failure to grasp the essence of the club that he believed Benitez’s compliance could be bought.
And speaking of being bought, Newcastle’s sale to their prospective new Dubai-based owners, the Bin Zayed group led by Sheikh Mansour’s cousin, is yet to formally materialise. If and when it does, the new figureheads will inherit a mess. In the meantime, protests against the current hierarchy are likely to grow all the louder over the coming weeks.