It is now a ques­tion of when, not if, Ben­itez leaves New­cas­tle

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER -

Three weeks ago Rafa Ben­itez sat on the podium in the St James’ Park press room and said: “When I de­cided to stay, I was ex­pect­ing another thing.”

New­cas­tle United had just beaten Hel­las Verona in a friendly but Ben­itez looked stern.

He knew Verona were flimsy op­po­nents, and he was hardly go­ing to feel sud­den op­ti­mism about the com­ing sea­son, but his clenched-teeth ex­pres­sion stemmed from “another thing”.

At the end of last sea­son, after much push­ing from Ben­itez, New­cas­tle’s owner Mike Ashley fi­nally agreed to a face-to-face meeting. Ben­itez should have been seriously con­cerned that even ar­rang­ing a meeting re­quired such ef­fort.

But the Spa­niard emerged as New­cas­tle’s man­ager and started on his list of trans­fers. As Ben­itez knows, writ­ing a list is the easy bit.

Soon New­cas­tle started miss­ing names on the list and Ben­itez grew ag­i­tated. He had agreed to stay – con­trac­tu­ally; he had agreed to stay – emo­tion­ally.

But by early Au­gust and that Verona game, Ben­itez’s pri­mary emo­tion was frus­tra­tion.

He felt he had been told one thing by Ashley but was now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “another thing”.

So only the le­gal con­tract re­mains, the other con­tract is bro­ken – beyond re­pair un­less there is a ma­jor U-turn by Ashley.

It is now about when, not if, Ben­itez leaves St James’, but that can­not hap­pen un­til he has a vi­able al­ter­na­tive.

Which brings us to West Ham United: they visit St James’ to­day with Slaven Bilic un­der some pres­sure and in the last year of his con­tract.

Should West Ham lose, they will go into the in­ter­na­tional break on zero points with the board know­ing the first home game of the sea­son against Hud­der­s­field Town is close to must-win.

Ben­itez may have his op­por­tu­nity to leave. The back­lash on Ty­ne­side will be another thing.

New­cas­tle United man­ager Rafael Ben­itez: only the le­gal con­tract re­mains

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