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