Ben­itez stalls on new deal

New­cas­tle man­ager will de­cide his fu­ture af­ter Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow, writes Luke Ed­wards

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Luke Ed­wards

Rafael Ben­itez will wait to see how owner Mike Ashley re­sponds to his re­quests in the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow be­fore he re­opens talks about a new con­tract to re­main as New­cas­tle United man­ager be­yond the end of the sea­son.

Although Ben­itez was an­noyed that he was not al­lowed to spend any of the tele­vi­sion money on play­ers this sum­mer, he is not rul­ing out stay­ing.

His re­la­tion­ship with Ashley is a test­ing one, yet he will give the club one more chance to prove they want to back him fi­nan­cially in the win­ter win­dow.

If they do, he will be will­ing to dis­cuss ex­tend­ing his deal be­yond June 2019. New­cas­tle signed seven play­ers in the sum­mer, but two of them – Kenedy and Salomon Ron­don – are only loans, and they ended the win­dow al­most £20mil­lion in profit. Ashley’s view is that he would be fool­ish to al­low a man­ager who in­tends to quit in less than 12 months lots of money for new play­ers. It is a short­term stance at best, given Ben­itez is the most pop­u­lar and suc­cess­ful man­ager he has em­ployed at St James’ Park and wants to stay if he is backed. “All the things that have hap­pened dur­ing the sum­mer have to be for­got­ten,” said Ben­itez. “Then we can talk about that [the con­tract], maybe, in April… we have plenty of time to talk.”

This feels like the be­gin­ning of the end for Rafael Ben­itez as New­cas­tle United man­ager, the start of a long and highly charged good­bye, with sup­port­ers braced for the agony his de­par­ture will cause – but per­haps all is not what it seems.

Ben­itez has, in­deed, en­tered the fi­nal year of the deal he signed in 2016 and has stead­fastly re­fused to sign the five-year ex­ten­sion of­fered to him.

Why should he com­mit his longterm fu­ture un­til he is sat­is­fied owner Mike Ashley shares the same sense of am­bi­tion: to turn New­cas­tle into a top-eight club, striv­ing to play in Europe again, chas­ing that elu­sive piece of sil­ver­ware?

The proof, he ar­gued, would come in the trans­fer mar­ket, with the tan­ta­lis­ing prospect of build­ing on last sea­son’s im­pres­sive 10th-place fin­ish. He had been promised “full con­trol of the foot­ball side of the busi­ness” when he was ap­pointed and would be given “ev­ery penny gen­er­ated” to spend this sum­mer. He wanted ev­i­dence.

Now was the time to back him, to prove New­cas­tle had fresh as­pi­ra­tions. It was not only about the size of the bud­get, but also how it was used. His tar­gets, re­gard­less of age or po­si­tion, were not to be ques­tioned. He needed to be lis­tened to. He had to feel wanted. Trust had to be re­stored.

Ashley, though, ever des­per­ate to prove his met­tle as the tough­est of ne­go­tia­tors, blinded by his in­sa­tiable de­sire to do things only on his terms, re­sponded by in­sist­ing he would only free up the tele­vi­sion money to spend when Ben­itez agreed to the ex­ten­sion.

When that con­tract re­mained un­signed, Ben­itez was in­formed he would have to sell to buy, only to end the win­dow around £20mil­lion in profit. New­cas­tle’s net spend was the low­est in the top flight. It does not re­sem­ble any­thing like as­pi­ra­tion.

Ben­itez has public opin­ion on his side and even went so far on Fri­day as to sug­gest he sup­ported the fans who were protest­ing against the owner and his Sports Di­rect re­tail chain – as long as they re­main out­side the sta­dium.

That will not have gone down well yet, de­spite the mis­trust, re­gard­less of the sus­pi­cion that the only rea­son Ashley wants to keep Ben­itez is be­cause he will not have to worry about rel­e­ga­tion – re­gard­less of how lit­tle money he is given – for as long as he re­mains in the dugout, an agree­ment can still be reached.

Ben­itez loves New­cas­tle, the foot­ball club and city. He is adored on Ty­ne­side and is largely bomb-proof when it comes to the things that most man­agers are dam­aged by – re­sults. Even if New­cas­tle lost five games in a row, he would re­main blame free.

“Ob­vi­ously, I would like you to park this stuff about my con­tract,” said Ben­itez ahead of to­day’s game against Chelsea. “Be­cause it doesn’t change any­thing. As a man­ager, I want to win ev­ery sin­gle game if I can.

“The sup­port­ers have been great, but some peo­ple are wrong when they say that New­cas­tle fans are too de­mand­ing. What they want is a team that com­petes.

“They also want pro­gres­sion. What we have is a team. And if the fans stay be­hind us then we are stronger. All the things that have hap­pened dur­ing the sum­mer have to be for­got­ten. Then we can talk about that [con­tract], maybe, in April.

“We can talk about Jan­uary and what is go­ing on [with re­cruit­ment], but af­ter Jan­uary... Have we done what we had to do or not? Then you have more an­swers to your ques­tions.”

New­cas­tle signed seven play­ers over the sum­mer, but two of them, Martin Dubravka and Kenedy, were there on loan at the end of last sea­son, while the most ex­pen­sive sign­ing, for­ward Yoshi­nori Muto, cost just £9.5mil­lion from Mainz.

Ben­itez did put his name to a club state­ment a fort­night ago in which it was ar­gued the squad had been im­proved, but on Fri­day he added the caveat: “We brought in play­ers to im­prove the squad, we will see if these play­ers can im­prove the team.”

With that in mind, Ben­itez has warned an im­prove­ment on their 10th-placed fin­ish is un­likely. “Every­body knows that fin­ish­ing 10th was a mir­a­cle be­cause we did re­ally well,” he ex­plained.

“The re­al­ity is that we have to be safe and if we are safe, then we can try to achieve some­thing more. But if we fin­ish 12th, it will not be a dis­as­ter, no chance. It will be quite pos­i­tive.”

De­spite it all, the same thing could be said about his own fu­ture.

United cause: Rafa Ben­itez has the sup­port of the Toon Army in his bat­tle to make New­cas­tle United com­pet­i­tive in the Premier League and do­mes­tic cups

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