Want­away Ash­ley leaves boss Ben­itez in limbo as New­cas­tle face own Brexit style catas­tro­phe

Sunday Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - Sports - BY SI­MON BIRD

No deal in the trans­fer mar­ket. Which means no deal on a con­tract ex­ten­sion for Ben­itez.

No deal on a takeover, with owner Mike Ash­ley fail­ing to con­jure a £300mil­lion Sports Dir-exit, which leaves the Toon in limbo.

No takeover deal, means no sig­nif­i­cant trans­fer cash for Rafa, and no sig­nif­i­cant game-chang­ing sign­ings.

So it is in­creas­ingly likely that New­cas­tle United could crash out of the Premier League a cou­ple of months after the coun­try falls off a cliff edge out of the Euro­pean Union.

There’s been months, years, of ran­cour about how Ash­ley and the club are get­ting it wrong. As Ben­itez said on Fri­day, “the risks” be­ing taken are “no good for any­one.”

Stuck in the mid­dle, manag­ing the mess, Ben­itez gets crit­i­cised for be­ing “re­al­is­tic” and claim­ing it will be a “mir­a­cle” if United avoid rel­e­ga­tion.

Or if he plays a back five try­ing to stay in a game against the elite. Too neg­a­tive.

New­cas­tle’s 2-1 de­feat to Chelsea did lit­tle to help their rel­e­ga­tion fight, but Ben­itez played the bullish game, and sent the mes­sage out that United ARE strong enough, even if they don’t sign any­one in Jan­uary.

No one can make that claim with any cer­tainty, but as Rafa likes to say dur­ing long chats about the finer de­tails of the game: “Foot­ball is a big lie.”

A year ago Ben­itez was ag­i­tated about the lack of back­ing, and fail­ure to move swiftly to build up his squad.

These days he seems more philo­soph­i­cal. He knows the war is lost. Even he, armed with ex­pe­ri­ence, tro­phies and re­al­ism, can’t change Ash­ley’s ap­proach.

His last try was to line up At­lanta United star Miguel Alm­iron in Novem­ber – and ask the club to strike early this month.

But, as it stands, New­cas­tle won’t pay £25m, or his £100k a week wages. So on Fri­day Ben­itez, who has banned him­self from talk­ing about trans­fers, in­sisted he knuckle down to or­gan­ise, mo­ti­vate and in­spire his cur­rent play­ers.

His one re­cur­ring mes­sage for fans and play­ers is ‘Stick to­gether and we will get the points to stay up. Noth­ing else mat­ters. Don’t waste the en­ergy.’

On the pitch the omens are not good. Since the start of De­cem­ber they’ve man­aged just five goals in nine league games.

It’s meant a run of five de­feats, three draws and a nar­row win at Hud­der­s­field.

And just four wins in 24 games across all com­pe­ti­tions this sea­son.

The next month looks per­ilous too. A re­play at Black­burn in the FA Cup is now a game that Ben­itez only just stopped short of say­ing they could do with los­ing.

Then it’s rel­e­ga­tion ri­vals Cardiff, a must-win, Manch­ester City at home plus Tot­ten­ham and Wolves away. It could be panic sta­tions by mid-Fe­bru­ary.

The anger has now turned to weari­ness on Ty­ne­side.

But a new owner – with Peter Kenyon now Ash­ley’s “most cred­i­ble” bid­der – wouldn’t even have to have tens of mil­lions.

Just spend­ing wisely what the club has, and demon­strat­ing they care and want to go places, will be a good start.

RAFA AT THE CLIFF EDGE New­cas­tle boss Rafa Ben­itez is re­signed to mak­ing the best of a very bad job atSt James’

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