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​Ashley v Benitez and how it risks tearing Newcastle apart

Just consider Rafa Benitez; Newcastle United's cool, calm and collected manager, whose tranquil and phlegmatic approach has taken Liverpool to a Champions League, two La Liga trophies with Valencia, and Chelsea to a Europa league...

...a man who when the whistle sounds to confirm three points to his side, gently takes off his glasses and folds them into his jacket pocket making you feel safe at night.

Now he stands exasperated and disgruntled at the forefront of the black and white circus that is Newcastle United. Agitated and terse at press conferences, full of pessimism. Why the personality shift from the customary unflustered man at the helm? The answer: the malignant tumour that has grown so pervasive it is threatening to destroy the club, also known as Mike Ashley. This hubristic businessman's stubborn approach which continues to treat the football club like a business is endangering the future of the untapped potential of this colossal institution.

This is a club that has all the building blocks to be a footballing superpower: A team in the Premier League, A 52 thousand-seater stadium, bursting at the seams at every home game. A rich history with iconic players and moments, a world class manager and a £125,860,341 profit from the 17/18 season.

However, Ashley's parsimonious leadership leaves the club in danger of another relegation.

In a rare interview with Sky Sports before the start of last season Ashley stated: "I am not wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City etc", which is the truth, however even the most zealous of Toon fans could fabricate Mike Ashley's wealth compared to the top echelon of the Premier League elite. But the current expenditure of Newcastle United is nowhere on par relative to its capabilities. After a top 10 finish last season and the closing of the transfer window, Newcastle United have had a total transfer expenditure of only €34.63 million, seemingly pennies compared to the clubs around them.

Leicester City €114.6 million, West Ham €99.4 million, Southampton €62.65 million, Bournemouth €51.3 million. Sides that were promoted with Newcastle; Brighton €69.9 million and Huddersfield €46.5 million and now newly promoted sides; Wolves €70 million & Fulham €84.15 million.

Mike Ashley's investment in the squad is clearly under par and the approach of minimum investment/maximum profit might fly under the radar at Sports Direct but the fans are fed up. In the Magpies' final dress rehearsal against Augsburg (0-1), 10 out of the starting 11 played in Newcastle's 16/17 season in the championship.

Rafa Benitez is a top-class manager and has shown his elite player management skills by taking this team to a top 10 finish last season. However, with the growing strength of the Premier League, the task of taking this second division side to continued Premier continuity menaces to become insurmountable. And the dangerous reality for Newcastle United is that Rafa Benitez, if not given what he needs, is perfectly able to walk out the door.

Unfortunately for all involved, Ashley's lack of investment and failure to follow through on promises is simply a chronic case of déjà vu for fans. Only last year after their return to the Premier League, Ashley promised appropriate investment to lead the team forward. But while aspiring for the likes of Lucas Perez from Arsenal and 17.5 million Andreas Samaras, Newcastle only signed €5.5million Joselu and Mikel Merino on loan, with a total expenditure of only €42.3 million.

After a miracle performance from Benitez, Ashley has made the same string of promises for the upcoming season, only to miss out on target after target resulting in an underwhelming maximum transfer fee of €10.7 million for Yoshinori Muto from Frankfurt. It's clear and simple, Benitez is not getting what he is being promised and this treatment is seeing him being turned away from the club that has seen him fall in love with a city and the city reciprocate that love tenfold.

Even as far back as 2010 this was happening when former manager Kevin Keegan stated: "The best day will come when someone buys it from him and runs Newcastle like that club should be run. The club can never go anywhere under Mike Ashley...I promise you that."

Ashley's tenure has overseen two relegations and the same old mistakes being committed. Even when it looked certain the ownership of the club would change hands when Amanda Stavely of PCP showed considerable interest with her consortium, Ashley held out for a ridiculous 400 million pushing any other bid away.

This Premier League campaign has started disastrously. No marquee signings, a poor pre-season display: 2-2 away to Hull, a 0-0 draw to Porto, an embarrassing 4-0 thrashing to Braga and a 1-0 loss to Augsburg at home. Benitez is clearly aggrieved at Ashley's false statements in May that "every penny generated by the club is available to him," when he tersely remarked after the loss to Augsburg: "This is a wake up call. We have to realise we can't make these mistakes...Things are not going well off the pitch and you can see a reflection of that on the pitch."

Contract talks between Benitez and the club have stalled and there has been a vocal response from the Toon army with a petition appearing online stating "If Rafa goes, we go" and rallies being organised outside Sport Direct outlets. And the reality is, if Benitez does go, the whole club looks to spiral into an abyss of failure, as it is the tutelage and experience of Benitez that has continued to get results despite the chaos resided in the higher powers of the club.

Without Benitez, not only will Newcastle face the risk of falling down the rungs of English football, but more poignantly turn away Newcastle's most valuable asset, the fans. The passionate and ardent supporter base who always turn up at St James Park, hail, rain or shine and give their all both emotionally and fiscally to this club. This is the last straw and if Mike Ashley does not change his ways, he will see the club crumble at his feet.

Newcastle United will face Tottenham Hotspur @ St James Park on Sat, 11 August (12:30 Local Time)

About the author

Eli Rubenstein Sturgess

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