Mike Ashley has never been a popular figure at Newcastle United but, on the 11th of March 2016, the tide well and truly turned on the Sports Direct mogul, despite his greatest ever capture while in ownership of the Toon Army.
Indeed, Ashley’s frankly awful running of the club had already led to one relegation and, despite the capture of Rafael Benitez on the date we just mentioned, was about to cause another. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the universally unpopular owner had already run the club on a shoestring budget, twice appointed Joe Kinnear in different roles and even briefly renamed the historic St. James’ Park the Sports Direct Arena.
But, despite it being his most popular ever move, the appointment of Rafael Benitez as Newcastle United manager was the final nail in his coffin. It’s just, painfully for Geordies all around the world, that coffin hasn’t yet been buried.
A moment in time: Newcastle United’s capture of Rafael Benitez
Benitez’s standing on Tyneside is almost God-like. The Spaniard, who has spoken about his affection for the Magpies faithful, is seen as the figure of good fighting against a hierarchy of evil and the thought of him leaving has even prompted the ‘If Rafa goes, we go’ movement amongst sections of support.
Which is what makes Ashley’s failed power play so interesting, yet the Newcastle story all the more tragic.
Appointing the Spaniard, who was in charge of Real Madrid a matter of weeks before, was a statement from Ashley. A power play to get the fans back onside, just a few months after they shelled out big money in the transfer market. It’s amazing to think now that, in the summer of 2015, the Magpies were one of the biggest spending clubs in Europe, and the two combined should have restored at least some of the faith in the Newcastle owner.
Indeed, Benitez’s presence at Newcastle has shed even more light on Ashley’s awfulness. Rather than unite fans around the man who appointed him, the fact a top level manager who isn’t afraid to openly talk about the poor way in which the club is run has shown him up even further.
Rather than lead Newcastle on, the fact he’s there to show Ashley up merely saddens the Newcastle story. They have the manager. They have the stadium. They have the fanbase. It’s so close to being something to be proud of, yet one man is ruining it.
Mike Ashley’s appointment of Rafa Benitez was supposed to save him as Newcastle United owner, but its only made him look worse.
Couldn’t happen to a better owner.