Newcastle remain one of the most curious cases in British football.
Despite two spells in the Championship in the past ten years, they still have one of the biggest fans bases in England, who demand a lot from the club. However, they seem stuck in a state of inertia.
This problem that the club faces boils down to the owner, Mike Ashley. Now it is fair to say that the business mogul is widely maligned by fans in Tyneside, as they believe that he is not committed to the club.
Newcastle fans believe that Ashley sees the club as more of a business venture; a way to facilitate the promotion of his company Sports Direct and earn money from television rights for being in the Premier League.
Ashley’s reluctance to invest heavily in the club has seen the side slump in recent years from the contenders that they once were. Although, Newcastle were showing signs of decline before Ashely took over, not helped by the retirement of club legend Alan Shearer.
But there has never been too much interest to fire Newcastle back to the heights they once were at, and that is what frustrates fans. In fact, the club still haven’t broken their transfer record that they set in 2005, by signing Michael Owen for £16m, which is fairly modest by today’s standards.
But the main problem lies with the manager of the club, Rafa Benítez. The Spaniard is one of the most respected managers in the world, a Champions League winner, with multiple La Liga titles amongst others. The fans know how fortunate they are to have such a man as their manager, particularly when they were in the Championship two seasons ago.
With a big manager, however, comes his demands, and he wants more from Ashley to build a squad that can compete in the higher echelons of English football. Despite finishing in tenth in the Premier League last season, he still feels that his squad is not strong enough. Although some signings were made over the summer, there were none which gave the semblance that this was a club that had a lot of ambition.
For as long as Benítez and Ashley are at loggerheads, it seems that Newcastle will remain in this state. The club can’t expect to get a better manager if the former Liverpool boss goes, but can’t expect a lot from him if the club stays the way they are.
That is what remains so interesting about The Magpies at this point in time. Benítez has the ability to keep Newcastle in the Premier League, but can’t do much else. At some point, one of the two will blink; Benítez will either leave the club, or Ashley will sell. There’s is the other option that the owner will increase his spending, but to so many fans, that looks unlikely.
So it looks as though the saga will continue. Newcastle certainly have some good players, and don’t look to be bound for relegation, but it is also hard to envision them at the top of the table. They seem set to be a perennial tenth place side as long as they have both Ashley and Benítez in charge.
In terms of the future of Newcastle players, they will have no interest in staying at a club that appears to have such little ambition. Club captain Jamaal Lascelles is an example of a player that will surely leave St James’ Park if nothing changes. The 24-year-old has been linked with many clubs, including the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, who will be able to offer him a lot more. No one would blame him for leaving either.
From Ashley’s perspective, Benítez is perfect from him though. He is a man that can keep his side in the Premier League, and will effectively sustain his financial interests. The Newcastle manager must do something himself to initiate any change, for instance, his painfully defensive setups against Chelsea and Man City have been seen as a protest to the lack of resources at his disposal.
There have been pundits that have come out and supported the businessman, most recently the likes of Dennis Wise. They say that Benítez does indeed have the resources to thrive in the northeast and that fans should be grateful to Ashely for saving their club which was on the brink of financial ruin. Obviously, this view do not go down well with fans, and some other pundits.
So it’s hard to see anything changing. Something has to budge between Ashley and Benítez. The owner has been intent on selling the club for a number of years, without finding a buyer. This seems the only possibility to get a budget to compete with the bigger sides. But if he doesn’t move, expect Benítez to leave at some point in the future. He has done his bit for the club, but will have offers from many clubs across Europe.
If the Spaniard does leave, The Magpies are at risk of this constant yo-yoing between divisions, and deep down the fans may know this.
So the future of Newcastle seems strange and repetitive. The constant battle between manager and the owner will continue, with fans backing the former. This will go on until one of them gives in.