Life as a Newcastle United supporter is rarely a stress-free one. Around 24 hours after Rafa Benitez steered the club back into the Premier League, St. James’ Park was raided by HMRC officers and managing director Lee Charnley duly arrested.
Now, it must be said that Charnley was soon released without charge, though the euphoric feeling of returning to the proverbial Promised Land was rather short-lived. Indeed, while all of this was unfolding, there remained a doubt as to whether Benitez would stay on in charge of the Magpies.
The Spaniard, the most universally popular figure on Tyneside in years, refused to categorically state he would continue into next season following the promotion-clinching win over Preston, spreading fear amongst the Toon Army.
Clearly, the former Liverpool and Chelsea coach is a man who demands control when it comes to transfers. The fallout from Newcastle’s failure to sufficiently back him over the course of the January saw his future cast into doubt and he will reportedly seek clarity over the size of the budget he may have heading into next season.
One of the most popular narratives to have emerged in regards to Newcastle United since the New Year sales has been that of a manager who wants to wake a sleeping giant battling against a villainous owner expecting him to work wonders without freeing up funds.
That isn’t strictly true. While not signing anyone in January had Newcastle fans fearing Mike Ashley had reverted to old ways, that time of year is notoriously difficult in which to find value for money.
The rather public (and failed) pursuit of Andros Townsend, a man who at the time was struggling to fit in at Crystal Palace, seemed to be a major source of frustration for Benitez. Still, the deal is thought to have come very close and both clubs are said to have had a valid reason as to why they couldn’t push a deal over the line, to coin an Alan Pardew-like phrase.
Paying big money for a man, then out of form, and one sold for just £13m as a result of a relegation clause just six months prior is not good business. Obviously, the England international would have strengthened the Toon’s promotion cause, though the squad Benitez built in the summer still managed to achieve automatic promotion. In fact, they could still even win the Championship title.
Benitez needs control. Over the course of last summer, he was given that. Never before would Ashley have allowed a manager to spend an apparent £4m on 33-year-old forward Daryl Murphy, trusting his man when it came to recruiting players suited for the long and arduous Championship campaign.
Moreover, the Sports Direct mogul showed a willingness to splash the cash in the summer before relegation. The Toon Army had the fifth-highest net spend in Europe over the summer of 2015, with only Manchester City and Manchester United spending more.
As per the Daily Mail, the Magpies’ net spend was a rather large £47.7m during that summer and, while the transfer market continues to see silly money spent, indicated Ashley was willing to match up some of the big boys.
It’s just unfortunate, or downright laughable, that top brass at St. James’ Park hadn’t fully realised the extent of Steve McClaren’s managerial limitations.
That’s not to say Ashley is perfect. Newcastle fans are right to have lingering feelings of distrust towards him and he certainly has a lot of making up to do when it comes to righting the wrongs that have defined his ownership.
Obviously, Rafa Benitez’s arrival is the best thing to happen to Newcastle United in years. Such was the state of the club prior to his appointment in March 2016, the idea of him leaving is always likely to scare supporters, who dread the notion of letting a manager of such prestige slip from their grasp.
What’s even more clear is that he needs backing to take the club in the direction he wants it to go. Whether or not he and Ashley completely agree on how much money and control that will take, the latter has proven over the last two summers he’s willing and able to offer up both.