Rafael Benitez to leave Newcastle: How did it come to this?
Newcastle confirmed Benitez's departure on Monday after contract negotiations with owner Mike Ashley proved unsuccessful
By Keith Downie, Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 25/06/19 9:28am
Newcastle have confirmed Rafael Benitez will leave the club when his contract expires on June 30, but how did it come to this?
Benitez had been in talks over a new deal at Newcastle but is now expected to take up a lucrative offer to manage Chinese side Dalian Yifang having been unable to reach an agreement with Mike Ashley.
The news has prompted an angry reaction among Newcastle supporters, who have also been disappointed by a lack of progress on takeover talks. Here, Keith Downie, Sky Sports News' north-east reporter, explains how and why Benitez's tenure has come to a close.
Negotiations come to nothing
In one sense I am shocked but in another sense, we shouldn't be. Rafa only had six days left on his contract and something had to give.
It's not just been for the last few weeks that Rafa and the club have been in negotiations. Newcastle tried to tie Benitez down to a long-term deal last summer, but he decided to see out the remaining year of his contract.
Talks were going on behind the scenes for the whole of last season and were reignited in the last few weeks. We reported that Benitez had travelled to London to meet owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley last month.
I was told they had agreed to compromise in person, but Rafa did not get the assurances he wanted when the actual contract landed on his desk.
What he wanted was more money to spend in the transfer window. He also wanted assurances that money would go into the academy and the infrastructure of the club.
The contract on offer didn't fulfil those requirements and it was also only for one year, so if he had signed, we could have been at this stage again next year and it just would have been an annual saga.
As time ticked down over the last few days, it looked increasingly unlikely that Benitez would stay. The long and short of it is that Ashley has failed to convince him.
Question of ambition
I think the key point is that Benitez is just too big a manager for Newcastle in their current guise. I don't mean he is too big for the club full stop. I mean he's too big for them with Ashley at the helm.
He wants more, he wants to improve, he wants the club to get better. Whereas it seems Newcastle are quite happy to just stay in the Premier League under Ashley - rather than challenge for trophies and get into Europe.
I just feel the fit wasn't right and it never has been. It has been a power battle for the best part of three years and now it has come to this.
The issues started way back in the January transfer window of his first full season in charge, when he tried to sign Andros Townsend from Tottenham.
He had an agreement in place with Andros and his representatives. He thought it was going to go ahead. But in the end, Newcastle wouldn't sanction the deal.
That damaged the trust and meant that last summer, when they were having contract talks as Benitez entered the final year of his contract, he felt that Ashley hadn't kept his promises.
I think the signing of Miguel Almiron for a club-record transfer fee last January papered over the cracks a little bit and gave Ashley a little bit of power back. But even then, Almiron was only signed on deadline day despite Benitez having the deal in place, ready to go, at the start of the month.
There was also the Salomon Rondon deal. He wanted to sign him permanently last summer, but was only allowed to sign him on loan because Ashley only wants players of a certain age.
If they are spending money on players, he wants it to be on players with sell-on value. Someone like Rondon, at 30 years old, with a £16.5m release clause, doesn't fit with that.
I'm told that Benitez was promised £50m per transfer window, which isn't that bad, but when you see the fees going around right now, it's not a huge amount.
The wage structure was another issue. Newcastle's highest earner is on £75,000-per-week, but Rafa wanted to be able to sign players on upwards of £100,00-per-week. He couldn't do that, so it limited the pool of players he could sign.
Benitez has been working with his hands tied. You only need to look at Newcastle's net spend to see that. What he did with limited funds at his disposal is very impressive.
A fractious relationship
The relationship between Rafa and Ashley can definitely be described as fractious.
Generally, there was no direct contact between Ashley and Benitez. It all went through Charnley, other than when Ashley went through a spell earlier in the season when he came to about six or seven games in a row. A couple of times after those games, he popped down to see Benitez.
They also had that squad outing in Newcastle in November, when Ashley took Benitez and the squad to a pizza restaurant.
I think Benitez did appreciate that, but he didn't want pizza, he wanted to see more. What he wanted was more money to spend on transfer and assurances that work would be done to improve the club.
Big shoes to fill
Newcastle fans will be devastated. There will be a massive backlash from this. I would expect there to be protests.
There's no doubt that the silence from the club in the last three weeks has been borderline embarrassing. To have not updated the fans on anything that has been going on - especially with the takeover talk in the background - has been pretty poor.
Whoever comes in to replace Benitez will have massive shoes to fill. Everybody keeps asking, 'Who next?' But for me, it doesn't matter who comes in now.
The supporters took to Benitez so lovingly that it's now a no-win situation win for whoever comes in - and they will be playing catch-up with their preparations, too.
The feeling for many people is that Newcastle will go for someone Ashley already knows. I don't know about that but what's certain is that they will struggle to get anyone anywhere near the stature of Benitez.
How do the supporters gear themselves up for a new season now? I think they could have accepted the takeover not happening if they had kept Benitez. But to have lost the Spaniard and to probably not have a takeover for a while yet at best is incomprehensible for them.
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