Newcastle United FC are finally changing ownership, as Mike Ashley ends his association with the club.
By now, we have all seen the news regarding Newcastle United, and the club’s failure to reach an agreement with Rafa Benitez to manage the club for next season.
Benitez released a statement asserting that while he wanted to stay, club owner Mike Ashley refused to commit to investment in the club.
Aside from the obvious point that if Ashley did not want to invest in the club then he should not have purchased Newcastle to begin with, from a business perspective and a football perspective, it makes absolutely no sense not to reach an agreement with Benitez for a new contract.
I sincerely doubt that Ashley would be able to find anyone nearly as good as Benitez to manage Newcastle. Managers of his quality are rare enough to begin with, and they typically join clubs that have ambition for trophies – nearer the top end of the table rather than relegation.
Considering how Benitez wanted to stay at the club, this makes the decision taken by Ashley even more strange.
Letting Benitez leave after he expressed a desire to stay is the equivalent of throwing the latest iPhone off a bridge and replacing it with a Blackberry. Adding insult to injury, the iPhone was available at a discount, whereas the Blackberry was full price.
Ashley is not going to get another manager as good as Benitez, end of story. The Spaniard is a Champions League winner, has experience with some of the biggest clubs on the planet, made Newcastle competitive on a tight budget, and – most crucial of all – had a strong connection with the Toon fanbase.
Clearly, building Newcastle back to where they belong is not Ashley’s priority. If it was, he would have moved heaven and Earth to get Benitez to sign a new contract.
It would not surprise me if Newcastle get relegated this season because of this decision, especially considering how many players are now considering leaving. Sean Longstaff, in particular, has been linked with a move to Manchester United, which would be devastating given his importance in the second half of the season.
But I honestly do not believe Ashley would be too concerned. I don’t think he would care if Newcastle get relegated down to League One or lower.
Ashely’s motivation is purely financial, and despite their recent performances, Newcastle are still a large enough brand to the point where they would still be making money regardless. St James’ Park was always close to capacity during the 2016-17 season, when Newcastle were in the championship, indicating the club’s popularity.
Ashley reportedly wants to sell and a Middle Eastern investment group seems interested in buying, but the two still cannot reach an agreement for the value of the club.
I cannot help but think that the inability to renew Benitez’s contract could have a significant impact on this deal.
Put simply, while Newcastle is a valuable club in terms of fanbase, they are considerably more valuable when they have a top-class manager at the helm.
It would not be hyperbolic to suggest that the future of Newcastle was dependent upon Benitez staying. Unless Ashley finally invests in the club, and supports in the transfer market, no buyer will want to purchase the club.
Mike Ashley needs to invest, not just for footballing reasons, but also from a financial perspective, however the likelihood is slim at best.