With the 2018/19 Premier League season ending two weeks ago, Newcastle United fans would have hoped for a swift resolution in terms of manager Rafa Benitez’s contract, which is set to expire at the end of June.
Benitez has now completed his third full season at St James’ Park, and has helped transform the club in this duration. Despite preventing Newcastle from relegation to the second tier upon arrival, the Champions League winner worked smartly and tirelessly to seal a title-winning promotion campaign back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Since then the Spaniard has cemented the Magpies position in the Premier League with two respectable mid-table finishes in succession. Although Benitez and the Toon faithful would ideally have liked to progress further – especially in the last season, intending to build on a mid-table finish rather than remain static – praise must be given to the work Benitez and his players have done, given the limited resources made available by tight-fisted owner Mike Ashley; despite the commercial and affluent nature of the modern Premier League.
Benitez has managed to establish Newcastle back in the Premier League on a shoestring budget. While other teams have been able to invest in transfers freely – with promoted clubs Wolves and Fulham both spending in the excess of £100m – Newcastle remained one of only three clubs to have a positive net spend in the 2018/19 season. Although the club finally broke the long-standing transfer record on playmaker Miguel Almiron, this was necessary in today’s market, while the £21m fee had become a custom and affordable price tag for the majority of clubs in England’s upper-tier, with Newcastle not up to the trend just yet.
This is one aspect Benitez wants to alter at the club. Rafa has stressed on multiple occasions that he sees the potential of the club and wants to ‘compete’, with more investment on transfers being crucial in order to stand toe-to-toe with the League’s big guns. Benitez wants to continue building the club and return it to where he believes Newcastle United belongs – in the upper realms of the Premier League; a position they were once in decades ago whereby they broke the world transfer record at one point.
As a result of the lack of funds, Benitez has put off signing a new deal until he has clear and written assurances that sufficient resources will be at his disposal in the upcoming transfer windows, with more quality incomings similar to the purchase of Almiron. Rafa also wants to adjust the transfer policy in regards to age, with the board not keen on signing players over 27, with the preference being to sign younger players who possess a greater sell-on value.
This policy has been slightly flexible in recent years, with Rafa allowed to sign Federico Fernandez and Ki Seung-Yeung (who are both 30 years old). Benitez believes balance is a key characteristic within a strong squad, and will point to the example of Salomon Rondon (29) who had a huge impact on United’s fortunes on the pitch.
Benitez also wants to improve the training ground facilities, in addition to investing more in the academy. Such concerns suggest that he is thinking about the future, with the intention of really crafting Newcastle United into a giant of English football again.
There has been discussions with owner Mike Ashley, with the pair meeting face-to-face shortly after the season ended, while negotiations are still believed to be ongoing. This can be a positive sign, with noises coming out of St James’ Park suggesting that there is a willingness from both parties to reach an agreement.
Moreover, Benitez could have easily stormed out of talks had matters not gone his way; this has not happened, therefore the feeling is that the dialogue has been positive so far.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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