The change in fortunes at Newcastle United has been so dramatic and has happened over such a short space of time that even the most optimistic of supporters back in May 2016 would have been reluctant to agree with you had you told them that in just 17 months, Rafa Benitez would have managed to rework a tiring squad, win the Championship, bring back sell-out crowds and unite a city.
But that’s exactly what he’s managed to do. With the club up for sale and reports suggesting that multiple buyers are interested, are Newcastle on the verge of something special?
I’ll be the first to admit that Mike Ashley’s tenure at the club hasn’t exactly been smooth-sailing and I have, at times, wished for the owner to depart. But I must applaud him for the foresight of hiring someone like Benitez after the disaster that was Steve Mclaren.
Up and down stint, but hiring Benitez was a masterstroke
Coming from a sporting background, Ashley’s foray into the footballing world was met with scepticism at first – there was no doubt that he was a successful businessman, but how well would this transfer to the ownership and running of a football club? It’s been up and down.
A lot of money has been spent, some unwisely, some brilliantly, but no one will question the greatest purchase that he’s made during his decade at the club was Benitez.
Despite all the issues that have come before, I firmly believe that Ashley has to take credit here. It was a masterstroke. Whether or not you agree with his intentions, he understood that hiring a Champions League winning manager who is as passionate as any about the game could simultaneously revive the fan-base and make the club more appealing to prospective buyers.
Sale announcement both expected and unexpected
His announcement earlier this week that the club is now up for sale is simultaneously a surprise and what should have been expected.
Ashley’s net worth has more than doubled during the last 10 years and some suspected that he may hold out for a year or two longer to see how much more he could sell the club for should Benitez deliver on his promises and position Newcastle firmly within the top 8 of the Premier League.
It appears that his patience with football has worn thin, though, and he may well be willing to drop his estimations slightly for a quick exit.
Amanda Staveley appears to be the front-runner to purchase the club, through her company PCP Capital Partners, with sources suggesting that the firm’s wealth is estimated at around £29 billion or more.
The figure is meaningless, however; Ashley pumped a fraction of his supposed wealth into the club, so it is still a question of what a new owner would want out of the deal rather than how much they are willing to put forward to fund their vision.
Is Staveley a fitting heir?
With Ashley, we have a wealthy British sports fan who had been financially successful in the industry, but didn’t every fully connect with the club or football enough for him to really be passionate about Newcastle’s success.
With Amanda Staveley reportedly wishing for a central board role should a takeover be successful, one does wonder whether we will be in a position that’s any better than the one we currently find ourselves in.
As far as her dealings in football go, she was a major player in the deal which involved Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of Manchester City and she was also in line for a board role at Liverpool before they were purchased by Fenway Sports.
This apparent desire to have a controlling role in the football club is what worried me – whatever Ashley’s faults were, he eventually learned that giving Rafa the control that he demanded was the only way for the club to grow and move in the right direction.
Will a new owner be as willing to allow the manager so much control over transfers, fees and the rest?
Should Benitez leave, I’m not sure that a huge transfer budget would be much use if players were unwilling to play for the club – it’s no secret that working under Benitez is a big draw for potential signings.
Some may believe that I’m being overly cautious on the verge of negativity, but I’ve been fortunate to grow up with this club, but I’ve watched fantastic players and gutsy performances as much as I’ve seen failures and poor attitudes.
Should the club be sold, I am desperate for the new owners to try their hardest to understand what Newcastle United is about.
If they bring passion to match the 53 thousand we bring to every home game, along with a competitive budget and are willing to give Rafa the control he needs, then things can only be looking up for the Toon.
Written by Euan Hamilton
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