Months after his tragic yet expected exit, Rafa Benitez finally set the record straight on his departure. This comes after Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley peddled a dangerous false narrative about the circumstances leading to Rafa Benitez’s departure. Surely, the majority of Newcastle fans know better than to believe the seemingly innocent narrative that Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley created, but there is still a lot to learn from the debacle.
To recap, Mike Ashley introduced the narrative in his interview with the Mirror when he essentially suggested that Rafa was never really interested in negotiating a contract that would see extension of his time with Newcastle. According to Mike Ashley, Rafa cared about “money first, then the club last.” Side note: this is the literal definition of the psychological term called projection. Anyways, this idea was strongly reiterated by Lee Charnley in the Newcastle vs Arsenal Pre-Match program.
This notion that Rafa Benitez left primarily because of the money is silly for many reasons. It has been obvious from the beginning that there was a struggle between Rafa Benitez and the Newcastle owner. It seems that Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley were banking on the fact that Rafa Benitez would sit idly by as they painted a pretty picture in which they are the victims and Rafa Benitez is the Big Bad Wolf.
However, he set the record straight and just about confirmed what everyone suspected was going on. No raise in salary could sweep Mike Ashley’s incompetence and lack of ambition under the table. This is the same sticking point that has seen manager after manager turn down the job this summer. It’s the reason that rumored “11th choice” Steve Bruce now hopelessly holds the post.
After bringing Newcastle back and securing their future in the Premier League, Rafa Benitez wanted Newcastle to match his ambition. Up until that moment, Mike Ashley had done absolutely nothing to suggest he was willing to do so.
With all the background information out of the way, it is time to really delve into the principles behind Rafa’s decision to leave the club and how it provides the groundwork for the fans to resist a Mike Ashley-owned Newcastle United.
Like Newcastle fans, Rafa Benitez is as loyal as they come. Many of us realized this when he stuck around to help Newcastle gain promotion after Steve McClaren did his “special.” Considering the fact that he did so after holding the Real Madrid managerial position just 12 months prior says a lot. In fact, this was a source of comedic humor for many football spectators as it was shocking that the Champions League winning coach, the former rival of the great Sir Alex Ferguson, and the previous coach to the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, and Cristiano Ronaldo would willingly subject himself to the relative mediocrity of Championship football.
If that is not enough evidence, look to his tenure at Liverpool. Many Liverpool fans would argue that he stayed a little longer than he should have. Though Liverpool struggled towards the end of his tenure, he refused to give up on the club. Following his long-awaited departure, he still had the inclination to donate 96,000 pounds to the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
As a manager who was truly loyal to Newcastle, he ignored several offers over the spell of his tenure in favor of staying with the club and improving it. To Mike Ashley, a man that is willing to put a price and then further raise the price on loyalty, Rafa Benitez’s desire to be at the club became a source of exploitation.
Mike Ashley continually tested the limits of Rafa Benitez’s loyalty by doing the absolute bare minimum. Ironically, at times, the fans became a tool in this system of manipulation, as they served as a constant reminder to Rafa Benitez of why he remained at the club. Eventually, he finally realized that there was no possibility of improving under Mike Ashley. Keeping Newcastle in the Premier League so that he could keep receiving the TV checks was satisfaction enough for Ashley.
Now back to the fans, everyone talks about loyalty to the club as a defining characteristic of fandom. However, what the vast majority of the fans are actually referring to is essentially a short-sighted form of loyalty. This type of loyalty includes showing up to games, cheering on the players, and buying merchandise to support the team with little regard to the regime pulling the strings. In this club’s example, doing so simply strengthens the grip that Mike Ashley has on the club.
It is not actually loyalty; instead, it is a form of reckless indulgence for immediate gratification. If you want to talk about true loyalty, look at what Rafa did. Once he realized that staying would not necessarily allow him to improve this Newcastle project he took on years ago, he opted against the short-term gratification that continuing at Newcastle under Mike Ashley would bring. Let us not kid ourselves, if Rafa Benitez was still here, Newcastle would likely finish closer to tenth place than eighteenth place this season, and his legacy would continue to grow. However, in this scenario, Mike Ashley would get to reap the benefits of Rafa and the club’s work even more, all while keeping the club grounded among the bottom-feeders of the Premier League.
By leaving, Rafa took a principled stance against Mike Ashley and demonstrated that he would no longer be a pawn in the exploitative owner’s money-making machine. As Rafa left, Newcastle fans were momentarily outraged, but soon the allure of short-term gratification quickly took its place.
New recruits walked through the door and the past decade of mediocrity, which culminated to Rafa leaving, was effectively swept under the rug. With that, Mike Ashley successfully weathered what is likely to be the worst storm he has faced at Newcastle.
The truth is that this fan-base owes it to itself, Rafa Benitez, and the club to take a step away if it means saving the club from the grip of Mike Ashley.