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Benitez and Newcastle are heading towards choppy waters

Richard Marsh | 19 July 2018

Magpies have been quiet in the transfer window

The new Premier League season is just weeks away, but while many clubs have been busy signing new players, life at Newcastle United is ominously quiet.

This is a tense time for the Magpies. Rafael Benitez has worked minor miracles to first get the team back into the Premier League, and secondly, to keep them there.

The two-way dilemma

But now the Spaniard has just 12 months left on his contract. He is reluctant to sign a new one without securities from the owners about funds and signings for the future.

And that’s a problem for the board and owner Mike Ashley, who are reluctant to back a manager who may leave in 12 months. That could, and probably would, prompt wholesale changes in the near future.

Status quo

That pretty much explains why the Magpies have done pretty much nothing this summer.

The impressive Kenedy has been re-signed on a season-long loan from Chelsea, but the only other arrivals are Ki Sung-yeung on a free from Swansea City and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

It’s hardly inspiring stuff. The Magpies have also sold Mikel Merino to Real Sociedad for £10m, less than a year after signing him permanently. Technically they’ve made a profit this summer, and in football terms, that’s reverse gear.

There’s no hiding behind statistics either. It’s been well-documented this week that Newcastle were the first Premier League club to spend £15m on a player, but they may be the last to spend £20m.

Given how the market has grown since they landed Alan Shearer in 1996, that’s a remarkable stat. Nearly every other Premier League club has grown in relative tandem, club records have been broken left, right and centre since 2016, but not the Magpies.

It says everything how the Toon Army have been run in recent times. And the forecast isn’t promising either.

The season ahead

Given Newcastle’s habit for a managerial fall-out, it seems unlikely now that Benitez will see out the season unless he gets the assurances he seeks from the board.

It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. But Newcastle arguably need Rafa more than Rafa needs Newcastle.

The underlying issue is that there is no room to stand still in the Premier League. The Magpies have well and truly stalled.

Rafa’s guile got them out of trouble last season, but he’s firmly on the back foot this time around.

With savvy investment the Toon could and should have been eyeing up a push into the top-eight this season.

Instead, they remain firmly odds-on at 4/11 for a bottom-half finish. The Coral traders have chalked the Magpies up at 5/1 to fall back into the Championship, and though that seems a safe enough price right now, it will tumble rapidly if Benitez and Ashley come to blows.

Another typically dramatic seasons awaits.

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