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Dissecting the tug of war that has engulfed Newcastle United

Written by: Srinivasan

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As manager Rafa Benitez and owner Mike Ashley fight their own corners it is the club and its fans who are guaranteed to lose.

Anybody who has seen Premier League football in the 90's and early 2000's would know that Newcastle United were a genuine force in the league. They may not have competed for title honours like the "Big Four," but a visit to the daunting St. James' Park was always a tricky fixture.

The fans brought the ground alive with their vociferous chanting and it brought out the best from the players. Household names like Sir Bobby Robson, Kevin Keegan and Sam Allardyce have taken their place in the dugout and its current occupant Rafa Benitez is someone who has Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid on his CV.

Given Benitez's stature and the backing of the fans, you would expect that they would be ambitious enough to be battling for the European spots in the league. Instead, we see a once great club falling to the mercy of an owner who has successfully alienated a loyal fan-base, runs the risk of losing a top European manager and may see the club get relegated once again.

Mike Ashley paid around £135m to buy Newcastle United

Mike Ashley's tenure as Newcastle owner has, needless to say, been chequered. However, this season it has hit a new low. After overseeing a firesale of players that included Dwight Gayle, Aleksandr Mitrovic, Massimo Haidara, Jack Colback and Mikel Merino, which brought in close to €80m, Ashley has only sanctioned less than a third of the amount on new players.

While the arrival of Fabian Schar was a steal considering he is a starting centre-back for the Swiss national team, losing Gayle for Salomon Rondon, who joins from West Bromwich Albion on a season-long loan only shows a lack of planning and a sense of cluelessness around the club. 

Watch: All 44 Toon goals from the 2017-18

With Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto being the most expensive signing of the window, the squad appears ill-equipped to handle the rigours of a full Premier League season. The sheer passivity with which Ashley has treated the transfer window is alarming.

So much so that the Labour MP for Newcastle Central and a diehard Toon fan Chi Onwurah called Ashley a pantomime villain at a recent House of Commons session, for failing to back the club in the transfer market or improving training facilities. 

Rafael Benitez has become a fan-favourite on Tyneside

It has also led the fiercely loyal Toon fan-base to start a campaign called '#IfRafaGoesWeGo,' where the fans have threatened to withdraw their support of the club if Benitez is not backed in the market. It is a clear sign of just how Benitez is being seen as the sole light at the end of a seemingly endless dark tunnel under Ashley's reign.

The former Real Madrid boss enjoys a near symbiotic relationship with the Newcastle fans, having kept their Premier League dream alive under seemingly impossible circumstances. It is a scenario that he has seen before during his final days at Liverpool as well. 


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The recent acquisition of failed department store House of Fraser for £90m by Sports Direct, Ashley's company that owns Newcastle had the fans up in arms. It begs the question as to whether Ashley is genuinely interested in the betterment of the club? For a company that churns out sizeable profits each year, Ashley has ensured that Newcastle do not receive a large chunk of those profits for transfers. Instead, Benitez has had to rely on loan deals and extremely low-value transfers to ensure the club's survival. 

For a club that competed once in the Champions League and was a regular in challenging the autonomy of the "Big Four" in England, Newcastle have now been reduced to a club that has to go through a very tough climb just to call themselves a Premier League team. It speaks of a larger issue in the running of a football club where powerful owners exploit clubs for their personal gains and end up losing the most vital element of a football club, the fans. 

Published: Sat Aug 11, 2018 11:35 PM IST

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