Ashley: ‘Impossible’ to keep Benitez

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To hear Mike Ashley say it, Newcastle never had a chance.

In a long interview with the Daily Mail, Ashley stated multiple times that it was his intention to sign Rafa Benitez to a new contract, but Ashley contended that Benitez never wanted to stay. The Spanish manager announced in mid-June that he was leaving the Premier League club, and soon signed a lucrative deal with Chinese club Dalian Yifang.

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“My view always was we had to keep Rafa,” Ashley told the Daily Mail. “For my own personal safety we had to keep Rafa. I thought he had us offside, he had us cornered, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, I’ve been totally out-maneuvered, I probably shouldn’t own a football club, it’s ridiculous, but I’m a big boy.

“Yet every time with Rafa it was impossible – there was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 percent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley stated that in May, he had even tossed out the idea to his front office of signing Benitez to an eight-year contract, a move that’s practically unheard of in global soccer.

“At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract,” Ashley said. “That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy. So if you really want me involved, I need time from you, too. And that was the idea. I did it before with Alan Pardew.

“Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”

Ashley also provided some interesting insights into Newcastle’s signing of Brazilian striker Joelington. Ashley stated that Newcastle had been close to signing both Miguel Almiron and Joelington in January, only for Hoffenheim to say he wasn’t for sale. A month later, Hoffenheim offered Joelington to Newcastle but only for around $50 million. Ashley said he was prepared to pay that, but Benitez didn’t want to sign off on a signing if he didn’t know he would still be around.

On a bright note, Ashley did have kind words to say about Benitez’s time in charge.

“I’m not disappointed in him as a manager – he did an excellent job,” Ashley said. “It puzzles me why any fan thinks I wouldn’t want him. I’m not the thickest person on the planet. Why wouldn’t I want excellence? Why wouldn’t I want this manager? Accuse me of many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.”