Newcastle owner Mike Ashley ripped former manager Rafa Benitez for an apparent “money first” attitude that he believes doomed any chance of a contract extension this summer.
Benitez, a fan favorite thanks to his sparkling resume and excellent results with very little to work with, departed the club this summer for Chinese side Dalian Yifang after lengthy negotiations for an extensions with Newcastle came to an end with no agreement. The Spaniard had stuck with the club through a season in the Championship and guided the Magpies back to the Premier League, helping finish safely in 13th last season.
However, Ashley says that Benitez did not, in fact, care about the club but instead cared only about money. According to the Newcastle owner, Benitez knew he had leverage in negotiations and hoped to use that to his advantage. “Every time with Rafa it was impossible,” Ashley said in a lengthy interview with the Daily Mail. “There was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 per cent 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 even goes as far as to say he brought up the idea of an eight-year contract with Benitez, comparing the club to his other financial investments. “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.”
The Sport Direct CEO went on to say that he believes the deal with the Chinese club was already finalized and that Benitez simply stayed in negotiations with Newcastle for appearance. “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.”
Finally, Ashley rambles about the possibility of a deal for Hoffenheim striker Joelinton, saying that the 22-year-old was Benitez’s number one target, but when it came time for the Spaniard to sign off on the deal, he balked and wanted his own situation sorted before securing the player.
The Magpies owner is a disliked figure among Newcastle fans, and it’s likely that very little from Ashley can be taken at face value. Ultimately, whether what Ashley is saying is true or not, Benitez knew he had leverage based on positive results and wished to be compensated fairly for not just his results at Newcastle, but also for the pedigree of a Champions League winning manager to stay at a mid-table Premier League side. Benitez often talked in the media about having a long-term vision for the club, and ultimately Ashley proved at the negotiating table he was not willing to pay the price for that long-term plan, even if it meant spending more than the club had previously planned to maintain Benitez’s services.