Negotiations for sale of club to consortium led by Dubai financier ongoing, but whoever is in charge come January will need to make funds available for manager to invest in squad
Whether Ashley sells to Staveley or not Newcastle need major reinforcements in January
Rafa Benitez was playing with a straight bat. “I don’t have any information about the takeover,” said a political animal who makes it his business to get as much information as possible about any club where he works. “I need to know how much money we will have for January as soon as possible.”
The Newcastle United manager was speaking after Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to Everton. It took their run to seven defeats in eight matches. With Arsenal, a rejuvenated West Ham United and Manchester City their next three opponents, it has the potential to become an 11-game sequence that produces a solitary point. It is, it goes without saying, relegation form. It also means owner Mike Ashley should be desperate to accept the reported offer of £300 million (Dh1.4 billion) from Amanda Staveley and PCP Capital Partners, the Dubai-based would-be investors, before the value of his asset depreciates dramatically.
It is not merely Benitez who needs the takeover. As a whole, Newcastle United do. They have laboured in limbo. Ending the Ashley era, getting powerbrokers untainted by two relegations, poor managerial appointments, the commercialising of St James’ Park and a seeming contempt for the fan base, would provide a boost to morale.
But it is also imperative that the side is bolstered. Benitez was eyeing the January window even without a disastrous November and December. The Spaniard has struggled to get answers from Ashley before; when he has done, they have not always been the responses he wanted.
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Benitez can be short-term strategist and long-term planner at the same time. After Newcastle’s 2016 relegation, he aimed to build two teams on Tyneside: one to get promotion, another for Premier League progress. But he did not get the budget he wanted last summer, and he has a glorified version of that initial side.
Ten of the players involved against Everton, and eight of the starters, were at the club last season. Benitez is a Uefa Champions League-winning manager and Newcastle are, largely, a Championship team. That juxtaposition has been intriguing, but the combination is looking unsuccessful. It worked, briefly, in autumn but even then Newcastle’s only wins – against West Ham, Swansea City, Stoke City and Crystal Palace – came at the expense of troubled clubs. Now Newcastle are a troubled club.
Benitez is not blameless. Mikel Merino and Florian Lejeune were fine signings but he spent £12 million in the summer on Jacob Murphy; the winger is yet to score or create a league goal. Nor do some other additions, such as Christian Atsu or Javier Manquillo, belong in the bracket of successes. But he was denied the players he wanted at either end of the pitch.
Karl Darlow erred for Wayne Rooney’s Wednesday winner and Benitez, who targeted Joe Hart and Willy Caballero, wanted a goalkeeper in the summer but could not sign one. Nor did he get the strikers he identified, with Tammy Abraham and Lucas Perez among those to go elsewhere. The willing workhorse Joselu did come in, but he is no guarantee of goals. Perhaps Aleksandar Mitrovic would be but he, like midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, has the temperament to mean he can be a liability.
A left-back was another summer priority to elude Newcastle. Paul Dummett, the only specialist in the squad, promptly got injured, leading to Manquillo and Chancel Mbemba playing out of position. Newcastle were linked with a loan move for Luke Shaw, only for him to return to favour at Manchester United.
Benitez will reportedly get a £30 million budget in January if the takeover is completed in time. He will need every penny. The longer Ashley delays in negotiations, the greater the peril that he is selling what will again become a lower-league club.