herald

Saturday 21 September 2019

Ashley and Toon begin the hard task of trying to replace departing Benitez

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley

Newcastle have begun drawing up a shortlist as they look for a replacement for manager Rafael Benitez after finally having to turn to plan B.

Owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley are assessing the field having expressly declined to consider alternatives while they tried to thrash out a way forward with the 59-year-old.

A series of names have already been linked with the vacancy, although sources close to Jose Mourinho have distanced the former Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss from a post once occupied to such popular acclaim by his mentor, Bobby Robson.

The Magpies announced on Monday the news that no fan wanted to hear, that Benitez and his coaching staff would be leaving St James' Park on Sunday when his existing contract expires after a little more than three years on Tyneside.

It is understood that the parting of the ways came as a surprise to the Spaniard, who had been primed for a further round of talks after weeks of largely fruitless discussions over an extension offer which was tabled in May.

However, the word on Tyneside is that the club too was ready for one final throw of the dice until the sportswear magnate's patience finally snapped with the Benitez camp.

The latest development predictably sparked collective fury on Tyneside, where a fanbase whose antipathy for Ashley is long-standing sided firmly with a manager who had reconnected them with the club and raised optimism that a brighter future could lie ahead.

For many, only the Sports Direct tycoon's departure will open the door to that brighter future following a turbulent 12 years which have brought two relegations and two subsequent promotions, but have been spent in the main fighting for Premier League survival and little more.

The club has been formally up for sale since October 2017, with Amanda Staveley and Peter Kenyon having failed to wrest it from Ashley's grasp. The fact that the current regime is having to deal with the managerial vacancy suggests that Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nahyan's takeover bid has no imminent prospect of being concluded successfully.

Presence

It is a situation Ashley would rather have avoided amid the uncertainty over his continued presence at the club, and it remains to be seen just how easy it will be to persuade a manager of fitting calibre to sign on the dotted line giving the restrictions under which he would have to work should the owner remain in place, or knowing that a change of ownership could have significant repercussions for him.

Club sources have played down early speculation surrounding the likes of Avram Grant, Garry Monk and ex-New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson, while former Sunderland bosses David Moyes, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane are not thought to figure prominently in the reckoning.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and Leicester's title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri have been mentioned in dispatches, but the likes of former Paris St Germain chief Laurent Blanc, AC Milan's former boss Gennaro Gattuso, Nice's Patrick Vieira and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, who left Feyenoord at the end of the season, are more likely targets.

Newcastle are unlikely to act in haste amid a febrile atmosphere on Gallowgate, although the first tranche of players are due back for pre-season training on July 4 with newly appointed U23s head coach Neil Redfearn currently the most senior member of football staff on the books.

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