Controversial Newcastle owner Mike Ashley reckons former coach Rafa Benitez never had any intention of signing a new deal with the Magpies as he had already agreed a money spinning move to China.
Benitez left his post at the expiry of his contract in June after months of speculation surrounding his future, with the former Liverpool and Real Madrid coach taking over as boss of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang.
The commonly accepeted narrative after the Spaniard’s departure from St.James Park, was that it was down to owner Ashley not being able to match Benitez’s ambitions for the club.
However, in a rare interview with the Daily Mail, hugely unpopular Sports Direct owner Ashley has insisted the club did everything they could to keep the 59-year-old coach and hinted that Benitez played Newcastle’s fans and the media, as he had had his eyes set on a lucrative move to the Far East all along.
‘If you come out and say the things he did you would think it was football club first, Rafa second, money third.’ Ashley said.
‘I’d say it was money first, Rafa, then the club last. He took the totally soft option, took the money and went to China. That disappoints me. If he’d gone back to Real Madrid, or a top six club in the Premier League, I get it. But it was about money and all he had to do was say that from the beginning.’
‘My view always was we had to keep Rafa. 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-manoeuvred, 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 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.
‘I’m not disappointed in him as a manager – he did an excellent job. 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 or many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.
‘At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract. 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.’