By Neil Robinson
(Reuters) – After a dismal run of one point from a possible 27, football logic dictates that Rafael Benitez should be feeling increasingly uncomfortable as Newcastle United manager.
Even more so in a season when so many Premier League clubs have benefited from “new manager bounce” with Everton, Crystal Palace, and Saturday’s opponents West Ham United rising a collective 16 places towards safety after changing bosses.
But even though Newcastle have entered the relegation zone for the first time this season, Benitez’s tenure appears so safe that Amanda Staveley, the figurehead for PCP Capital Partners group, which is trying to buy the club, has reportedly indicated that sacking the Spaniard risked endangering the deal.
Like the fans, she stands resolutely behind the Spaniard.
As a former Champions League winner, Benitez’s standing is obviously high but what is valued more on Tyneside appears to be his ability to manage despite having to work for Mike Ashley, the widely criticised owner whom Staveley is trying to buy out.
After 10 years of turbulence during which the club have twice been relegated, and a seemingly endless battle with the club’s passionate fan base, Buckinghamshire-born businessman Ashley wants out, preferably by Christmas if a deal can be done.
Perhaps the only Premier League club sharing such an obvious disconnect with the fans is West Ham, where co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold have often been pilloried and were booed after the recent defeat to Watford, David Moyes’s first game in charge.
In the face of many insults, West Ham’s owners remain defiant, brushing away suggestions that, like Ashley, they are interested only in short-term financial gain.
“We are not quitters and we are here to honour our commitment and cement the long-term future of WHU,” Karren Brady, the CEO they appointed, said in her newspaper column last month.
For now, gripes about ill-judged expensive summer recruitment and continued moans about the move away from Upton Park to London Stadium have been parked as Moyes begins to steer their season round, lifting West Ham out of the relegation zone at Newcastle’s expense.
While Moyes’s squad has genuine Premier League calibre, Benitez has repeatedly warned that more investment was required following last season’s promotion.
Benitez wants quick action when the transfer window opens in January, but British media report that the bill for that, plus the possible cost of relegation, is complicating the deal.
Ashley has rejected one 250 million-pound bid and is holding out for 350 million. However, even if a deal can be done soon, Staveley wants a re-evaluation when the club’s fate is clear at the end of the season, with 125 million pounds potentially paid back.
Some sort of agreement remains likely at a price that will pocket Ashley a healthy profit on the 135 million pounds he paid local patriarch Sir John Hall for control in 2007.
“It looks like this takeover is going to happen and (for) the Geordie fans (it) will just be a carnival atmosphere. And that can be like a 12th man,” said their former midfielder Kieran Dyer, who played for the club between 1999 and 2007, even briefly tasting Champions League football.
Asked if he thought Newcastle would survive the drop, Dyer said: “I do because of Benitez and the type of manager he is. Yes, things are going badly at the moment but their performances haven’t been bad. Even at Old Trafford (when they lost 4-1), for 40 minutes they were better than Manchester United.”
So for now, the force remains with Benitez, just as it does with Moyes after he halted West Ham’s downward slide with seven points from the last nine. But both men know how quickly fortunes can change, for managers and owners alike.
(Reporting by Neil Robinson,; Editing by Neville Dalton)