Newcastle had a disappointing summer in the transfer market, failing to make the significant investment needed to kick on after a solid first term back in the Premier League. Owner Mike Ashley has once again come under fire from supporters for failing to provide funds for a manager at St James’ Park. The Magpies’ net spend in the summer was -£20m as the club generated a profit from the sales of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Mikel Merino, while Chancel Mbemba, Matz Selz and Adam Armstrong were also sold. Their biggest outlay was on Japanese forward Yoshinori Muto from Mainz, while only a desperate scramble managed to get a deal to sign Federico Fernandez over the line from Swansea City on transfer deadline day.
Benitez has spoken of his displeasure, while the players were also involved with a dispute with the club regarding bonus payments before the start of the season. After a brief spell of euphoria under the Spaniard, the old Newcastle malaise is beginning to spread. Ashley is the root of the issue, failing to pick the correct moment when to invest in the team. He gave Steve McClaren £80m to spend in the 2015/16 term, only for the decision to backfire, resulting in Newcastle’s relegation to the Championship. The owner kept the club on life support, funding the wage bill to allow Benitez to get the Magpies back up at the first attempt. Since then there has been minimal investment, which has put a huge strain on the relationship with the manager.
Newcastle’s supporters have already threatened to boycott the club should Benitez leave his spot, while local MP Chi Onwurah raised the issue of Ashley’s lack of spending in parliament. Despite the issues, 51,749 attended the Tynesiders’ Premier League opener against Tottenham. However, their deficiencies were on display as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat as goals from Jan Vertonghen and Dele Alli guided Spurs to the victory. Joselu did equalise for the Magpies, but their lack of a goalscoring threat in the final third was evident, with loan signing Solomon Rondon missing a late opportunity.
Due to the issues surrounding the club, Newcastle are backed in the Premier League odds at 4/1 to be relegated from the top flight. Their prospects hinge on the patience of Benitez. The Magpies struggled in the first half of the last campaign and spent time in the bottom three in December. However, a strong run of form in the second half of the term, including a run of four wins on the bounce guided them out of trouble and into 10th place by the end of the campaign.
Should Newcastle endure a similar poor run of results at the start of the season, Benitez may opt to cut his losses and leave his role. His contract is up at the end of the campaign anyway and it may allow him to get manoeuvre himself into position for a new position. Team spirit was vital in the Magpies’ run to safety last term. Losing that togetherness on the pitch could spell disaster for the team, who could endure a third relegation in the Ashley era should the bitterness around St James’ Park continue.