A little under three years since he left the biggest club in the world, Rafa Benitez finds himself stuck in a Premier League relegation battle for the second year running.
Last season, the Spanish coach steered the Magpies to safety with some astute tactical performances and it seemed the only way was up. But then came the summer transfer window.
The three promoted clubs all outspent Newcastle. Fulham splashed £105m, Wolverhampton Wanderers spent £59m and Cardiff, favourites for the drop, invested £29 in their squad, while the Geordies only parted with £23m on new players. Only Burnley, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur spent less.
What is even more remarkable is that Newcastle actually made a profit of over £25m during the window, making them the lowest spenders overall in net terms. It had previously been suggested by Toon Chief Mike Ashley that any money generated would be handed to Benitez but that wasn’t the case. This has left the Spaniard and fans on Tyneside deeply frustrated.
With eight games played this season, they sit in 19th place and are 9/4 for the drop in the football betting. With other clubs strengthening significantly, this season is set to be even tougher than the last. Fans will cling to the hope that more new faces will arrive in January but history suggest that Mike Ashley is not about to change his spending habits.
Benitez did a great job hauling the club back to the top flight at the first attempt two seasons ago and then keeping them there, but there is only so much he can achieve if money from player sales is not reinvested. For most clubs, this amount plus an amount from TV deals and match day revenue is also put aside for purchases and wages. The only club with a genuine excuse not to do this is Tottenham Hotspur, who have invested hundreds of millions in a new stadium.
With clubs like Southampton, Brighton, Wolves, West Ham, Everton and Fulham all in the top 10 list of net spenders, there is little hope for Newcastle if there aim is to break into the top half of the table. The fact they finished 10th last season seems remarkable in this context. But rather than pushing on, Mike Ashley has taken this as a cue to be even more frugal.
In reality, the only hope for Benitez and Toon fans is a takeover as the situation looks unlikely to change under the current regime. This means a relegation battle looks inevitable this term. And, if they do go down, that is likely to signal the end of the former Liverpool boss’s tenure. That would be a real shame for Newcastle fans who finally feel they have a top class coach who has a genuine passion for the club.