There are football clubs all across England preparing for the season ahead, operating under certainty. They will know who’s making decisions, who will lead the first-team from the dugout, who they aim to recruit, and so on. Newcastle United, unsurprisingly, are not one of those clubs.
If we have learned anything from the dismal Mike Ashley era, it is that witnessing forward planning, organisation and communication from the club is about as likely as El Chapo being released from prison to direct his own biopic.
The club’s most popular manager since Sir Bobby Robson has only 27 days left on his current contract and players don’t know who will lead them into the coming season. A fifth attempt to sell the club is supposedly underway, although the information about that is only coming from one end.
If the buyers - Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed al Nahyan and the Bin Zayed Group - are to be believed, then they will take control of the football club at some stage. It could be a week from now, it could be a month from now, or most likely, it will not happen at all. We have been here before.
There are four possible scenarios that Newcastle fans have to prepare for; some represent a brighter future, and some represent utter anarchy.
Ashley stays, Rafa goes
It is unfathomable to even begin to think of this outcome. Nevertheless, it is entirely plausible. You can never rule anything out when it comes to the miraculously reckless mind of Mike Ashley. The fifth attempt to sell the club fails, and contract talks between the owner and Rafa break down.
Where would United go from here? There’s only one direction that faces the club if this door is opened, and that is down. Any hope of a better future would be shredded. The appeal of having a world class manager at the helm would disintegrate. The man who sees what we see; a sleeping giant desperate to be awoken, would be seeking to take the reigns of a club that deserves him.
Rafa’s replacement would have ginormous boots to fill and star players would immediately ring their agents to try and sort out a big-money move. Newcastle United would remain a stepping stone, a disaster, a pit of despair. All we can do is hope it doesn’t come to that.
Ashley stays, Rafa stays
For what it’s worth, I think this is the most likely scenario that will unfold. Ashley knows that losing Rafa and failing to sell the club would do severe damage. The money to pay Rafa is there, and the money to back him also. Ashley preaches self-sufficiency and after years of frugal spending and receiving lofty TV figures, the club can afford to keep and back Rafa without the Sports Direct owner having to invest a single penny.
The hardest thing for Ashley to do in this scenario? Keep his promises. Something he has not done for the last two years with Rafa Benitez. The contract would have to be watertight, containing written promises. United fans would be allowed to continue dreaming, albeit with an unambitious owner controlling things. Once Rafa stays, anything is possible.
Who knows? Maybe new owners could arrive at some stage. But making sure Rafa stays is of vital importance to Ashley.
BZG arrive, Rafa goes
The pubs of Newcastle are buzzing after news of a long-awaited takeover is confirmed. Ashley is finally gone. People are losing their minds. And then a bombshell is dropped; the Bin Zayed Group, like many other groups who take control of sporting entities, would like a fresh start and a new direction. They inform Rafa Benitez his services are no longer required.
The music stops. Pint glasses filled to the brim with Newcastle Brown Ale shatter onto the ground. The new owners have gone from hero to zero. Or have they? The only way this would be seen as a somewhat sensible decision is if BZG make a huge statement of intent. I say it quietly, but hiring a manager like Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger and giving them a large budget would definitely soften the blow of losing Rafa.
The Bin Zayed Group would have to prove they are ambitious enough to carry on what Rafa started, what he believed the club could achieve. Then, and only then, would fans forget about the drink they just dropped and order another round.
BZG arrive, Rafa stays
Heaven. Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed al Nahyan dethrones Mike Ashley, signs Rafa to long-term deal and backs his vision for a better, stronger Newcastle United who can challenge for Europe. It’s the football equivalent to what would have happened if Jon Snow took the throne, but don’t get me started on that.
The Bin Zayed Group’s values entail the following: ““We believe nothing should be left to chance when it comes to our pursuit of excellence.” Rafa agrees. “Our interests are best served – when we serve the interest of the public.” Rafa agrees. “Continuous Improvement is essential to our success.” Rafa agrees.
This is the scenario every Newcastle fan around the world is dreaming of. It is nothing less than what the fans and city deserve. But if the last 50 years are anything to go by, Newcastle United never gets what it deserves.