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‘For Rafa it was money first then the club last’ Newcastle owner Mike Ashley slams Rafa Benitez

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has claimed that former manager Rafa Benitez thought about “money first, Rafa, then the club last” after the Spaniard’s exit this summer.

Benitez, who failed to agree a new deal at St James’ Park this summer, said that he and the club’s hierarchy had been unable to find a shared vision for the future.

Shelvey tells fans: Give Bruce a chance Bruce: Easier to turn Newcastle down However, Ashley has now claimed it was down to finances, rather than footballing philosophies, that meant he left Tyneside.

“If you come out and say the things he did, you would think it was football club first, Rafa second, money third,” the Newcastle owner told the Daily Mail.

Ashley revealed he even floated the idea of an eight-year contract with Benitez at a meeting on May 16, and that the manager’s refusal to commit could have cost the club record signing Joelinton. Newcastle’s owner spoke out following criticism of the breakdown in talks with Benitez – who he admits did an ‘excellent’ job – and criticism from the former boss following his appointment at Dalian Yifang in a deal worth £12million-a-year.

And he said: ‘If you come out and say the things he did you would think it was football club first, Rafa second, money third. 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 of many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.

‘I was so excited to tell Rafa we’ve got another one coming, but when Lee Charnley, our managing director, had the conversation, his view was that he didn’t want to commit to the transfer until he knew what his position was with the club next season.

And I didn’t get that. Is this the bloke who had given it to me for the last 12 months? ‘Proper given me bucketfuls – which I may or may not deserve, but I don’t deserve it on this one, because I’ve done it.

I’ve got his first choice, Almiron, and this other player who was so exciting we thought he’d be out of our range. When we first sat down with Rafa, we didn’t think we would pay this much for a player. We’d never done that before.

‘From there, the relationship deteriorated very quickly. I was personally very disappointed, and that’s putting it politely.

I was freaked out. I’m thinking, “I clearly don’t understand anything about football” because I’m all for celebrating and going mad and suddenly it’s, “No – you’ve got to sort my deal out first.

” So we had another few weeks of correspondence and then it wasn’t just his deal, it was that he thought the £40m for Joelinton wasn’t worth it. It’s too much and the club shouldn’t spend it.

‘And very occasionally, I get to be me in this world. So here’s the deal. I’ll pay £20m of it personally. Nothing to do with the club. Above and beyond the budget. Rafa valued him at £20m. So that’s what would come out of the club budget. The rest, £23m – I’ll pay.

And he still didn’t sign it off. Looking back, I think he knew for a long time he was going to China because it was like we couldn’t do anything. Joelinton was the test.

‘Why on earth would you not want that? As a football manager, with all the things you have said, why wouldn’t you want Joelinton? It wasn’t even as if it was him or Salomon Rondon. And we told him that. We just wanted Joelinton secured.’

‘He did an amazing job,’ insists Ashley. ‘Promoted, first year tenth, 44 points – next year, 45 points. Now we’ve got a solid base to build up and the firepower to have a go. “Right Rafa, it’s over to you – hold on, he’s gone. Where’s he disappeared to? What’s happened there?”

‘Rafa talked about things he knew we couldn’t do and then, when we were in a position to finally do them, and launch the big surprise – no.

It’s not the money he asked for that upsets me. What if we hadn’t got Joelinton? People don’t realise Rafa had the say and we couldn’t conclude the deal while he was still our manager.

When he left he knew we were signing Joelinton. So he can’t say we lacked ambition.

‘I’m saying this now because you have to draw a line. Otherwise people are entitled to keep asking – August, September, October, November, why did Rafa leave? I’m not here to defend myself.

I’m here to defend Newcastle United; because Newcastle United could not have done any more to keep Rafa Benitez.

I can look anyone in the eye and say that. It was impossible to do more.’

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