After months of speculation, Newcastle United have confirmed that manager Rafa Benitez will leave the club on 30 June.
How has it come to this for one of the most famous clubs in Britain?
When the season ended on May 12, with Newcastle thumping Fulham 4-0, there was some anxiety in the air, of course. With Salomon Rondon returning to West Brom and the countdown on Benitez's contract entering 'critical' mode, the Newcastle fanbase was understandably concerned.
Mike Ashley has single-handedly ruined the best thing to happen to this club in the last 10 years. Absolute disgrace. https://t.co/Gvz59A4IRC— William Imbo (@IMBO_WILL) June 24, 2019
Then came the news from the Bin Zayed Group (BZG), confirming their interest in buying the club.
Finally, the city of Newcastle and the Toon Army would be saved from the tyrannical incompetency of the Mike Ashley era!
But, as the days - and then the weeks - started to ebb away, that familiar feeling of dread started to creep back in.
No comment from the club.
No updates from the BZG.
No news on transfers.
No news on Benitez.
Still, most Newcastle fans, I would argue, remained optimistic. After all, the BZG were saying all the right things, and the process of a takeover had seemed further along then either of the two previous attempts made to buy the club in the Ashley era.
Then, a bombshell this past weekend, when rumours that Benitez and Ashley would never come to an agreement started gaining traction.
Now, even the most optimistic Geordie was probably resigned to the inevitable: Rafa Benitez, the best manager Newcastle have had since Sir Bobby Robson, would leave the club.
And on Monday afternoon, those fears were confirmed.
Utterly, utterly depressing and an(other) indictment of #nufc in the Mike Ashley era.— Mark Douglas (@MsiDouglas) June 24, 2019
Rafa Benitez was a lifeline for the club: ambitious, urging them to improve and strive. That he has left tells you a lot about what he's left behind.
It really is amazing to discover just how much of an asshole Mike Ashley is - it's impressive, really.
Benitez, when negotiating a new contract, wasn't asking for the world. Improved finances and more control over summer transfers, more flexibility on the ownership's policy of only signing young players (thus negating any deal for Rondon, who was immense for the Toon last season and the second highest scorer), a significant improvement to the club's outdated training facilities and academy. These are things that any sensible, well-run football club would do in a heartbeat - not only to appease their world-class manager, but also because such changes would ultimately benefit the club in the long run.
Of course, Ashley has turned Newcastle into a badly run circus. And in a circus, chaos reigns supreme.
Here's a look at Rafael Benitez's transfer record at Newcastle United, where he had a net spend of -£11.2m. https://t.co/cIy5MVsMAC— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) June 24, 2019
It's no understatement that Newcastle should rightly be favourites for relegation next season. Benitez took this current Magpies side and had them firing on all cylinders - they beat Manchester City 2-1 last season for goodness sakes!
With the Spaniard gone, who do you expect to get the best out of Sean Longstaff, Ayoze Perez (if he stays), and Jamaal Lascelles, to name just a few?
Who will have the gumption and command the respect of the dressing room, the way Benitez did, to get the club out of the relegation zone when the time certainly comes?
Thank you for everything over the last 3 years, you brought me to the club and had the faith in me to develop me as a player and person. It won’t be forgotten. All the best for the future! @rafabenitezweb #NUFC pic.twitter.com/BeLWqnn1FE— Isaac Hayden (@IsaacHayden65) June 24, 2019
Unless Newcastle can lure Pep Guardiola to Tyneside, that ain't happening anytime soon.
The reality is Ashley will likely hire another 'yes man', so we can look forward to another helping of belligerent crap for the foreseeable future, ala Alan Pardew/Joe Kinnear/John Carver.
Everyone will make their own decision and everyone is absolutely entitled to do what they think is best for them.— If Rafa Goes We Go (@IfRafaGoesWeGo) June 24, 2019
Season Ticket renewals? No. Not for us.
The Newcastle United fan base has to make a stand against the parasite that is Ashley. #IfRafaGoesWeGo #NUFC pic.twitter.com/Yo46wLjQbQ
Oh, and let's not forget that next season starts in a little over seven weeks. Currently, Newcastle United doesn't have a manager or a full complement of coaching staff for the first team. I'm sure preseason is going to go swimmingly.
There is something Newcastle fans can do, of course - not turn up to games. What could be a more powerful message than a near-empty St. James' Park on Match of the Day or Sky Sports? Enough is enough - it's time for the fanbase to act, and this is the best way of doing that.
There is one, I repeat, ONE faint, tiny, microscopic glimmer of hope for fans: a successful takeover by BZG. If that happens, perhaps Benitez comes back, and he's given the money to operate like he should have had for the last three seasons.
But given the man who has shown an unwillingness to communicate, loosen the purse strings and indeed sell the club, it promises to be another letdown in a monumental avalanche of disasters that has befallen Newcastle United over the last decade.
Mike Ashley: shame on you.