It was reported in the Chronicle on Thursday 20th of September, that manager Rafa Benitez will be holding a transfer summit with Managing Director Lee Charnley, Head Scout Steve Nickson as well as European scout Paul Baker, reportedly to discuss plans for January’s transfer window and to look at the Academy and U-23 setup.
Could this one meeting shape the future for the Club, as far as the manager is concerned?
This will be Rafa’s third January transfer window in charge of the club, and history shows that it has not gone well for the manager. His first winter window saw the manager wanting to build for the inevitable return to the premier league, but as the month dragged on it became clearer and clearer that no incomings were happening, which left the squad the same that started the league campaign. Although it would end well for the Toon, it went down to the final day whether we go up as champions, and it was obvious a big rebuilding job was set for that summer to prepare for a return to the Premiership.
The last January window looked like it would be a repeat of the year previous, as the window dragged on it didn’t look like anyone was coming into the club, despite repeated calls from Rafa for improvements to the squad. It seemed like survival was all that mattered for the club’s hierarchy, instead of trying to improve the squad as the manager wanted. Ultimately three players were brought in. Martin Dubravka, Kenedy and Islam Slimani, all on loan. It’s no secret that the signings of Dubravka and Kenedy gave the team a lift and helped the club finish tenth, Slimani wasn’t as successful, spending most of the loan period injured, and seeing a red card late on in the season, however he did set up Matt Richie’s winner verses Arsenal (think that’s all he did).
With a summer transfer window, that although saw seven new faces come into the fold, it was a case of replacing those that left or got injured in pre-season. Which makes the upcoming January window all the more important in regard to premiership survival. It could also show Rafa whether the club really share his ambition, or whether as we probably all suspect, false promises that we have become accustomed to with the current ownership.
This summit is make or break. I don’t think Rafa is expecting tens of millions to spend and is more than capable of building a half decent squad on a shoestring, having done a similar thing at Napoli and Valencia, and is probably expecting to have next to nothing to spend. But the results of this meeting could decide whether Rafa will sign a new contract or not, which is a major fear among the Toon fanbase.
With only eight months left on his contract, the backing he receives in January could either convince him that it is worth staying at the club and fighting or walking out at the end of the season with his head held high, knowing he has done the best he could with numerous roadblocks put in his way by a stingy ownership. Rafa has stated all summer, and has continued into the season, that his new contract is not an issue, and will discuss with the club from February onwards. But the club must show they have the same feelings as the fanbase and do everything to convince Rafa to stay.
Not only will Rafa know after this meeting whether it is worth sticking around under the current ownership, but will also, hopefully, give him an idea of where we are financially, which will let his scouting team know exactly the sort of players they will have to look at in the build up to the window opening on January 1st, and will also use it to try and get targets identified early doors and get deals done just as quick, instead of fighting to the last minute of the window to get new faces through the door, as has been the case the last few transfer windows.
This is the club’s chance to back a manager who has done superbly, considering the problems he has faced from a boardroom level, or risk losing him at the end of the season. With reports and rumours that current Republic of Ireland boss, and former Mackem manager Mato replace him Martin O’Neil is the early favourite to replace him, if he does leave, then I for one know what I would rather the club do.