Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley says manager Rafa Benítez left the club because the would-be owners didn't want him, as he hits back at fans who hold him responsible for the Spaniard's departure.
It's been claimed that Sheikh Khaled, who is interested in buying the club, didn't want Benítez as manager and renewing his contract would force the prospective owner to pay compensation to replace him.
Benítez had been in charge for three seasons at St James' Park, leading the club to promotion from the Championship and two mid-table finishes in the Premier League, despite ongoing unrest behind the scenes.
Rumours of his departure had been ongoing throughout the season. It's thought that he felt let down by the lack of investment in both the team and infrastructure by Ashley, who put the club up for sale in October 2017.
Last week the club confirmed that Benítez's contract would not be renewed, sending Magpies fans into a frenzy, prompting many to boycott season ticket renewals ahead of the new season.
Reportedly researchers with clipboards in the #nufc ticket office yesterday asking why ST holders had cancelled our season tickets after 29 years yesterday? Can they be that non self aware? And does it show they care about these threats of boycott/cancellation? https://t.co/iTxoAk30Fp— ASHLEY OUT (@AshleyOutdotcom) June 28, 2019
According to The Mirror, Ashley has hit back at claims that he's responsible for the failure to agree a new contract. Instead, he blames the potential incoming owner, Sheikh Khaled, who is in talks about acquiring the club in a deal worth £350m. He claims that Khaled wants to hire José Mourinho or Arsene Wenger, which is the reason that talks with Benítez broke down.
Newcastle fans remain sceptical. There are a number of parties interested in buying the Premier League club, so it seems odd that Khaled would have such a heavy influence at this stage. It's also worth noting that the relationship between manager and owner broke down long before Khaled ever had any interest in taking over.
Newcastle did put a one-year contract offer on the table, however Benítez wanted more control over transfers and the manager's trust in the owner had deteriorated badly during his tenure. Ashley's refusal to invest in the infrastructure of the club, particularly in a new training complex that was promised six years ago, was a particular source of frustration.
Ashley's attempts to deflect criticism won't wash with many Magpies fans, who are desperate to see the back of the sportswear tycoon.
Seeing the club make such a feeble attempt to keep Benitez has added fuel to a fire that has been burning amongst the Newcastle fans for many years - is this the year the Toon Army finally revolts?