Ever since arriving in English football in 2004, Rafa Benitez has refused to gurn along with Richard Keys and Andy Gray's little brotherhood of British-centric b****r. Benitez was often the lightning rod for criticism on Sky, what with arriving to the English league with his foreign ideas like rotation and zonal marking. (The former, of course, was widely practised by Alex Ferguson and the latter has since been taken on by most defences).
Everyone's working conditions have changed since: Benitez has moved further north to Newcastle, while Keys and Gray are marooned in Qatar with Bein Sports.
What hasn't changed, however, is Gray's being critical of Benitez.
Benitez is currently locked in a dispute with Mike Ashley over a lack of transfer funds at Newcastle, in spite of the manager's minor miracle in guiding a very average group of players to a top half finish in the Premier League last season. The fans are on Benitez' side of the dispute, and have warned they will boycott the ground if Rafa Benitez leaves the club. Furthermore, they staged a protest outside of a local SportsDirect store before their first game of the new season.
Speaking to Bein, however, Gray is on the side of Ashley, rather than the manager and fans.
I think Mike Ashley has done a really good job with them. They finished tenth last year. I heard last year that 'Mike Ashley was ridiculous, he didn't give Rafa enough money'. They finished tenth.
Then Rafa spent more money, and brought more players in, and they might finish ninth this year. I don't know what they want.
Do they want Mike Ashley to say, 'here's a quarter of a billion pounds of my money, you can have it. Go off and spend it. It's not going to happen. These clubs are businesses now.
It's difficult to fathom how Ashley has done a "really good job" with Newcastle: they've been relegated twice under his stewardship. Their finishing tenth last season owes more to the quality of his manager than the level of his investment. They continually make a profit in the transfer market, and there doesn't seem to be a realisation that were they to equip Benitez with more funds and better players, they have a manager with a track record of pushing on toward Europe and thereby making more money than they ever will treading water and looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone.
Gray points out that Ashley deserves credit for bringing Benitez in - and he does - but equally he should face criticism if he doesn't back him and eventually force him out of the club.
Gray then said that Benitez had "played" the Newcastle fans well.
Rafa has done very well there. He has won the fans over, they love him. He's good at that, he's very good at that. He did it at Liverpool.
Rafa is very single-minded. He manages for himself. Never forget that. He manages for himself.
I don't think he can take Mike Ashley on to that extent. Mike Ashley owns the club.
Rafa has played the fans very well. He's got them on his side, and they love him. There would be uproar if he left.
But you don't take the owner on and expect to win.
If he is unhappy, he should just leave.
Benitez could indeed leave, and he likely will at the end of this season. Then, Newcastle will almost certainly appoint an inferior manager and the quality of the squad will likely regress to the mean. Then, perhaps, it will be clear that Ashley hasn't exactly done a "really good job with them".
The full clip is below.
Andy Gray says Rafa Benitez "has played the fans really well" in his dispute with @NUFC owner Mike Ashley. #beINPL #NUFC pic.twitter.com/et7ETj0Tz0
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) August 23, 2018