Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has insisted that keeping Rafa Benitez at the club proved to be an “impossible” job, and has accused the Spaniard of being "money first."
Benitez, who managed the Magpies from 2016 up to the end of his contract in June this year, recently left England to take over the reigns at Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang on a reported £12m-per-year deal.
His departure from St. James’ Park provoked a furious response from the club’s fanbase – many of whom accused Ashley of not doing enough to keep the 59-year-old on Tyneside.
However, in an interview with the Daily Mail, Ashley has hit back at suggestions that he didn’t want to keep Benitez at the club, and even claims he floated the idea of an eight-year contract at the end of last season.
“If you come out and say the things he did you would think it was football club first, Rafa second, money third,” says Ashley. “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.
“Everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn't pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn't."
Ashley insisted that he was happy with the job Benitez did as manager, with the Magpies having won the Championship and then finished 10th and 13th in the Premier League in Benitez's three full seasons in charge.
“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.
“At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract. That's what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view.
“Looking back, though, it doesn't really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”