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Backing Benitez could see Newcastle become Europa League contenders

Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United and Lee Charnley, managing director of Newcastle United both look on from the stands during the Sky Bet Championship match between Newcastle United...

If Newcastle had backed Rafa Benitez this summer they could genuinely be competing for Europa League football by 2018/19.

Newcastle United players Jamaal Lascelles (l) and Jonjo Shelvey lift the trophy after winning the Sky Bet Championship title after the match between Newcastle United and Barnsley at St...Newcastle United players Jamaal Lascelles (l) and Jonjo Shelvey lift the trophy after winning the Sky Bet Championship title.

After gaining promotion from the Championship at the first time of asking at the end of last season, Newcastle United were genuinely in a position to be a Europa League contender by 2018/19.

It would be difficult to make that argument for many sides coming up from England's second tier, but the Magpies had one key thing in their favour and that was manager Rafa Benitez.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez is seen during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Ham United at St. James Park on August 26, 2017 in Newcastle upon Tyne,...Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez is seen during the Premier League match against West Ham United.

Keeping Benitez at the helm was a feat in itself following relegation from the Premier League in 2016, with the Spaniard counting two La Liga titles, two Europa League titles, one Champions League, one FA Cup and one Coppa Italia among his many achievements on an impressive CV.

The 57-year-old has succeeded in the English top tier before as well, finishing second with Liverpool in 2008/09 during a six-year stint with the club. There are few, if any, better coaches Newcastle could attract to take over should Benitez leave and yet according to the Mirror that remains a very realistic prospect. Why? Because Mike Ashley did not back his manager.

Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United and Lee Charnley, managing director of Newcastle United both look on from the stands during the Sky Bet Championship match between Newcastle United...Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United, and Lee Charnley, managing director of Newcastle United.

Benitez was left frustrated by a transfer window in which the former Real Madrid boss was promised so much and yet so little was delivered in terms of new signings. 

The Telegraph reports only Stoke City spent less than the Magpies' £27m from the 20 sides in the top tier, despite the fact the Spanish coach kept up his side of the bargain by moving on £13.5m of unwanted players.

And so it seems only a matter of time before Benitez leaves St James' Park. Not because he is doing a bad job, or doesn't want to be there, but because he doesn't have the support of the club's hierarchy.

Will Newcastle be able to replace the ex-Napoli and Valencia chief with someone else who could genuinely take them back to the glory days of European qualification? It seems doubtful.

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