In Depth

Mike Ashley still haunts Newcastle - but could he finally sell up?

After achieving promotion, Rafa Benitez must now work with the Magpies' owner to stay in the Premier League

Newcastle United are back in the Premier League, but that is unlikely to herald a new era of stability and calm at St James' Park as manager Rafa Benitez and owner Mike Ashley prepare for life in the top flight.

Promotion was the bare minimum expected this year and although the Magpies "crawled over the promotion line, rather than sprinted down the home straight", not going up "would have been a disaster", says Luke Edwards of the Daily Telegraph

Benitez has conducted himself "superbly", adds the journalist, and made supporting Newcastle "more fun [and] more harmonious" than under previous regimes.

However, Newcastle's hated owner Ashley "remains omnipotent" and is the key to what happens next.

"He has not gone anywhere, he still lurks in the background with a track record of disastrous decisions and public relations howlers that cannot be forgotten or ignored. And it is Ashley who Benitez must now deal with," says Law.

The manager will need to "tread carefully" this summer as the "real hard work" of planning for the Premier League starts – and it could be a "difficult marriage" for manager and owner.

"There is always something lurking in the undergrowth at St James' Park and, more often than not, it is the Newcastle owner," says George Caulkin of The Times.  

"The list of Ashley's unfathomable decisions is too long to assume that serenity lies ahead."

Ashley has remained relatively hands-off this season, but there have been rumours of tension between him and his manager.

"This being Newcastle, dysfunction is never far away. There are long-term necessities, from revamping an ageing training ground to getting more from the academy, but the priority must be face-to-face talks between Benitez and Ashley. As ever, Ashley is the wild card."

Benitez has fitted in well at Newcastle but has yet to commit to the club, writes Louise Taylor of The Guardian. The two key players overcame a January fall-out over player recruitment, but will the truce hold?

"Benitez's affection for the club and the city runs deep and he would like nothing better than to stay at St James' Park, win a trophy and take Newcastle back into the Champions League – but he is not a complete romantic and will walk if things are not to his liking," Taylor writes.

"The problem is Ashley and the Spaniard like to be in control, and Benitez is perhaps far too practised a political operator for the owner's comfort."

Yet there is one solution that would have almost all Toon supporters salivating: an end to Ashley's ownership.

"Senior club sources acknowledge that there has been discreet interest from assorted parties in recent months," reveals Taylor. "If – and it is only an if – a takeover does happen, expect it to be as sudden and unexpected as Manchester City's switch to Emirati control."

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