The Spaniard’s contract at St James’ Park expires in nine days and there are very real fears he may be attracted to another club, amid links to the Chinese Super League
Rafael Benitez will ‘never be forgiven’ by Newcastle United fans if he leaves the club in the lurch before the start of the new Premier League season.
That’s according to former England cricketer and a lifelong Newcastle fan Steve Harmison, who has told talkSPORT he believes the manager WILL stay at St James’ Park this summer.
There are just nine days to run on Benitez’s current contract and, with no agreement over a new one yet, there are widespread fears he could be tempted to another club.
He has plenty of suitors, with a host of European clubs linked with an interest in the former Real Madrid, Liverpool and Chelsea manager, while latest reports claim he is ‘considering’ a £12m-a-year offer to manage in the Chinese Super League.
If he decides to walk away, it will leave Newcastle without a manager just four days before the club’s pre-season begins.
Benitez is beloved by the Toon Army for turning around the club’s fortunes on the pitch despite working with a strict budget under owner Mike Ashley.
That has been a source of frustration for the Champions League-winning boss who, with Ashley’s long-term future at the top of the club in doubt amid reports of a possible takeover, has so far refused to put pen to paper on a new deal.
And if he does depart, Harmison believes it will destroy his reputation with the Toon Army forever.
“I can’t believe Rafa will leave if he says he loves the club as much as he does,” the St James’ Park regular told talkSPORT host Jim White on Friday.
“I don’t think he’ll ever go to China. He doesn’t need to go to China, he’s not finished as a manager and I still think he’s got unfinished business at Newcastle.
“Rafa has put his heart and soul into Newcastle for four years, I can’t believe he wants to walk away, I just think the contract talks have been put on hold until the uncertainly of the club have moved forward.
“If he leaves, it would be heart-breaking for Newcastle fans and if he leaves four or five days before they go back for pre-season, with no real transfer targets, it would be the biggest kick in the teeth.
“[The fans] would never forgive Mike Ashley, but they’d never forgive Rafa as well, mind.
“He’s known for six months what this contract is, he’s wanted more power and more money and he’s not going to get either. So he’s had to live with it.
“For him to walk away now, that would be heart-breaking.
“He knows what the parameters are and he should have said, ‘I can’t deal with this, so if it doesn’t change I’m leaving when my contract finishes’, and it would have given Newcastle time to plan accordingly.
“I don’t think Newcastle have planned accordingly, because I think he’s staying.”