IN the middle of the transfer window, it shouldn’t be a story that makes waves.

A manager wants to sign two or three players, the owner of his club confirms the type of player he wants to purchase and the kind of money he’s willing to spend, and a negotiation ensues involving the managing director and chief scout. By the end of the month, either a couple of players arrive or they don’t.

It’s a scenario that’s being played out at the vast majority of clubs up and down the land. Nothing unusual, nothing to write headlines about. Yet when it involves Mike Ashley and Newcastle United, it is a development that dominates the news agenda. Ashley isn’t just ‘any other owner’, and the fear amongst Magpies supporters is that last week’s summit in Birmingham wasn’t just ‘any other transfer discussion’.

To what extent does Ashley’s reassertion of his control represent a return to the dark days of the past? And what does that mean for Newcastle’s current manager and the ‘Rafalution’ that has enabled the Magpies to deal with the trauma of relegation so successfully?

First things first, there is nothing wrong with Ashley wanting to dictate the way his club is run. The Sports Direct owner has had to sign off another £33m loan to enable Newcastle to remain financially stable in the wake of their drop into the Championship. It’s his money, so it’s only right he has a say over how it is spent.

Similarly, there is also nothing intrinsically wrong with Ashley’s overarching transfer policy, which prioritises the purchase of younger players with a potential sell-on value. You only have to look at Sunderland’s finances to see what can happen when you sign a host of players for significant fees, and don’t make any money on any of them. It is not a crime to want to run a football club that is financially self-sufficient.

However, there have been two major problems with Ashley’s transfer dealings to this point, and there would be cause for serious concern if they were to be repeated in the current transfer window and the one that will follow in the summer.

First, there is a key difference between ‘prioritising’ the purchase of young players, largely from overseas, and insisting that such players are the only ones that can be brought into the club. Wanting to go down a certain route is one thing. Continuing to plough blindly down it when it is clearly not working is quite another.

As Benitez’s summer dealings have proved, there is always a need for flexibility. Given the absence of Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic, the most important player in Newcastle’s squad at the moment is probably Daryl Murphy, a 33-year-old who would never have been signed from Ipswich had Ashley’s mantra been strictly adhered to in the close season.

Both Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren wanted to sign players with proven Premier League experience, but were prevented from doing so. As a result, the Newcastle squad that crashed out of the top-flight lacked leadership, spirit and any semblance of unity. Surely the same mistakes are not going to be repeated again?

The other key issue at St James’ over the last few years has been the number of players that have arrived without their manager having been actively involved in the process of signing them. For far too long, Graham Carr was effectively given carte blanche to do as he liked. There were some successes from his transfer dealings, but there were also a huge number of failures.

For all that the days of a manager conducting transfer negotiations himself in a player’s family home are long gone, any boss needs to be in control of the flow of players coming into and out of his club. That hasn’t always been the case at Newcastle, but it is hard to see Benitez tolerating the kind of marginalised role that was the norm for Pardew or McClaren.

The Spaniard has suggested that he’s willing to put up with most things, but he will not accept players being thrust into his hands while his own targets are ignored. That is his red line, and the most worrying aspect of last week’s developments wasn’t the re-emergence of Ashley, it was the suggestion that Carr is being ushered back in from the shadows to return to his former status as an omnipotent transfer supremo.

It will be Lee Charnley’s job to bridge the potential divide between Benitez and his coaching staff on one side of the argument, and Carr, dutifully doing the bidding of Ashley, on the other.

At the moment, that divide is not a chasm. A certain degree of tension is unavoidable in any transfer window, and Benitez remains confident his voice will be heard. There is the potential for things to escalate quickly though, particularly if Ashley continues to regard his manager as merely another cog in the wheel.

Benitez, with his experience, charisma and God-like status in the eyes of most Newcastle supporters, is so much more than that. Ashley has to be prepared to modify some of his own ambitions to accommodate those of his manager.

IT’S easy to fall into the trap of assuming that football is all that matters in the North-East. It isn’t, as last weekend proved.

First, we had the incredible drama of Graeme Storm winning his second European Tour trophy less than three months after he thought he had lost his card as he saw off Rory McIlroy in a play-off.

Then, Newcastle Eagles became the first club to win three successive BBL Cup finals as they beat Glasgow Rocks 91-83. And finally, on the legendary Lakeside stage, Middlesbrough’s Glen Durrant achieved a lifetime ambition as he lifted the BDO World Darts Championship trophy.

Three very different successes, but all with a North-East stamp. Football might hog the headlines, but this is a region that cherishes its sporting variety.

FOUR down, but three still standing. It has already been a remarkable few days for British tennis at the Australian Open, but the best could still be to come.

Dan Evans has threatened to take his career to the next level for quite a while now, and Wednesday’s second-round win over world number seven Marin Cilic was a landmark moment. Bernard Tomic, the Australian number two, will be a tough nut to crack in round three, but Evans has every chance.

Johanna Konta has looked superb so far, with yesterday’s win over Naomi Osaka setting up a third-round clash with Caroline Wozniacki. Her opponent is a former world number one, but Konta will start as favourite.

And then, of course, there is Andy Murray. The number one seed has been shunted from the spotlight in the last few days, but with Novak Djokovic having suffered a shock defeat yesterday, the path to a fourth Grand Slam title has opened up invitingly.