IT says much about the state of things at Newcastle United that even Rafael Benitez cannot be bothered to fight anymore.

Benitez, the supreme political operator, the arch agitator who once promised he would “never stop pushing for the good of the club”, has effectively thrown in the towel.

True, he will continue to devote himself to working with his players on the training ground, in the hope that for a second season in succession, they can somehow scramble to safety. But when it comes to influencing the bigger picture, and trying to transform Newcastle into the club he passionately hoped it could be when he spoke of making a decision with ‘his heart rather than his head’ in the wake of relegation, Benitez has given up.

He doesn’t try to spur Mike Ashley into action because he knows it will not work. He doesn’t challenge Newcastle’s intransigent owner head on anymore because he knows it is a battle he would lose. He doesn’t speak publicly about transfers because, deep down, he knows there almost certainly won’t be any. And if there are, they won’t be the ones he wants.

By saying nothing during his last few press conferences, Benitez has said everything about the tortuous slow death of a football club. Where hope once flickered, now he can only see irreversible decline.

Why does he continue to put himself through it? There are six million reasons until his contract expires in the summer, with a break clause meaning he would have to pay around £6m if he was to leave before the end of the season. Even a man of principle has limits.

Benitez also probably clings to the increasingly faint hope that a successful takeover might remove Ashley from the equation and change Newcastle’s fortunes at a stroke. Having put up with Ashley’s nonsense for so long, Benitez would rightly feel aggrieved if he left, only for his successor to find themselves at the break of a new dawn.

That would hurt, but like so much else at St James’ Park at the moment, the takeover situation is stuck in a state of perpetual inertia. If Peter Kenyon had both the means and motivation to buy Newcastle United, he would have done it by now.

Instead, he continues to scramble around, desperately trying to put together a deal that would be acceptable to Ashley. Understandably, Newcastle supporters take the view that anyone would be better than their club’s current absentee landlord – having taken a brief interest when he attended a run of six successive matches at the start of the season, Ashley has once again disappeared off the face of the earth – but if Kenyon is struggling to raise the £300m that is needed to buy the club, is there really a realistic chance of him being able to come up with the kind of money that would enable Newcastle to compete with the clubs currently outspending them in the top half of the table?

And while the emergence of a pre-Christmas letter in which Kenyon assured Ashley he remains a serious bidder injected a rare dose of optimism into proceedings, it seems a strange, almost Dickensian, way to conduct business. What next? A pre-sale agreement to be signed with a quill?

Takeovers that succeed are conducted in silence, and tend to be completed at the optimum time for the buying party to make an immediate impact. In Newcastle’s current position, that meant the end of last month when the transfer window was just about to open. With January almost at its mid-point, Kenyon is reaching a stage where he would be better off waiting until the end of the season, even if he had the means of buying out Ashley immediately.

All of which leaves us in the familiar position of being halfway through a transfer window, without anything in the offing. Newcastle could sign Benitez’s number one transfer target, Miguel Almiron, tomorrow if they were prepared to pay the money demanded by both the 24-year-old and his current club, Atlanta United, but they aren’t. So we’ll have to sit through another two weeks of toing and froing before Ashley’s right-hand man, Lee Charnley, signs off a curt statement regretting the club’s inability to ‘get things over the line’.

Newcastle balk at the idea of paying up to £30m for a player who might cost them £100,000-a-week, and supporters weary at football’s fantastical rate of inflation might well find such figures equally unpalatable. The harsh reality is that that is where we are now though. Everton and West Ham have been paying those kinds of sums for years. Bournemouth, Leicester and even Brighton are getting to the stage where they’re willing to consider it.

Ashley’s bar is set much lower. Keep costs down, revel in being the only Premier League club with a negative net transfer fund, and try to turn a profit. Forget what happens on the pitch as long as the Sports Direct branding stays in place and the fans continue flocking to the games.

Only two things might shift his thinking – a widely-supported boycott, which was suggested before Christmas but abandoned when takeover talk gathered pace, or relegation. The former could return to the agenda by the end of the month; the latter starts to look increasingly likely with every January day that passes without Newcastle strengthening their squad.

You would think that after having had his fingers burned twice, Ashley would be doing all he could to mitigate the likelihood of a third relegation on his watch. Instead, he clings to his age-old method of judging a potential signing on the bargain-bin nature of their price tag and the possibility of them generating a bigger sell-on fee in the future.

Never mind that Newcastle spent most of the Christmas period fielding a centre-midfield of Isaac Hayden and Mo Diame, players that were not even deemed good enough to be first-choice when they were playing in the Championship, or that an injury to the somewhat injury-prone Salomon Rondon would mean having to play the second half of the season with Joselu as a lone striker.

Ashley is happy to take that gamble, but Benitez appreciates the full extent of the risk. Hence the disillusionment that has been seeping from his pores this month.

At least, as he ticks off the days on his calendar, like a prisoner approaching the moment of freedom, Benitez can console himself that the end is in sight. Once his contract ends, he can wash his hands of the whole sorry mess and walk away.

Increasingly, Newcastle’s supporters know only too well what he will be leaving in his wake. A club bereft of heart, soul or ambition, that might well be playing in the Championship. No wonder even Benitez has given up hope.