SOMETIMES, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Newcastle United supporters seem to have a pretty good idea of what their club has lost now that Rafael Benitez’s departure has been confirmed, but Mike Ashley either doesn’t appreciate the ramifications of today’s events or simply does not care about what the fall-out could be. Either way, it might not take long for the consequences of his intransigence to become clear.

Ashley didn’t just lose a manager today, he unpicked the bond that was preventing his club from falling apart. On and off the pitch, Benitez has prevented Newcastle from imploding. Now that he is gone, things could rapidly unravel.

From the moment he was appointed in March 2016, Benitez has been a talismanic reminder of what Newcastle could be. Here was one of the world’s great managers, a Champions League winner, seduced by the prospect of realising Newcastle’s full potential.

Even when the club was relegated less than two months into his reign, Benitez opted to remain at St James’ Park. He took Newcastle to Burton when he could have been managing in Barcelona or Bilbao, or for three or four times more money, Beijing.

Why didn’t he walk? Because he was entranced by the potential of a club he regularly described as one of the biggest in England, not to mention the emotional outpouring that accompanied a 5-1 win over Spurs on the final day of the season. In his final days on Tyneside, Benitez was still talking about that game, and the roar that greeted his relegated players as they trudged around the pitch on what should have been a day of intense disappointment. That was Benitez’s Newcastle – raw, passionate, together.

He revelled in the glow of promotion, but that was only ever the repairing of a wrong. Newcastle shouldn’t have been in the Championship, so restoring them to the Premier League was not something to be cherished. In Benitez’s eyes, it was a small step on a much longer journey, but from the moment the Magpies returned to the top-flight, the tensions that would eventually lead to yesterday’s departure became abundantly clear.

Having been given a reasonable amount of transfer freedom in the wake of relegation, Benitez expected similar leeway as he prepared for a first season back in the Premier League. However, it was not forthcoming.

Issues that are now all-too-familiar reared their head. Players were deemed too expensive or too old, discussions ground to a halt as Ashley and Lee Charnley took what seemed like an eternity to make a decision, and instead of ticking off players from the top of his wanted list, as had been the case at his previous clubs, Benitez found himself cobbling together a squad from the footballing equivalent of the bargain bin.

The same thing happened last summer, when a host of targets fell by the wayside despite Benitez’s insistence that a fundamental overhaul was required, and while Newcastle broke their transfer record in January to sign Miguel Almiron, their manager was not prepared to tolerate another summer of frustration and failure.

Newcastle will claim they did what they could while sticking to the strict financial parameters that Ashley and Charnley have drawn up, but to Benitez, an inability to match the likes of Leicester, West Ham and Everton in the transfer market smacked of a complete lack of ambition. “I know we cannot compete with Man City and Liverpool,” he said in an off-the-record briefing last season. “But what am I meant to do when we cannot sign players ahead of Brighton, Bournemouth and Huddersfield?” That was his biggest frustration.

Off the record, Benitez would be reasonably candid when it came to the realities of life at St James’ Park, but when the cameras and microphones were turned on, he would tend to stick to the party line, refusing to be openly critical of those above him and often imploring the fans not to demonstrate on a match-day when it might have affected his players.

For all that he fought against Ashley in private, he was often the owner’s best shield whenever he spoke publicly. While Benitez was there, Newcastle’s supporters were reluctant to push things too far, to be too vocal or vociferous in their condemnation of the regime. Now that he is gone, that is likely to change.

Benitez’s presence offered the hope of a better future, not least because of the managerial abilities that proved so crucial in guiding Newcastle away from the relegation zone in each of the last two seasons.

Make no mistake about it, in different hands, Newcastle could easily have gone down in either of the last two campaigns. Benitez publicly railed against the description of his squad as a ‘Championship team playing in the Premier League’, but deep down he knew there was merit to the assessment.

This is not a vintage Newcastle side by any means, but two years ago they beat Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, and last season they memorably triumphed over Manchester City. All four of those successes owed much to Benitez’s tactical prowess, as well as his diligent work on the training ground.

Who else could have turned Matt Ritchie from a jobbing winger into a top-class left-back? Who else could have taken the likes of Isaac Hayden, Mo Diame and Sean Longstaff and fashioned an effective Premier League midfield? Who else could have drilled Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Florian Lejeune with sufficient meticulous detail to ensure they were capable of keeping out some of the best strikers in the world?

That was Benitez. Other Newcastle United managers have achieved more in terms of winning trophies, and despite the restrictions placed on him by the Ashley regime, some of his predecessors found themselves working in even more difficult circumstances. Very few, though, have been as revered.

Benitez is up there with Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson when it comes to commanding the affection of the black-and-white faithful. Unlike those in charge of their club, the fans who worshipped him know what they lost this afternoon.