NOW that Rafael Benitez has gone, let’s have a look at which key figures remain on the payroll at St James’ Park.

Obviously, there isn’t a manager. Or a head coach. Or whatever Mike Ashley decides he wants to call Benitez’s eventual replacement. There’s no assistant manager, with Mikel Antia and Paco de Miguel Moreno having followed Benitez through the exit door, and no first-team coach either following the exit of Antonio Gomez Perez.

The two most senior figures on the footballing side of the operation are goalkeeping coach Simon Smith, who is the only member of Benitez’s senior set-up to have survived this week’s cull, and Neil Redfearn, who was appointed as the new Under-23s head coach last week.

Unless Benitez’s replacement is installed before next Thursday, Redfearn, whose last position prior to joining Newcastle saw him resign as manager of Liverpool Women after his one and only game in charge ended in a 5-0 defeat, will almost certainly preside over the first day of pre-season training. Possibly with the help of Shola Ameobi, Newcastle’s new loan coordinator. Let’s just say it wouldn’t exactly be a managerial dream team and leave it at that.

What about in the boardroom? If Newcastle are in a state of flux when it comes to the managerial side of things, can’t they at least rely on a high-level of executive expertise to see them through their current difficulties?

Well, unless you count flogging replica shirts as a key criterion, Ashley freely admits he does not have any meaningful football knowledge.

Instead, he puts his trust and the future direction of his football club into the hands of Lee Charnley, his managing director. Charnley has risen through the ranks at St James’ Park, having previously been employed as club secretary, working under the then chief operating officer, Russell Cushing, under the Freddy Shepherd regime.

He was promoted to the position of managing director in 2014, and has spent the last five years doing Ashley’s bidding. Given that he had never worked in such a high-ranking position prior to his appointment, and that he lacks any experience of working in football beyond his time with Newcastle United, his qualifications for such a role are unclear. As a result, his suitability for his current position has been a constant source of debate.

Who are the other key power-brokers working with Charnley? Justin Barnes is an extremely influential figure, even if he does not have a formal role in Newcastle’s executive structure. A key Ashley confidante, he was formerly employed as Head of Brands at Sports Direct and has worked as a consultant for Ashley’s sportswear business for a number of years.

His association with Newcastle is understood to have started around 2016, and he is often described as Ashley’s ‘fixer’. He is likely to have at least some involvement in the search for a new boss.

Keith Bishop, Ashley’s PR man, is also an important part of Newcastle’s inner circle, often attending press conferences and reporting back to one of his chief employers. Again, he has no formal boardroom role at St James’ Park. Again, he will almost certainly be involved in the hunt for Benitez’s successor.

So, apart from Steve Nickson, who succeeded Graham Carr as chief scout two summers ago after previously working as Under-21s scout, the sum total of Newcastle’s footballing expertise at an executive level amounts to a former secretary, a head of brand management and a PR specialist.

It could be worse, Dennis Wise could be reappointed to the frankly bizarre role of executive director (football), but if anything exposes the folly of the Ashley regime, it is surely the glaring absence of any worthwhile footballing knowledge at the very top of the organisation.

Newcastle are a leading Premier League club, the 19th-richest football club in the world according to the last Football Money List Rankings published by Deloitte, yet they are still run as a glorified ‘jobs for the boys club’, just as they have been throughout Ashley’s Tyneside tenure.

That is why you get disastrous decisions like this week’s severing of ties with Benitez, and it is why it is impossible to have any degree of confidence about the process that is currently being drawn up to appoint his successor.

It explains why Newcastle’s transfer policy has veered from the haphazard to the disastrous in the last few years, and might also provide an insight into why the process of trying to complete a successful takeover appears to be so chaotic.

For the last three years, Benitez’s presence in the dug-out has helped mask some of the glaring deficiencies that have existed in other key areas of the club. Now, that protective shield is not there anymore.

No longer able to rely on the qualities of a world-class manager, Ashley and his inner circle will have to survive on their own. On all available evidence, it is impossible to conclude they will be able to do so.


ENGLAND’S game with Cameroon turned out to be a hugely entertaining affair, although not necessarily for the right reasons. The antics of the Cameroon team were an embarrassment, but the fact they were allowed to get away with them largely unpunished highlighted the dreadful standard of refereeing that has been one of the main downsides to the Women’s World Cup.

The introduction of VAR is undoubtedly a factor, with referees and assistants increasingly reluctant to make borderline decisions, safe in the knowledge that the video referee will pick up on any errors. That is a worrying development, as the on-pitch referee cedes a large amount of their authority if they fail to correctly identify a crucial moment, even if VAR subsequently clears it up for them.

However, it might also be the case that some of the referees at the Women’s World Cup are simply not good enough to be officiating at such a prestigious competition. Which brings us to the contentious question of whether the referees in France should have to be women.

Female officials are allowed to officiate in the men’s game, so shouldn’t the best referees be available for the Women’s World Cup, even if some of them happen to be men?

Qin Liang, the Chinese referee for England’s win over Cameroon, typically officiates in front of a couple of hundred people, and was clearly out of her depth. Should she really be selected for such a high-profile event just because she is a woman?