Neil Humphreys: Newcastle United don’t deserve a decent manager
Benitez's departure throws spotlight on owner Ashley, who's keen only on profits
Mike Ashley does not look like the owner of an English Premier League club.
The Newcastle United owner looks like a caricature from a Charles Dickens novel, the kind of guy who would sell Oliver Twist for an inflated transfer fee.
And that's the real image problem in the ongoing Newcastle fiasco.
The EPL has lost a gentleman, but retained a pantomime villain.
Rafael Benitez represents the humility and dignity that English football covets, but Ashley defines its greedy reality.
When we look at Benitez, we see what the EPL should be. When we look at Ashley, we see what the EPL so often is.
Benitez's departure from Newcastle sticks in the craw for reasons that extend beyond the Magpies' fortunes. His exit has pulled back the curtain.
Ashley's appalling treatment of Benitez was essentially the owner stripping back the EPL's gleaming surface to reveal the grubby cash stuffed beneath.
Unlike other EPL owners, some of whom have even more disagreeable reasons for their investment, Ashley has never shied away from his ambition.
The billionaire bought Newcastle to increase their revenue before flogging the sleeping giants to an even wealthier billionaire with extra petrodollars to play with.
What's so hard to understand here? Didn't he state his intentions clearly enough?
If he actually cared - and he obviously doesn't - Ashley might take a moment to ponder why there is such animosity towards his economic plan.
It's a common EPL profit model, isn't it?
Yes, but Ashley's problem is his unashamed transparency.
His indifference towards his own public relations must make him a tough proposition for EPL spin doctors.
Club owners are generally in the business of improving profits, egos and ''sportswashing'' practices, but these agendas should at least be made palatable for the masses. There is a corporate responsibility to care about, or at least pretend to.
But Ashley has never bothered with the smoke and mirrors of personal branding. He bought Newcastle in the same way he purchased retail and sports clothing companies from distressed sellers.
He saw an opportunity to resurrect a flagging brand and turn a profit. He took the Sports Direct model that made him a billionaire and applied it to the Magpies.
Among EPL owners, he's hardly alone in his profiteering. But Ashley's conventional thinking was arguably at odds with an unconventional manager.
Ashley saw the economic potential of Newcastle, with that glorious citadel filled with over 50,000 devoted Geordies in a one-club city.
Benitez saw the football potential. He recognised similarities to his beloved Liverpool, another huge English city with a devoted fan base that had somehow retained an indelible bond with its community.
Benitez seized the opportunity to resurrect a club with the kind of local support that most British teams can only dream of.
Ashley saw only the bottomline. He continues to run Newcastle as he runs his retail empire, cheaply and with little subtlety.
He struggled to understand why Benitez's £6 million-ayear (S$10.3m) contract wouldn't be enough to appease the Spaniard. Just as he couldn't fathom why his manager would not support his policy of not buying older footballers like Salomon Rondon.
Ashley preferred players aged 25 and below, as if they were clothing brands that could be tidied up and passed on for a profit.
Benitez wanted an increase in the transfer kitty, having beaten relegation, twice, with an overall net spend of minus £11.2m.
Having performed such miracles, he rightly assumed he would be allowed to buy experienced players to ease the burden on his youthful squad, but Ashley remained unmoved.
Experience couldn't be repackaged and sold on.
Benitez might have won a Champions League, two Europa Leagues, two La Liga titles and an FA Cup, before restoring Newcastle's pride, but he knew nothing of the costs of running a business.
Ashley bought Newcastle for around £134 million in total and intends to sell the club for around £350m.
That's all that matters. The fact that Benitez did more than most to increase that valuation was of no concern to Ashley.
His priority remains the profit margin, not some ideological whimsy from a Spanish manager or the latest outrage from exasperated supporters.
As far as Ashley is concerned, the next coach won't be managing a football club. He'll be developing a sales pitch.
It's hardly surprising that Newcastle regulars want Ashley out, but their opinion might be popular among other club owners, too.
His brazen behaviour must be proving toxic to the overall brand.
The EPL serves to make rich people richer and Ashley is the only one that doesn't pretend otherwise.