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Ashley accuses Benitez of taking 'the soft option' by leaving Newcastle for China

Ex-Real Madrid and Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has taken over as manager of Dalian Yifang.

Ex-Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
Ex-Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.

NEWCASTLE UNITED OWNER Mike Ashley claims Rafael Benitez “took the soft option” by quitting the Magpies and moving to China.

Spanish manager Benitez parted ways with the Premier League club following the expiry of his contact at the end of June.

The former Valencia, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Inter boss took over as head coach of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang less than a week later.

Ashley, who appointed Benitez in March 2016, accused the 59-year-old of being motivated by money.

“He took the totally soft option, took the money and went to China,” Ashley told the Daily Mail. “That disappoints me. If he’d gone back to Real Madrid, or a top six club in the Premier League, I get it. But it was about money and all he had to do was say that from the beginning.”

Ashley added: “He asked for a 50% pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley commended Benitez on doing an “excellent job” during his time at the club but revealed their relationship “deteriorated very quickly” when the manager refused to sign off on the £40million acquisition of Joelinton, who eventually joined from Hoffenheim earlier this week.

Newcastle have not made any other signings, adding further ammunition to fan criticism of the unpopular owner. Aware of the disdain supporters have shown towards him, and having decided to no longer attend matches at St James’ Park, Ashley suggested there is no end in sight to his custodianship.

Numerous takeover rumours have come to nothing since the British businessman bought the club in 2007, the latest of which involved the Dubai-based Bin Zayed Group.

“There are no offers,” Ashley said, adding: “I think I could own this football club forever. That is my new mental state.”

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