Rafa Benitez's Newcastle exit is Mike Ashley's ultimate insult to the club and its supporters
The saviour is heading for the exit door
Just when you think Mike Ashley cannot hurt supporters of Newcastle United more than he already has during his 12-year tenure as owner of the club, he goes and surprises you.
News emerged this week that Rafa Benitez will leave the Magpies upon the expiry of his contract this summer after failing to agree a new deal.
Benitez's current contract with the club expires next week. He held talks with Ashley after the season ended and, according to reports, was offered a one-year extension to the £6 million deal he's currently signed to.
The sticking point however is that the Spaniard has been offered none of the assurances he has sought over club structure and plans for recruitment for the coming season, which is now less than 50 days away.
To many this may seem like just another contract negotiation gone awry, but it is much more than that. It is the latest example of Mike Ashley having no regard for the club or its supporters.
Newcastle United have been relegated twice during Ashley's 12-year spell at St. James' Park.
Each time they've dropped down their fans - tormented during that timeframe - have stuck by the club. They packed out the stadium on each occasion and supported the team with their usual passion and commitment.
Mismanagement of a football club in this fashion would be the last straw for less loyal supporters; relegation the straw that broke the camel's already crippled and bloodied back.
But Newcastle United is in the blood of its city and the supporters that inhabit it. They cannot just turn their back on it.
Shortly before their last relegation from the Premier League, Ashley hired Benitez, in March of 2016. He struggled at first, and would be forced to wait over a month for his first win, but supporters could sense a change.
There was something different here. This manager cared about the club, he understood the supporters. He was not a close pal of Mike Ashley being given a chance at the job on the proviso that he doesn't rile things up and give fans ideas above their station.
He was their champion.
Benitez was unable to prevent relegation to the Championship despite ending the season with a six-match unbeaten run. He was devastated, fans were devastated, but there was renewed hope at the Gallowgate End.
In the Championship the bond between fans and manager was forged only stronger. The fact that he stayed in the first place endeared him further to the fan base.
The road was rocky - they lost their opening two games - but again faith remained, and it was repaid through automatic promotion and a Championship winners medal.
There was slight and ultimately vain hope that, now back in the top flight, Ashley would give Benitez the backing he and fans so greatly desired. But this never came.
The club did break its transfer record for the first time since 2005, bringing in Paraguayan star Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United, but this could and perhaps should be viewed as a ploy to placate the masses, something for Ashley to refer back to every time he was presented with a complaint from his manager.
In spite of this, Benitez has continued to work wonders. He has kept the team in the Premier League since returning them there despite operating on a shoestring budget and with a squad playing well above its level.
In the midst of all of this, when relations between ownership and supporters has worsened by the day, Benitez has been a beacon of light. He has fought the fans' corner, in public and in private. He has pushed for things to get better and for the club to take itself as seriously as he does.
He recognises the potential in Newcastle, something supporters have always done, and for that he has earned himself a special place in their hearts.
This championing of causes close to fans' hearts - having a true representative in the dugout - has been something to fall back on during the dark days of recent years.
'Things are shit, but at least we have Rafa.'
Now, soon even that won't be the case. Rather than recognise the value of having a manager so deeply loved by fans at the club, Ashley appears to view Rafa as another asset he can disregard.
He makes supporters dream of better days to come, and of the promised land. For a man with seemingly no ambition to make the club the force it could be in English football, that was never going to be allowed.
Ashley has spent 12 years insulting Newcastle United fans through his treatment of them and their club. He has now allowed Rafa Benitez to depart, and it's his greatest insult yet.