Rafa Benitez has given a surprising view on the proposed 11th minute ‘walk-in’ protest at Newcastle’s home game against West Ham on Saturday.
The manager had previously asked fans to continue supporting the team in response to planned boycotts and match protests, but he now seems to have relaxed on this position.
A section of disgruntled Newcastle fans plan to miss the first section of the game at St James’ Park, before entering the stadium later in an act of solidarity.
Its organisers, The Magpie Group, are a collection of fans whose sole aim is to convince Ashley to either fund Rafa Benitez or sell the club.
The same group are also trying to rally fans together to support a full boycott of Newcastle’s next home game versus Wolves on December 9th.
But support from Newcastle United’s fan-base at large has been mixed towards the protests.
Many have claimed it could have negative effects on the team’s performances, an opinion originally echoed by the manager himself.
His latest comments however no longer reflect these opinions, so what’s changed?
Benitez’s previous comments on Wolves Boycott
Benitez understandably had a very different opinion on such protests one month ago.
After a woeful 0-0 draw against Southampton on October 27th, Newcastle extended their win-less run to 10 games.
It was impossible to see where a positive result was going to come from, and talks of Ashley protests took centre stage.
Speaking in his press conference after the match at St Mary’s, Benitez gave his view on a potential match boycott.
Speaking to The Chronicle, he said: “I think it is important for us to have the fans behind us.
“We need the fans going to the stadium supporting the team for 90 minutes. If we make mistakes, we make mistakes. I will be the first one to make mistakes. We have to keep supporting the team.
“If we want to stay in the Premier League – like we proved last year – we are stronger all together.”
At the time, potential boycotts seemed like a further disaster awaiting the team.
But Benitez now seems to have relaxed after seeing masses of support during the club’s difficult period.
Benitez on West Ham protests
Speaking in a press conference on Friday ahead of the West Ham game, Benitez gave a different view on the 11th minute walk-in.
Speaking to The Chronicle, he said: “Our fans have been really good for a while, and especially at Burnley.
“They showed the passion and commitment they have. They will do what they feel is best for the team. I am not here to tell them what to do. I respect our fans.”
These comments seem to suggest Benitez understands supporter’s frustrations. They are also a far cry from his previous plea for fans to support the team at all costs.
With three wins on the bounce, Benitez’s current attitude is not necessarily a change of heart, but perhaps just a growing confidence.
When Newcastle were at their lowest, he needed every single factor to come together, the supporters being a big part of that. But with safety now in sight, Benitez is allowing the fans to have their say.
After all, if the protests go well, he might be handed a larger transfer budget in January.