It was the summer and it was Rafa Benitez’s wedding anniversary and being a romantic man he spent it at St George’s Park persuading Tammy Abraham to move to St James’ Park.
Abraham, the Chelsea forward, was 19, and he, at least, was smitten with the serenading by the Spaniard. He told those around him he was joining Newcastle United. His salary would turn out to be high, £120,000-a-week and there would be agents fees to go with it but the total cost would still not top £10 million. It was a deal for a young, powerful centre forward who had scored 26 goals in last season’s Championship.
To the immense frustration of Benitez, the deal was never concluded and Abraham will begin the new season with Swansea.
In another twist of fate, as Benitez was reiterating his need for a centre forward, two days before Newcastle’s seasons starts, Mike Ashley, the club’s owner, was going on television to explain why he wouldn’t pay £200 million for a player.
There could not have been a much better form of insight into another transfer window under Ashley that is tiptoeing towards disaster.
Benitez, aware (or at least he thought) of the limitations of Newcastle in the transfer market, was manoeuvring within it. The goalposts still moved. The club did not have the financial mite to push through loan or lesser deals.
Ashley, however, was still robust in his own defence of himself.
“I don’t want the fans to watch this interview and think, ‘That’s great Rafa is getting £150m in the morning’ – he’s not,” said Ashley.
“It’s very simple. It’s not enough (the money the club has) and Rafa knows that, it’s not a secret. Every penny the club generates he can have but it won’t be enough. It’s Newcastle. It doesn’t have a £40 million-a-year naming stadium rights deal. If you said to me, ‘I am wealthy?’ – in theory I am a billionaire or maybe a multi-billionaire – but in reality my wealth is all in Sports Direct shares.
“As I said the other day, it is like wallpaper. I don’t have that cash in the bank so I don’t have the ability to write a cheque for £200m. I don’t have it, it’s simple and I have to make it clear that I am nowhere near wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City and others where it is a wealthy individual taking on what is the equivalent of countries. I cannot and I will not.”
Ashley will speak at length on Sky Sports on Sunday evening, by which time his manager will have walked the same path as his predecessors; one without firepower.
“If you see the squad, it is obvious we need a striker, at least,” said Benitez. “We need to bring some players in some positions to have competition. Dwight [Gayle] was doing really well last year but it is the Premier League, another level, and [we’ll] see if he can replicate something similar. We need bodies.
“I’m not happy. We will try to improve until the end of the transfer window with the players we can get. Hopefully the player can improve the team, if not, at least improve the squad.
“I am here, my commitment is 100 per cent and I will try to do my best.
“We built a squad for the Championship. Promoted as champions, profit, everything was fine. Now it’s the Premier League and everybody was talking about that. We will need player of the Premier League. We need to change players and we needed new faces, we have some of them, but, I don’t think we will have too many new faces on the pitch because we don’t have too many.
“We are not signing a £25 million striker because we cannot.
“Why? The price of the player, the wages and the commission, you put everything together and we cannot. Why? Each one is different. Huddersfield and Brighton for them is one thing, for us another. The expectations for us are higher and everyone has this feeling we have to do this, we have to do that, but we cannot, or we couldn’t, and it is where we are.
“The reality is I am now here. I have to move forward and try to concentrate on the next challenge, which is Tottenham.”