Just when we thought that the Jonjo Shelvey and Romain Saiss race row had been put to bed the Newcastle United boss had to open his mouth.
Following Saturday’s game Benitez called for an FA Investigation into Wolves fans.
Why? Because they let Shelvey know exactly what they thought of him in response to his FA ban for using a racial term to Saiss when the sides met in September.
Shelvey was fined £100,000 and banned for five games and the prospect of giving the ex-Liverpool man hell for 90 minutes was an opportunity the Molineux faithful wasn’t going to miss.
What we saw from Shelvey was something he should have displayed in the reverse fixture – maturity.
Shelvey was excellent, a great footballer who looked a class above on the day. His response to the boos were perfect, one 50 yard cross field ball was one of those moments of class that stood out.
Shelvey’s side had won. ‘The Boo Boys 0 -1 Newcastle’ said The Newcastle Chronicle.
The Shelvey and Saiss matter should have ended at the full time whistle on Saturday.
But while Shelvey displayed maturity his manager didn’t follow suit.
Benitez said the following of the treatment of his player: “He is a professional. He knows you have to concentrate on the game. Yes, we knew (what was coming) but one thing the FA has to maybe consider is what the fans say (to players).
“Maybe, to control what the fans say in every stadium and then they have more respect.”
This was then followed by the following by Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles who added: “It was terrible what happened to him.
“Jonjo is not that type of person.”
I would like to remind you at this point that Shelvey was the guilty party and not the victim, the victim was Saiss.
Benitez and Lascelles have every right to defend their teammate but loyalty shouldn’t be at the cost of common sense or (in a language Benitez likes to speak) facts.
Shelvey racially abused a football player of Wolverhampton Wanderers. He used a disgusting phrase that I won’t even repeat but it’s out there should you need to know what was said. When he used those words he ran the risk of being labelled a racist and that’s the price of using racist language.
He had his opportunity to defend himself in front of an FA panel yet didn’t appeal his ban claiming he was ‘unlikely to change the panel’s decision’. He accepted the five matches, the six-figure fine and as a result he accepted the fact he used those words – regardless of his statement afterwards.
For Benitez and Lascelles to somehow treat Shelvey as a victim in this saga sets a very dangerous precedent. Both are giving a safety net to people who use that language, both are saying to those who are racist ‘if you’re criticised for it, don’t worry, it is them who are wrong, not you’.
How can two figure heads of one the biggest clubs in the country be so naive, so misinformed, so downright ignorant to the issue here? Newcastle United have some fantastic and passionate fans but even among the Toon Army there must many raising their eyebrows at Benitez’s comments.
Shelvey used racist words, but do I think he’s a racist? No. I think if Shelvey was racist he wouldn’t be sharing a pitch with players of different nationalities and races. But when you stoop so low and abuse a player with racist language the risk you pay is being labelled a racist.
Benitez and Lascelles are arrogant to think anything otherwise than this. You can praise your player for performing well in a difficult atmosphere, you can say the boo boys only spurned him on, you can say Shelvey proved his class while under the spotlight – we get that.
But they’re delusional to point the finger at a mass of people who just so happen to be intolerant to racism in our society and further more to one of their players.
It reminded me of my days in journalism. One day I received a phone call from the mother of a man whose sentenced I had reported on.
The conversation went like this.
The mother: ‘In your article you called my son a thug. He’s not a thug he’s a good boy.’
Me: ‘Your son’s not a thug? He smashed a stranger’s head through a window.’
The line went dead.
Like the mother of that villain, Benitez felt he has a duty to defend someone who he is responsible for – we get that.
But let’s make it clear if you choose to become an apologist for a person who is found to have done wrong you’re as ignorant and as culpable as they are.
Benitez wants to talk respect, yet has an issue with thousands of football fans letting a man know his racist views don’t belong in the game.
He’s an excellent manager with a wealth of experience but has been found completely exposed with desperate demands for FA action – and that Rafa is a fact.