A year ago today, Rafael Benitez was preparing for Champions League football with Real Madrid. Now, he is planning to start life in the Championship with Newcastle United where he will aim get the club back in the top flight at the first attempt.
The 56-year-old joined The Magpies back in March 2016 where he was given the impossible job of keeping the club in the Premier League after Steve McClaren’s horrid tenure was finally brought to an end.
A draw at home to Sunderland and an away defeat to Norwich in Rafa’s second and third game put the final nail in the coffin for The Geordies as even a game six game unbeaten streak couldn’t prevent Newcastle from dropping in the Championship for the second time in seven years.
Supporters thought the possibility of the Spaniard staying if relegation became a reality was highly unlikely. However, throughout Benitez’s time, he would be subject of joyous chanting from the Newcastle fans before their efforts to keep him boiled down to last game of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, where The Geordies already knew they were relegated.
The Spurs game became a strong vocal point for supporters to voice their intentions of keeping Benitez at the club, where his name would be sang throughout and after the game.
And the 5-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur for the already relegated side seemed the perfect way to persuade the ex Real Madrid manager to stay put on Tyneside. Benitez was willing to commit in his post-match press conference, if he was given the assurances he needed.
And after a week and a half of intense waiting for the Toon supporters, on May 20, it was confirmed that Benitez would be staying at the club for the purposed three years, where he will take on the huge task of getting Newcastle United back in the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Here are the three big points that Newcastle fans can take from Benitez staying.
Different approach by the club (at last!)
It was clear that Benitez was seeking reassurances and he looks like he has got them.
Fans are finding it hard to believe why it has taken Mike Ashley another relegation to appoint someone like Benitez. Since Ashley’s reign began, he has persisted on letting the club’s hierarchy decide which players should be signed for Newcastle United. One of the people at the frontline of signings was Graham Carr.
The approach came into full swing under Alan Pardew before it was confirmed a shambles when McClaren overseen £80million pumped into his side, only for The Toon Army to be practically relegated before McClaren was sacked.
Benitez came in and seemed to got the best he could his of the squad, but unfortunately it goes down to lack of knowledge by the board in the recruiting the right players (Carr and Lee Charnley), as well as appointing the wrong manager (McClaren)
Now, the Ashley and Charnley have got their management appointment right and changed their minds when it comes to the approach on how the club should be ran. A switch in power has fallen to Benitez now, where he will make all the big decisions at the club - the most important one being, control of transfer. It has been reported that Carr has left the club in the wake of Benitez’s appointment.
If the club can regain its Premier League status at the first attempt, it could be very positive time for Newcastle. It is crazy how a club has just been relegated yet there is so much positivity around the place, which has been a rare thing under Ashley’s tenure.
Benitez staying lifts the city
When Newcastle were confirmed relegated after Sunderland’s midweek win over Everton. Four days later, it was unknown on how the fans at St James’ Park would react in their final home game against Tottenham.
The game against Spurs summed up Newcastle perfectly, they are certainly a unique club. The relegated side went on triumph 5-1, a win that fans didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about. The team and goals were celebrated no differently. it was just a sense of what if Benitez was appointed earlier.
The pain of relegation has been very silent and that is all down to Benitez because he has restored the club’s pride and hope. The sense of hope at with Benitez has led fans to have the upmost confidence that the Spaniard can take this club onto great things.
Until Benitez, Newcastle failed to appoint a big name manager since Sir Bobby Robson. Now fans have a big name at the helm, they can only look forward and believe that this is a positive chapter in the club’s history, despite it starting in the Championship.
Rafa Benitez is a man that holds a big reputation round European football, it is remarkable that a man of his statue will be managing in the Championship.
Of course Newcastle United itself will attract players. However, with a top manager like Benitez, it is possible he will be able to persuade ex pros he has worked with to come and help Newcastle. For example, a player that has been mentioned is Daniel Agger. The Danish Centre-back certainly hasn’t hit the heights of European football but his experience with Liverpool and in European competitions could see him be a cut above the rest in the Championship.
It’s not just about players coming in. Newcastle still have players that futures need decided. Rafa staying could possibly tempt players like Andros Townsend to do a season in the Championship if allowed to.
When it comes to performances against The Magpies, the reputation part will almost surely motivate other Championship clubs. Not only will clubs be looking to beat Newcastle United, they will be looking to beat an ex Real Madrid manager.
But, Newcastle United themselves will be motivated, hopefully more than ever. The players at Newcastle who looked uninterested from 30 games of the season shown some heart and desire eventually, under Benitez.