How will Newcastle United fare on their return to the big time?
Newcastle lh have bounced b db back k into the h Premier League after their humiliating relegation a couple of seasons ago. Manager Rafa Benitez guided the club up from the Championship at the first time of asking. But what does the future have in store f
Ithink Newcastle United fans have grown accustomed to mediocrity. Not since the days of Kevin Keegan (his second stint notwithstanding) or Sir Bobby Robson has the club had a mentor of genuine quality at the helm. Perhaps that is why I tempered my excitement when Rafael Benitez took the reins at Newcastle.
Why was I hesitant to get behind a
manager whose class and credentials have never been in doubt? Well, he’s not exactly standard Newcastle fare, is he? This is a man who coached Liverpool, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid before being almost inexplicably lured to the Magpies hot-seat and, not to be unfair to my beloved club, they don’t exactly run in the same circles as those big boys. Benitez is not cut from the same proverbial cloth as the men that have preceded him either. We’re talking about the difference between silk and a used kitchen rag here. Truthfully, there’s a part of me that has
always thought that someone with a bit of grit and an uninspiring CV just seemed like a better fit for Newcastle. However, Benitez has done enough to convince me that he possesses a kind of North East working class hardiness in addition to his vaunted tactical nous and analytical abilities. Despite the Hail Mary appointment of the Spaniard towards the end of the 2015/16 Premier League season, Newcastle failed to survive the chop – but he stuck with them.
Life in the Championship was no
picnic either. In fact, I’d posit that a season in the second tier was a tougher proposition for Benitez than one in the top-flight, with which he is well acquainted. Undeterred, Benitez guided the side to immediate re-entry to the Premier League last season via a first-place finish in the Championship, although it was not exactly achieved in the fashion many may have expected. For one, it paled in comparison to the emphatic manner in which Chris Hughton accomplished the same feat in 2010, with Newcastle only topping the table by a mere point this time around.
Why then do I remain positive as
we approach the new season? Well, because the slightly underwhelming manner in which the club achieved promotion was only as a consequence of Benitez’s split focus. The former Liverpool mentor knew full well that Newcastle was in dire need of some therapy. Benitez has used the season in the second tier to recalibrate a club that had effectively lost its identity and purpose. Critics say the on-field transformation has been too slow, but Benitez has had to contend with many internal issues and patch many a wound, some of which have festered for years. The healing process will definitely take time as injuries to the club’s reputation, inflicted by a collection of blue ribbon charlatans in Joe Kinnear, Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McLaren, will require more than a spritz of the old magic spray. Thankfully, it appears a new and positive narrative now pervades at Newcastle and if Benitez gets the financial support he desires from club owner Mike Ashley, things could certainly be looking up in the North East of England. By all accounts Benitez enjoys a healthy working relationship with Newcastle’s maverick billionaire owner, but what truly works in the manager’s favour is that he has the supporters and the city firmly behind him. For Ashley to not deliver on promises and force the hugely popular manager to resign would trigger a revolt against the Sports Direct owner on a scale never seen before. For those reasons, it is believed that Benitez will get the backing he desires and a chance to build a squad that meets his criteria – reason enough to have any Geordie smiling. And more than 9000kms from St James’ Park, I’m also smiling. Not too widely as I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I am quietly optimistic. For now I will tentatively climb aboard the Benitez bandwagon, try to keep my expectations realistic and put my faith in the “Rafalution.”
(Above) Newcastle fans have a reason to be optimistic ahead of the 2017/18 season.
(Left) Benitez proudly lifts the Championship trophy aloft.