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

Kick Off - - INSIDE - WORDS BY GRANT BISSET | Twit­ter: @grant_bis­set

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.

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