Amidst the unanimous opposition to Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club off the pitch, Rafa Benítez continues to provide the Newcastle fans with assurance and pride on it…
The veteran manager has been a favourite in Tyne side since his initial appointment in 2016. Ashley’s reluctance to support the club financially has made his job frustrating, to say the least, a situation which most managers would refuse to confront. But the Spaniard’s managerial ability has prevailed yet again to galvanise an average Newcastle squad time after time during his tenure up north.
The Magpies were threatening relegation after a period of mediocrity under Steve McClaren. He was sacked in March leaving the club in chaos without a vision and destined for relegation. Yet Benítez chose this job just months after being dismissed by Real Madrid signing on a three-year deal, a massive boost for the Geordies going into the final few games.
Form improved dramatically after the Spaniard’s appointment with a 6 game unbeaten streak towards the end of the season with his organisation making them far more difficult to beat. However, Sunderland’s impressive form meant Newcastle were relegated in 18th place despite the resurgence under Benítez.
What made the former Liverpool manager forever have the respect of the Toon was his choice to remain as manager in the Championship. He could walk into top clubs in all of Europe, yet chose to manage in the second tier, a testament to his loyalty and classiness as a manager.
His humble beginnings from Spanish lower tier sides and climbing the managerial ladder perhaps illustrates his willingness to take on challenges. Nothing less than promotion was the aim for Newcastle and Benítez was too good not to deliver it…
The squad was depleted with many players leaving after relegation, yet Rafa had money to spend. £57 million was spent, yet he ensured it was spent on what Newcastle required. Goals in the form of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie, midfield strength with Diame and defensive solidity with Ciaran Clark.
Two defeats from their first two games raised eyebrows over Newcastle’s promotion challenge. However, the Spaniard’s squad began to gel with his tactics coming into effect and soon after, they began to show their dominance in the league.
The Magpies were lethal in front of goal throughout the season, with Gayle and Ritchie, players of Premier League calibre, tearing up Championship defences. The two finished the season with 35 goals between them, firing Newcastle to the joint highest goalscorers in the league with 85.
As expected from a Benitez team, the defence was solid with the side conceding the joint least (40 goals). On the final day of the season, Newcastle’s 3-0 win over Barnsley and Brighton’s draw over Villa meant the Magpies would return to the Premier League as champions, Benítez had done it again…
He made average players like Yoan Gouffran look decent, a testament to his quality as a manager to get the best out of his players. The toxicity from last season at St James Park had left and Tyneside was in jubilation over what the Champions League winning manager had brought back to the club.
Before the beginning of Newcastle’s return to the top flight, Benítez was furious with Ashley’s lack of spending in the summer window with the Sports Direct owner spending just over £40 million, nowhere near enough for a newly promoted Premier League side. Despite their lack of reinforcements, the former Chelsea boss used his experience and tactics to comfortably keep the Toon up.
Newcastle had a very good return season to the Premier League with a 10th place finish. Victories over Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea were perhaps their finest moments with their season demonstrating how Benítez, despite a insufficient financial support, was able to get the best of the players he had as well as bring in effective signings with the little money he did have.
After a financial takeover by Amanda Staveley fell through, uncertainty over the club’s ownership remains in question. Many have tipped The Magpies for relegation this season due to their lack of spending. Yet with Rafa Benítez at the helm, don’t write them off…