On the 12th of May 2019, Newcastle United ended their Premier League campaign with a resounding 4-0 win away to Fulham. It was a glorious day for football. Newcastle supporters travelled in their numbers, with a lot of them enjoying some afternoon drinking on the Thames prior to the match. It was a day full of positivity and a belief Newcastle would go out there and put on a show. The Newcastle side that took to the field that day were really starting to look the part, and seemed to be heading in a positive direction.
In January 2019, Rafa Benitez’s long pursuit of Miguel Almiron finally came to an end when he signed for Newcastle at the back end of the month. Almiron’s arrival looked to be the missing piece of the puzzle. He immediately slotted into the Newcastle side, linking up brilliantly with Perez and Rondon at the top end of the pitch. We looked to finally have an identity, and it wasn’t the negative football that always gets discussed when it comes to Rafa. In the second half of the 2018/19 Premier League campaign, Newcastle were the 6th highest goal scorers in that period, and registered some impressive results, most notably a win against Manchester City and a superb comeback win against Everton. This Newcastle team looked hungry. They were resolute and all pulling in the same direction. The players respected Benitez, and bought into what he was doing, as did the supporters.
Image credit the Chronicle
The above was three years in the making under Rafa Benitez. He took over a Newcastle side plummeting towards the Championship, and sadly couldn’t prevent from that happening in the limited time had been given. However, a quite frankly bizarre afternoon on the final day of the 2016/17 Premier League season, which saw an already relegated Newcastle put five goals past top 4 chasing Tottenham, seemed to be the catalyst for Rafa to stay on as manager, and ultimately get the club back up at the first time of asking, despite a large turnover in personnel. Newcastle came straight back up to the Premier League as Champions under Rafa. The side was very different to the one which was relegated 12 months earlier, and it was a team that had been assembled for less than the total fees the club received for the players who had departed after relegation. That Newcastle team went on to finish 10 in their first season back in the Premier League.
In three full seasons, Rafa Benitez took Newcastle from the Championship, to a comfortable Premier League side, who were scoring goals and hard to beat. He did all this with a transfer net spend that barely crept into the black. Anyone with half a brain can see that he did a great job under strict financial constraints, and left Newcastle in a very good place on the pitch.
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“Why do they love Rafa so much?” "He has done no better than Steve Bruce.”
“Their points tally is exactly the same.” “They played terrible football under Rafa.”
Newcastle fans are used to hearing these sorts of comments from the ill-informed media, who are adamant they know more about our football club than anyone else. It always comes down to point’s tallies, or the brand of football, or league position. Before I go into why we loved Rafa, and how there is much more to it than the football on the pitch, I will just clear up a few of the repeat comments we see on a regular basis…
- Bruce has spent over £100m on new players. Rafa could only have dreamed of that sort of financial backing.
- When Rafa played the less attractive “negative” football, at least Newcastle would be hard to break down and kept the score down. Bruce’s “defensive” tactics still somehow leave us wide open.
- Bruce hasn’t actively improved Newcastle during his time here, we have gone backwards, whilst, as the start of this article eludes too, Rafa left us in a much better place than when he was appointed.
- Bruce constantly says our club is where we should be, and is happy to accept mediocrity. Rafa wouldn’t dare say anything of the sort.
Image credit the Mirror
The huge, massive, gigantic difference between Rafa Benitez, and the likes of Steve Bruce, Steve McClaren and Alan Pardew, is that Rafa was an ambitious appointment. Rafa was a manager of pedigree who had won trophies across the whole of Europe.
Throughout Rafa’s time at Newcastle, he spoke so positively of the area and the fan base. He would actively get involved within the community, and spend his time really connecting with the supporters and building up relationships within the city. He was ambitious. Rafa knew what Newcastle United, could, and should perhaps be. Newcastle shouldn’t be a club that is just happy to compete in the lower reaches of the Premier League and be thankful when we don’t get relegated. Rafa knew this, and vocally expressed that opinion to the media. He wanted more for Newcastle. He wanted to give supporters a club they could be proud of and a club that was actively trying to improve and most importantly of all, allow us to dream again. Newcastle fans aren’t demanding Champions League football and Pep Guardiola style football, we just want a club that tries, and under Mike Ashley, this just isn’t happening. Rafa knew this, and by taking this into the media and putting the onus back on the owner, he caused Mike Ashley a headache he didn’t want.
Rafa Benitez didn’t leave Newcastle to chase financial riches in China. Rafa Benitez left Newcastle because he is a man who has pride in his work, and didn’t want to be part of a club that lacks any clear direction or ambition, and instead is just happy to survive in the Premier League and spending the bare minimum whilst doing so. He is too good for that.
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Steve Bruce, Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren are three different managers, but when it comes to their time as Newcastle manager, they are all pretty much the same.
When appointed manager of Newcastle, the stock of these three managers had declined significantly, and not a single Premier League club, other than Mike Ashley’s Newcastle of course, would have touched them with a barge pole. The moment these appointments were made, Newcastle supporters were all too aware it was due to be another uninspiring, rudderless era at the club. Mike Ashley isn’t daft. He wants his life as Newcastle owner to be as trouble free as possible, all whilst the club ticks over with next to no investment. When you appoint a manager who has no right getting a Premier League job, they are always just going to be grateful for being given the opportunity. These three managers were appointed to be “yes” men and would work under whatever conditions were asked of them. Most importantly, they would give Mike Ashley the trouble free life that he wants.
Image credit NUFC Blog
There was of course the season in which Alan Pardew guided Newcastle to an unexpected 5th placed finish. Our new arrivals that season had really gelled on the pitch, and we played some brilliant football and ultimately had a fantastic season. After that season, that was the summer for Alan Pardew to knock on Mike Ashley’s door and ask for investment. We had a very good team, and some key additions could really have seen us improve, or at least maintain what we had achieved that year. It wasn’t to be. Newcastle didn’t spend any money that summer, bringing in only the one loan addition. But, Alan Pardew accepted that, and continued on in his role without asking any questions of the owner, and simply accepting what had happened.
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Mike Ashley only gets rid of these “yes” man in dire circumstances, or if he can get some financial gain from their departure. Pardew was paid out of his contract by Crystal Palace, McClaren wasn’t going to achieve the remit of PL survival, and Bruce will probably now be here forever.
We all know Mike Ashley is the main problem at Newcastle United, and has been for some time. However, managers like Bruce get a hard time, because they are a representation of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle. Bruce accepts mediocrity at Newcastle because he is grateful to have a job in the Premier League. Any half decent manager worth their salt doesn’t do that.
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Rafa Benitez wanted what every fan wanted for Newcastle United Football Club, success. He made that clear on a regular basis. It’s the reason he is no longer the manager of Newcastle, but it also the reason why we loved him.
"We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United.”