The sacking of Steve Mclaren and subsequent appointment of Rafael Benitez caused excitement on one side of the North-East and increased trepidation on the other. But is this man really the answer to Newcastle’s relegation plight?
Benitez, whose first act was to diminish the rest imposed by his predecessor McLaren, had his players report for 2 days of intensive training over the weekend. Although this may please the Geordie faithful, it is already in my opinion an unwise decision as this may already have turned sections of the dressing room against the new manager.
While his track record is well known, such as his role in the Champions League Final nicknamed “The miracle in Istanbul” and his more recent Europa League triumph with Chelsea, he has very little experience with clubs at the wrong end of the table, evident by lack of concern for the morale of the players by introducing his strong-armed tactics so soon into his reign. This lack of concern for players may hurt him in the long term, even if he manages to keep Newcastle United in the top flight next season, as established players who may have families will not like threats of extra training sessions hanging over them. As a club, this could cost Newcastle some of the stronger, more experienced talents in the summer transfer window.
Rafa, as he is affectionately known, also faces a baptism of fire with games against Leicester City followed by the Tyne and Weir Derby next Sunday. However, a manager of Rafa’s calibre (who has managed in everything from Champions League Finals to the El Clasico) will not be daunted by one of English football’s fiercest rivalries.
His opposite number next Sunday, Sam Allardyce, has faced Rafa with a number of different clubs and, as such, will not be daunted by the appointment of the Spaniard come Sunday.
While Benitez’ people handling skills were called into question even earlier in this article, nobody can doubt that the Spaniard has far greater tactical attributes and a far more astute tactical style then predecessor Steve Mclaren. This is mainly due to his two previous European triumphs with English clubs, as well as the calibre of teams he has been in charge of in recent years.
Benitez is unlikely to be daunted by the prospect of the passionate, but merciless Geordie fans, due to his stints with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Napoli, three of the most passionate and demanding fan bases in the world. He also has experience of the English game which will prove invaluable in Newcastle’s survival hopes.
In conclusion, it will come down to the player’s reaction to Benitez’ decision to take the players to task on the very first day in the job. A negative reaction to this could leave a huge black cloud over the reign of the Spaniard at St James’s Park and may lead to him activating his ‘get out of jail free’ clause if they are relegated at the end of the season. An alternative possibility is that the players have a positive reaction to this stance and, in turn, are motivated to drag themselves away from the relegation zone. Only time will tell if Rafa’s reign with The Toon Army is successful.