Well, now that the dust has settled on the appointment of Rafa Benitez, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that firstly, an appointment was made at all and secondly, one was made of such a calibre that we can now legitimately look upwards. Rather than merely be content with the constant drudgery of seasonal relegation scraps and doing just enough to get by in the Premier League.
Oh wait, slight problem – we are currently embroiled in one of those seasonal relegation scraps and this time, it looks like we may have left it too late to actually arrest the slide.
We were witnessing relegation form under Steve McClaren that was (and still may prove to be) irreversible. There’s only so long you can go with a record of a couple of wins in ten games before something has to give and Newcastle United left it far too long to make the change.
The club’s board (Charnley/Carr and Moncur) refused to listen, or didn’t understand the severity of the situation well over a month ago, when fans and media were looking at Steve McClaren and wondering just how long he was going to remain in position.
Put simply, the job was far too big for him, by the end against Bournemouth I kind of felt sorry for him, he looked visibly aged/drained/browbeaten, almost to the point that even he didn’t believe the positivity and claptrap he was going to have to utter in his post-match press conference.
Now I’m not about to get the violins out for McClaren, he will be handsomely paid off for such a catastrophic failure, but he simply shouldn’t have been put in the position.
He was give a decent set of players, allowed to enhance that set of players to the tune of £80m – and proceeded to produce a set of results that were no better (arguably worse) than messrs Pardew and Carver over the course of a season.
I didn’t want him, nor did I want Greame Souness, nor Glenn Roeder, nor Sam Allardyce and the same was true last summer, when Alan Pardew and John Carver had walked the plank.
The one man that could have walked straight into such a situation each time over the last ten or so years, was Rafa Benitez. A manager of real quality, he has always been top class and I’m astounded that he has decided to come and join this mad house of a football club.
I would have been overjoyed had he come in at any point over the last decade to replace whichever substandard manager we had ended up with…Souness v Benitez, Roeder v Benitez, Allardyce v Benitez, Pardew v Benitez, McClaren v Benitez, Kinnear v . . . ok I’ll stop there.
I don’t expect miracles mind. Rafa isn’t a magician and there are no magic wands for the Premier League. The one thing that he gives us, is a chance.
It would have been an even better chance if the powers that be had listened after that 5-1 Chelsea defeat and pulled the trigger on McClaren, hopped across to Spain and talked with Rafa, instead of gallivanting across and allowing the situation to fester in La Manga for a week.
Rafa Benitez has inherited the basis of a good team; certainly with Elliot, Mbemba, Coloccini, Janmaat, Wijnaldum, Townsend, Shelvey, Colback, Sissoko, Perez and Cisse there is cause for optimism.
For each individual player’s faults, a good manager should be able to get something out of that lot, not necessarily qualifying for Europe, but to be languishing in the bottom three all season is quite frankly criminal.
The key to the club’s future is clear – survive this season.
We must navigate four key fixtures with victories – Norwich away, Swansea at home, Crystal Palace at home and Aston Villa away.
On top of that, we must not lose the derby. Whilst a win would be welcomed with open arms, a draw would be sufficient IF victories are obtained in the aforementioned games.
Next season takes care of itself, I’m confident Rafa Benitez has the pulling power for players to come to this club of the required standard to do well. No more Gouffrans, Cabellas or Rivieres are required please.
It’s great to be able to see a manager walk through the door at St James Park to make me feel happy after the dross that’s been there in the past.
But like I said, the key is survival, then onwards and upwards.
What was that I also said about a draw against S********* at the weekend?
Sod that, let’s achieve Premier League safety as soon as possible, let’s get the win.
Howay the lads! In Rafa we trust.