Newcastle United started the season with a man who had spent the previous season in the Championship.
They will end the season with a man who started the season at one of the biggest clubs in world football.
If Rafael Benitez can keep Newcastle in the Premier League, where will this season rank compared to years gone by?
It seemed unfathomable after defeat to Bournemouth – but this season could have a happy ending IF Benitez keeps us up.
There are still big problems at Newcastle and those problems will remain as long as the current hierarchy remain in power. Although the performances have been abject, there have been slight changes over the course of the season that suggests Newcastle’s rotten core may have started to see some sense.
In January, we saw English players with Premier League experience arrive in the shape of Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend, as opposed to Graham Carr’s usual method of cheap and cheerful acquisitions from France.
When Steve McClaren’s position became untenable after Bournemouth, the club (eventually) made the right decision to sack him and go in a different direction, with our Premier League status hanging in the balance.
This is the same club that allowed Alan Pardew to continue as manager after head-butting Hull City’s David Meyler from his technical area. While the club was totally undignified in the way they went about sacking McClaren, the right decision was made. The treatment of the former England boss was appalling, having been left to continue in his job for five days as he waited for Lee Charnley to finally pull the trigger and put him out of his misery.
The appointment of Rafa Benitez is a bold one. It is a statement. Benitez started the season managing megastars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, with the goal of La Liga and Champions League glory.
The ex-Liverpool gaffer is now expected to do something he has never had to do before and steer a side in disarray away from the relegation zone. The ship was sinking fast under McClaren, but with Benitez now captain, the Toon Army have renewed hope of sailing to safety.
The biggest change the hierarchy have made is Benitez’ job title. The Spaniard will be manager and not Head Coach like his predecessor. He will have control.
He has been given his own backroom staff, sending three of McClaren’s men packing in exchange. The club have torn up the head coach model in exchange for a traditional manager.
Whether this decision was made out of acceptance that their blueprint was wrong, or as it was the only way to get Benitez on board, remains to be seen – but it is a step in the right direction regardless.
This is by no means a deluded ode to Newcastle’s decision-makers, far from it. Lee Charnley has failed in his role of managing director. He had six months to appoint the right man last summer and failed. McClaren was not the right man.
I backed McClaren, like most fans did, when he arrived, but he clearly was not the man for the job. Charnley had the simple job of sacking him after the Bournemouth game and he still managed to make a pig’s arse of that.
Graham Carr has failed in his role of chief scout. A man that has lived off the signings of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote for low fees, the father of comedian Alan Carr has become a joke in himself, with millions of pounds being wasted on unproven “potential”.
This rotten core will continue to exist during Ashley’s ownership, and the S***** D***** man will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
When things are going swimmingly on the pitch, it is easy to ignore the off-field problems, but since we’ve been so poor on the pitch, the hierarchy have gone under the microscope and been held up to account. With Benitez in charge, hopefully our fortunes can change and we will be talking about the good performances rather than the bad decisions.
The key word is IF. If Rafa keeps us in the Premier League, then we can be optimistic going into the 2016/17 campaign. If he fails to keep us up, then we are back in disarray where the club’s rotten core will be exposed for all to see yet again.
Ahead of Benitez’s first game against Leicester, it is time for optimism again.