I am fairly sure that each of us looked at the team sheet against Swansea and only thought expletives at the Rafa Benitez selection — residual left-over of tactically moronic managers (excuse me, head coaches) of yesteryear.
It is very obvious to each of us that the buckling of the Newcastle United Football Club edifice is due to some interior structural fragility; that is to say that instead of using steel beams, the club has used something akin to paper mache or gum.
If there is anything to take away from these past two games it is this question:
‘Is Rafael Benitez the architect that can rebuild this club to its former glory?’
Rafa has imposed his will upon this club before he even arrived to take his obligatory first picture at St. James Park, as it was widely reported that he agreed to come to Newcastle under the pretense that he would have major control over transfers in and out.
Ashley has since said that there will be a major inquiry into the club’s “back-office” this off-season whether we stay up or not. Does Rafa get a say in that? I guess only time will tell, but this can be seen as nothing short of imperative.
Rafa has built perennial winners essentially everywhere he has gone, and someone might look at his tenure at Real Madrid as a failure — but anyone that knows anything about Real Madrid recognizes that the environment is toxic there. So it would be to the benefit of the club to get Rafa’s input on say, a scout, someone that knows the kind of player that Rafa wants to build a club around.
Since Rafa Benitez arrived, the tactics of each match have improved. It is probably important to point out, that while people might shame us for speaking out against formation it was seemingly the only way to change the tactics of the previous three managers.
Hell, McClaren somehow got a 3-5-2 formation, a “high-flying attack” formation, to be negative. Benitez has proven that the 4-2-3-1 is not, inherently, a “negative” formation; or rather, that a “defensive” formation is not inherently “negative”.
Previous negative play was due to poor tactical acumen and it was obvious to the players (and the rest of us). The squad is definitely showing they trust Rafa’s tactics and believe in the Spaniard, they are moving forward more often. I do not think it is a stretch to say that players are more likely to play “negatively” in a system they do not believe in because without the ball, they have no idea what could happen, especially when the defense is so disorganized.
The right player selection cures organisational woes on the pitch. Jamaal Lascelles has proven that he has what it takes to organize a patchwork back four. The team is communicating, and it would seem that the forward players trust the defensive players a bit more. Would Lascelles have even come out and chastised his team mates if he did not trust Rafa would have his back and hold others accountable?
It is hard to imagine Lascelles speaking up under a different manager, and that is not to take anything away from Lascelles’ obvious natural leadership ability. Someone that has only started seven games this season took a whole team to task in the dressing room and in public. . . I cannot imagine a player doing that without some kind of managerial support behind him.
The resurrection of Moussa Sissoko was recognized by Benitez as mandatory for any chance of survival. I have always liked Sissoko, and I stuck by him this year and last year — I will admit that until he put on the captain armband and started trying I was turning on him, I was fed up.
In my last article I called him world class, and I stick by that.
Benitez has proven himself a great player-manager. . . He went toe to toe with Ronaldo at Real Madrid, that takes a bit of guts (especially when you consider pi**ing off Ronaldo could have very easily costed him his job).
I am sure players at Newcastle know that, and the likes of Shelvey, Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Mitrovic etc. know that if the Gaffer is not afraid to call out arguably the best player in the world, then their spots in the starting eleven are not safe. There will be no prima-donnas in a Rafa Benitez team, they all will be subject to scrutiny and dismemberment.
I fully expect him to keep/want players he deems “coachable/manageable”. He has set a precedent: if you do not perform, you will sit. The all important brick for the foundation of a hard-working team.
Rafa Benitez also has the reputation of a winner, and a manager with ambition. This alone will make Newcastle a much more enticing club to players we are trying to recruit. It is possible, if we stay up, that we might see the best crop of players to come into St. James Park in a while.
A lot of players in England love to play at St. James Park, and it is considered one of the best atmospheres in England — that combined with the ‘Benitez effect’ could make some players choose Newcastle over some other clubs. I know the city does not offer the ‘bright lights’ of London, or the pay days from the Manchester clubs, but at Newcastle you might just become a legend and with a manager that clearly has sights on Europe anything is possible.
I suppose that I should answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article.
They say that a Rafa Benitez team is ‘hard to beat’ — I think that Manchester City game this past Tuesday has proved that. Well, I would say that ‘hard to beat’ is foundational to winning football matches. If it is hard to score, it is hard to win. It may be early in the Benitez tenure as manager of Newcastle, but all signs point to his ability to fix what has been broken at this club. That is not to say that our problems with Ashley will disappear, and that there will be some sort of reconciliation with our fat cat owner; however, at least we might have a team that does more than tries, it might WIN.
Ashley will be problematic for as long as he owns the club, but that does not ensure the fact that we will be destined to lose or be cast to mid-table obscurity. Rafa Benitez has ambition, and he was hired given the reassurance that the club would back his ambition. It is impossible to build towards something, if you have no idea what that something is. Benitez ensures that there is one vision going forward, as he has been “entrusted” with enough power in the club for that to happen.
I know some might say, “I’ll believe it when I see it” (totally understandable), but I do believe that if we stay up, this summer will bring a lot of surprises regarding how our football club is run. Alan Shearer has stated that Benitez has given the fans and the club “hope”, and someone we can trust. I’ve never trusted a manager for this club (albeit, I am a fairly new fan), and I would guess that the last manager we had that was trust-worthy would be Sir Bobby Robson.
Everyone picks a starting 11 for their respective teams for each game, it’s a fun thing to do. For the Liverpool match, I’m not picking a team. I’ll pick whatever Rafa picks — that is something I have never done. I have always scrutinized a line-up. I trust Rafa though.
I trust that he will pick a team that he can get the most out of. The mere fact that he can accomplish that imperative (but minimal) goal makes him a great manager — and different than all of our managers for a long time.
So can Rafa Benitez be the architect that could rebuild this club? I would say undoubtedly so.
He has every skill to do so, and has shown glimpses of those skills since he has taken over the helm. The sample size is small, but he has given no indication that he can’t do it.
It will be a big test this weekend, the players have got to be riding high after the last couple of games though and I fully expect a decent showing at Liverpool.
I just hope that the effort for these last four games stays the same/we collect some points, so we can watch Rafa rebuild our club.