What a difference a bit of control makes
You’d think we were starting the season as Premier League title favourites with the feel good factor that is running through Tyneside….
In fact we are starting the season in the Championship, relegated and opening our campaign against Fulham away before welcoming Huddersfield to St. James’ Park. However, I am not trying to put a damper on things; as I am genuinely excited for the start of this upcoming season in the second tier of English football. In fact I am more excited than I was last season where we played the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal in the opening month.
The reason for this is I feel we finally have a sense of direction, someone who ‘gets it’ in the form of Rafa Benitez. He’s come in and within the first month of his first full season in charge of the Toon:
He’s gone to the top and asked for changes to be made to the training facilities.
Started to address the lack of defensive cover that has haunted us for years.
Already brought in youngsters and trialists to an underperforming youth system.
He’s under no illusion of the task ahead of him, but the simple statement that actions are louder than words could not be more accurate in this scenario.
I know they have their critics, but part of me does feel a fair bit of sympathy towards Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren; they came in under a cloud – not the fans’ choice and contracted to a very specific recruitment system that was successful the season we finished fifth, however evidence quickly emerged that this system was indeed a ‘one hit wonder’.
Pardew repeatedly spoke to the media about attacking and defensive transfer targets which never arrived, requests which fell on the deaf ears of the transfer committee (who only pulled the trigger when the target was at a bargain price).
Pardew’s game plans would often seem to work; we’d go on runs beating teams we weren’t supposed to, however one injury to a player (usually in a defensive position) and it would all come crumbling down. The winning runs would turn to embarrassing runs of record defeats, as teams exploited our lack of depth week after week.
Despite him signing an eight year contract, you never felt it was going to last; the Russian roulette of challenging each season with a wafer thin squad always seemed to fire a rather nasty bullet towards the end.
It is refreshing to see Rafa come in and demand control, demand a right to work in conditions he deems acceptable. He’s worked at some of the biggest names in world football, he knows what it takes to be successful and the challenge he has at Newcastle will be completely different to any other challenge he’s ever embarked on.
When he committed to the cause and confirmed he’d be staying despite our relegation, I was expecting to see a flood of players from La Liga coming over to Tyneside with a curiosity to sample the hype (and wages) around English football. Instead Benitez has identified the lack of dressing room culture and brought in the likes of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie; hardworking players who have played their way up the leagues and still have something to prove.
When the likes of Cabaye and Sissoko arrived, on paper it seemed good value; French Internationals wanting to show themselves on the Premier League’s global platform, who would pretty much guarantee re-sale profit (both were purchased in low-cost deals due to their contracts expiring/release clauses).
However, when a player is openly admitting that they are using the move as a stepping stone to something bigger, you know it’s always going to end in tears. Training ground strikes, using the media to demand a transfer or discussing how ‘beautiful Arsenal are’ all disrupt the changing room morale.
You could argue that most clubs in modern day football are a stepping stone to something ‘better’, that’s fine, so the challenge is to find those players that think differently perhaps. Professionals with a hard work ethic that pinch themselves at the experience instead of looking for the next payday. Those who perhaps love the sport more than the sports cars.
Easier said than done, but in Benitez you have a man who coached his local school team after leaving Real Madrid. A man who spent part of his honeymoon watching training sessions and explained the concept of a 4-4-2 formation on his first date with his wife.
In Rafa Benitez we have a man who does simply love the sport. His control now, hopefully, enables him to find a squad and coaching team around him that share his passion.
You can follow the author on Twitter @SYoungLopez.