I trust the summer has been kind to all Newcastle fans in the north-east, exiles up and down the country and indeed across the globe, as we embark on yet another ten months of mayhem with this madhouse of a club.
Casting our minds back to March of this year, things looked bleak and depressing.
We had a useless half-baked manager, a disinterested owner, a largely disinterested bunch of players and an incompetent Managing Director, the results? Certain relegation, a relegation that was glaringly obvious as far back as October last year. When you fail to win a game until 18th of October and you’ve just escaped relegation two of the three previous seasons, the writing really is on the wall.
The club bizarrely limped on until mid-March and failed to see what was staring them in the face, with defeat after defeat it’s a testament to how bad the much publicized ‘Best League In The World’ is, when a club can pick up only six wins by mid April and still be in with a shout of survival. Put simply, we should have been dead and buried.
On March 11th, enter Rafa Benitez Maudes and a rescue mission was mounted, in one fell swoop positivity was back in the minds of fans and the terminal cancer that was killing the club was miraculously lifted, certain relegation was arrested and survival was distinctly possible, Rafa Benitez changed that.
It’s amazing the change of mood when all of a sudden you see someone who knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the mission was too much and relegation was confirmed, the charlatans and lazy time wasters won through and finished the job on the 7th May – co-incidentally at Villa Park – where we were relegated in 2009, proving that you can’t indeed polish a turd.
The key thing on everyone’s minds since then was one thing, would Rafa Benitez stay and begin the turnaround? Did he have enough feeling for the place and to stick with what was an awfully ran club from top to bottom?
This hinged (and still hinges) on one factor, Mike Ashley. Did HE in fact believe in change? If he did, then Rafa could go about his work unhindered. This crucially has so far happened and he does indeed seem to have realized that his ‘other wife’ requires attention. Rafa Benitez changed that.
Gone is the stupid policy of not signing experienced players to do a job, in favour of young players who can (hopefully!) turn a profit in years to come. The new policy is one of finding a balance in the team and getting players who are bought for one purpose, to make the side instantly better. Rafa Benitez changed that and it was the major change needed to stop the slide down the divisions and hopefully get away from the rough and tumble world of football in the Championship at the first attempt.
Suddenly, the season doesn’t seem to have the gloomy outlook it once did, for if Mike Ashley had continued with his plans for the club then Rafa would have left and I and many others would be resigned to Championship football, or worse, for many a season. With the personnel that got us relegated last May, simply not up to the job of scrapping it out in an under 15’s 5-aside league.
You can be as fancy as you like, or be built as strong as an ox, but if you have a heart the size of a pea and/or lack any sort of desire to play for anything other that a big fat cheque at the end of the month, the end product is going to be woeful.
Looking to Friday night and Fulham away, I can see instant positivity. Wednesday night’s phone in with Rafa on BBC Radio Newcastle was nothing if not subtly inspirational.
I could pull any soundbite or quote out of Steve McClaren or Alan Pardew and it would be worthless, the words would carry no weight or just be out and out lies. Now, I can sit down and listen to interviews or watch press conferences with an understanding of what is being said and the message that is being put across, whereas before I simply didn’t want to hear a word that came out of the manager’s mouth
Onto the news that Jamaal Lascelles is to be our new captain and the positivity continues. This lad, over the course of last season, showed exactly what I want from a captain. He wasn’t afraid to tell a few players what they were lacking and in one game in particular (Crystal Palace at home) I saw a solid, committed display and one tackle stood out for me, Connor Wickham had stolen a yard or so on him and as last man he strode back lunged in and (with my heart in my mouth) not only did he get the ball, he retained it, knowing that he’d avoided a one on one with Karl Darlow or a penalty and a red card if he has clipped the striker, the sort of tackle you see quality defenders do every week.
It may not have been anything major, but in a 22 year old, I was mighty impressed. Since then he has grown on me and certainly says the right things, as opposed to nothing at all from our previous captain.
So in summing up, we have had major changes over the summer,- a new direction the club has set itself on, the transfer policy change from Mike Ashley, the signings have been the correct ones thus far and we finally have a new found belief in the manager and now the captain. I’ll say it again, Rafa Benitez changed that.
We’ll not know immediately if we will go up at the first attempt, but I’m sure we’ll be able to judge after 10 games if the players are up for the fight and whether results will be good enough to attain this. Also, one thing is for certain, Rafa Benitez won’t need the elastic 10 games that the previous manager asked for. Once again, the benefits of getting in a manager that knows what he’s doing.
All that remains to be said is to wish everyone the best for the season ahead, from terrace to pub to armchair, wherever in the world you are supporting the team from, the future is getting brighter, negativity and indifference have been replaced with hope and optimism and I for one will look forward to watching matches again.
Fans of other clubs may think he hasn’t done anything at this club yet, but I can tell them straight- Rafa has!
Howay The Lads!