Okay, let’s clear this up about Rafa Benitez.
He is absolutely blameless in our relegation last season and is no way responsible for what happened. Yes he was in charge on the night it happened but to put the blame on him in any way is extremely unfair.
Mackem punters (and others) will point to the fact that when Rafa took the reins at Newcastle in March we were one point from safety with two games in hand and still had to play the bottom three teams. Our destiny was in our own hands.
How our local rivals love hanging on to that and use it as a stick to beat Rafa Benitez, saying the Spaniard isn’t the ‘messiah we think he is’.
Let’s look at this objectively though. Last season Big Sam had more time to organise his players for the fight. He was able to purchase players to shore up his defence. Rafa did not.
I defy anyone to tell me Sunderland wouldn’t have brought someone of Benitez’ experience and stature to lift the club if they could have.
He was the only choice for us. Here was a man who could give us hope, and maybe if you’re cynical, distract the fanbase from getting on the backs of people in the boardroom. Putting all of that aside, getting Rafael Benitez was clearly a coup for the club. Of course it was.
It was the boost the club needed in a season of frustration and gloom. It was an afternoon that changed everything.
We were a car crash club heading absolutely only one way but it wasn’t just about letting go of the previous regime. It was a critical decision about who was the right man to take the club forward.
We all knew that McClaren had to go but they’d already left it too late. We should have pulled the plug after the 5-1 thrashing to Chelsea. We needed to change and we needed to change things there and then. Those two to three weeks could have been the very difference between ensuring premier league football and going down.
Results are what they are and managers will always be judged by them but it really seems harsh to judge Rafa on the basis of 10 games. Benitez never asked to be judged on those first 10 games, unlike Steve McClaren.
It was a grim situation and perhaps one that could never be recovered. Rafa Benitez knew he was taking a gamble but he took it on because he really thought he could make the difference with the players that we had – there’s no doubt in my mind he did make a difference. Unfortunately, too much damage was done under the previous management.
As for the games…Newcastle lost a tight match to the eventual Premier League champions, stopped the rot in the tyne wear derby, came up just short in a thrilling game at Norwich we could very easily have won. The lowest point undoubtedly the Southampton game where we limped to 3-1 defeat.
This was the point where things really started to change. I accept the irony that of course it wasn’t enough in the end, but to return 12 points on a six game unbeaten spell, including some of the best teams in the Premier League, was no mean feat.
We’re all disappointed we went down for the second time in seven years but the writing was probably on the wall after the Norwich game – even if I didn’t want to admit it, I knew we were down.
Of course I was gutted when we went down but I now had hope in the form of Rafa Benitez that in the long run it would be okay. There would not be disaster in the long-term the pundits were predicting for United.
Here’s hoping Rafa will lead us back to the Premier League and stay for a considerable time, who knows, but please don’t put the blame of Newcastle United’s relegation on his shoulders.
You can follow the author on Twitter @jonniegrieve.