So there we have it, April 24 2017 St James Park, Newcastle United confirmed as a Premier League club again at the first time of asking and didn’t the scenes at the end of the game do the occasion justice.
Forget the drudgery of many games this season, Rafa Benitez has micro-managed this Championship campaign to suit the division we’re in. It hasn’t always been pretty, it hasn’t always been emphatic, but who can complain at the final outcome?
Before a ball was kicked in August, so-called experts, pundits and detractors pointed out that Rafa hadn’t managed in the Championship and wouldn’t be able to handle a 46 game slog in the English second tier. They were right on the former but incorrect on the latter, Rafa couldn’t have predicted that referees would be so inept on so many occasions to the point of spoiling matches week in week out.
Referees down in this league could do well to go and officiate at pub level, they’d certainly get their ears bent in the bar after the final whistle if they turned in performances like Nottingham Forest away, or Burton at home, to name but two.
There has also been an element of the opposition bringing our players down to their level on more than a few occasions, with lesser players willing to strong-arm their way into games and try any way they can to force matches in their favour. This is fine but someone has to find a way to beat these tactics. If the referees aren’t going to clamp down on fierce play then the manager has to try his utmost to get something out of certain games and Rafa has certainly done that more often than not this season, highlighted by our quite excellent away record.
Of course the title is still up for grabs, although I’m not expecting it, it would be a nice way to send off the supporters against Barnsley on May 7th.
Comparisons abound with Kevin Keegan’s promotion side in 1992/93, charismatic ex-Liverpool character who doesn’t need to save a struggling club, but risks his reputation for the love of a project and importantly the love of the fans.
The fight Rafa may have with the club owner is still to come but where Kevin decided to up sticks and stamp his feet, isn’t mirrored with Rafa. Rafa Benitez has played the politics of the situation impeccably well. He didn’t get what he wanted in January but kept on with the task in hand, whereas I’m not sure Keegan would have. Instead Rafa has stage-managed his popularity with Newcastle fans from the start, always applauding, saying the right things and always looking at the next game, regardless of setbacks.
The league hasn’t been plain sailing, the home form has certainly cost us being crowned champions weeks ago, but to reiterate, this league is not the league of 1992-93, it’s isn’t even the same league as 2009-10.
We’ve had injuries to top scorers, suspensions to key players, hit and miss form from so called ‘big players’ and I’m sure the manager will have took a mental note of all this when planning for next season in the Premier League, for if some of them struggle to perform at this level, then it’s time they were shipped out and we as a club move on without them.
Personally, the core group of players I’d build a side around are Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark, DeAndre Yedlin, Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle.
I also don’t see a problem in retaining Christian Atsu, Isaac Hayden, Paul Dummett, Yoan Gouffran, Ayoze Perez and Vurnon Anita as squad men, as we can’t simply just go out and scrap a whole 20-odd man squad.
This would leave a summer recruitment consisting of 4-6 players – first team players, which I believe would be fair for where the club is at present. I hope the owner agrees or there will be trouble ahead.
I’ve heard the constant rumour mill of players we are supposed to be linked with.
Tom Cairney, Ryan Shawcross, Andros Townsend and (with a little snigger) Jermaine Defoe. All of the above except young Cairney would encounter problems with the transfer policy at Newcastle and I don’t see Defoe crossing the divide – but certainly if those type of players were brought on board I’d be delighted.
Of course rumours are rumours and Rafa will have his own ideas and that’s what happens when you hire a top manager, he just needs to be allowed to get on with it.
Seeing Rafa walking the pitch after Preston was great to watch and I have to say it reminded me of another former manager, Sir Bobby Robson. He too came to the club when he didn’t need to, Bobby could’ve pitched up camp at Durham Cricket Club, swung a few golf clubs about Europe in his twilight years and took it easy.
The fact that he didn’t means that he saw something that needed putting right and weren’t we grateful he did.
That Rafa has decided the same thing is also all the more pleasurable on the basis that he’s not from the area, had no connection with the supporters, but saw that they were very similar to the Liverpool fans that adore him, they simply love their football.
Another thing that impressed me on Monday night was the sight of Rafa going round and thanking what seemed like every single person behind the scenes at St James Park, he didn’t seem to want to leave anyone out, a shared experience in the success of promotion.
The one thing that always annoys me, is that we probably hired Sir Bobby at least three years too late. The project he built he was very unlikely to see to it’s conclusion. He built a side for his successor to enjoy the success of, more’s the pity the club handed it to a complete buffoon.
In Rafa we have someone who at 57, can (if he’s allowed and if he wants to) start a project and see it to a more outright conclusion.
Muchas Gracias Rafa Benitez and best of luck for next season.
Over to you Mr Ashley…
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