The biggest news since Newcastle United played their last Premier League match at SJP on the 15th of May, was the will-he won’t-he confirmation of Rafa Benitez as Manager for the next three seasons.
His employment made sense from all sides, the supporters had made it clear during our 5-1 thumping of Spurs that no one but Rafa would do in the hot seat, so much so that in many ways the job was an impossible job to take on for anyone else.
From the club’s point of view, it was imperative that someone who knew something about football was in charge of the football bit. Though many called for the head of Lee Charnley he seems to have Ashley’s back on the financial side of the club, the only downfall in the plan was that he knows nothing about football, so it makes sense to allow to get on with the job of copying and pasting into spreadsheets and letting a Champions League winning Manager get on with organising the football teams.
In many ways it was a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for Charnley and Ashley and though I’m sure they thought long and hard about doing something stupid, like bringing back Joe Kinnear or taking Neil Warnock up on his offer to do the job on the cheap, in the end, I think even a couple of planks like them realised Benitez was just too good to let go.
Let us hope that all of the promises they made weren’t empty ones.
It was a tough few weeks for Benitez as his current club were relegated and his last club won the Champions League for the 11th time after embarking on an unbeaten run under his replacement Zidane. Everyone had their say on Rafa’s next career move, even Fat Sam along the road put in his two pounds of lard. To be fair, his thoughts were more constructive and open-minded than the likes of Jose Mourinho, who lauded Real Madrid’s Champions League win despite the supposed mess Benitez left Real in:
“If Zidane wins the Champions League then everyone will forget about the problems that the club experienced pre-Christmas before the change of coach and the enduring memory will be that of an 11th European Cup win. Zizou has got his team to the Champions League final and for a team with an indifferent start that presents a massive opportunity to gloss over the season as a whole.”
Jose himself has found a new job recently so he probably doesn’t have to spout his toss in the papers to keep himself in the public eye any more. He supposedly told Kieron Dyer last weekend that he was pleased NUFC had been relegated because the fans were always up for beating Chelsea when he was manager there, which is true, though most of those games were equally as important to the Magpies as they were to Chelsea, it wasn’t just because it was him, or just because it was them.
I’ve always wondered what would have happened to Jose’s career had he come to SJP with Bobby Robson. At the time Jose claimed that coming to Tyneside as a coach would be a step down, supposedly saying that “no one thinks of me as a Number Two.” Well, most people do now.
Not all those with a Real Madrid connection criticised Rafa. Real gave him a reported 700k for his part in their Champions League success and Real Madrid and CBeebies star Pepe Pig piped up:
“Benitez is a great professional and has good coaching methods, but was unlucky. Luck is needed in order to be successful regardless of the amount of work you put in. Rafa was honest with me – I was not a part of his ideal starting defence, but I asked him to give me a chance to prove myself.”
Nice to see there is an off the pitch yin to the monster than it is his on the pitch yang.
Pepe Pig and the European Cup
After the end of the season Newcastle released seven players, the only first team player being Steven Taylor. A player whose early promise was never fulfilled, Taylor’s career mirrored the Newcastle United team he played in, consistently good for short periods of time, consistently awful for short periods of time, missing for the rest. His 265 appearances in black and white since 2004, show he was a 20 games a season man with an injury track record which became increasingly poor. At times that 20 games a season was a huge loss to the team, at others times that 20 games a season was 15 too many.
He’ll probably always be remembered for the wrong reasons at SJP: putting more effort into the fist-pumping pre-match routine than the actual match, getting laced by Andy Carroll, that sending off against Aston Villa, but there were far, far worse performers than him at SJP during his 12 year reign and he always showed that he knew the club was about more than him and for those reasons I am sad to see him go.
For the first time since 2004 I also have faith that we have a manager who will replace him with a more effective performer and for that reason I am happy to see him leave. Steven Taylor will know how well he has played for NUFC by the quality of team that comes in for him. I think he’ll be disappointed.
As for those not released, the frenzy for big-time Charlies to jump ship has started to heat up. Ex-Captain Coloccini was the first to reportedly want to go South and there will be few who will stand in his way as he angles for a return to Argentina, which isn’t far enough away from our first team if you ask me.
Though he’ll probably go for free, the same can’t be said for Moussa Sissoko, our first player of the summer to say he wanted to go to Arsenal, though presumably most of them do. Sissoko would fit right in at Arsenal, under-achievers that they are but he’d do well to be mindful of what happened to Debuchy when he went there, benched and then loaned out, first choice French full-back to nowhere near the squad in just a year.
Likewise Yohan Cabaye when he tried to force a move to the Emirates, dropped and fined, went to PSG, ended up at Palace and back then out of the French squad after not playing for virtually a whole season.
Sissoko is an expert at not playing for virtually a whole season, that’s what he was like this year, so perhaps Arsenal would be a perfect move for him. For what it is worth, Rafa has said that he wants Sissoko to stay and the player himself played better under Benitez than at any other point in his career in black and white, so if Sissoko wants to “continue his development” he should stay here, he “developed” more in the last 3 weeks than he did in the previous 3 years.
We’ve heard press rumblings from Mitro, Georgie and Tim Krul as well about potential moves but one player who seems to be genuinely interested in staying is Andros Townsend. The former Spurs winger was our only representative in the English provisional Euro 2016 squad and despite some decent performances in friendlies, he didn’t make the final 23 man squad. Townsend himself seems fairly balanced about it all, consistently pointing out that only a few months ago he wasn’t playing for Tottenham reserves so only just missing out on the England squad shows how far he has come in such a short time.
His encouraging late season performances and public utterances thanking everyone around NUFC for his resurrection, will hopefully mean that he stays and contributes to a promotion winning season next season. I think our team will be a much better one with him in it and so does Rafa Benitez if press reports of a better contract are to be believed.
Paul Dummett also missed out on the Welsh Euro 2016 squad leaving our only representative in the tournament as Moussa Sissoko, though how much game time the Frenchman gets in the tournament and whether he’ll still be a Newcastle player by the time France get knocked out are both open to question. Dummett probably lost his place in the squad because of too many injuries at key times in the qualifying campaign, a season playing in the Championship will probably do Dummett some good, if he can stay fit. It’s just a pity that year is in our team and not out on loan with someone else.
The same can be said for a few of our first team: Mitro, Perez, Lascelles, Mbemba and Darlow are all fairly young players who could do without getting beaten every week whilst simultaneously being deserted by their more experienced colleagues.
Other youngsters like Adam Armstrong, Freddie Woodman and Kevin Mbabu likewise will probably be closer to the first team in the Championship than they would in the Premier League and that will be vital for their improvement and also for the improvement of an academy that seems to have been even worse than our first team over the past two years. Another thing for Rafa to sort out then.
Still, one of the youngsters has signed a new contract, Kevin Mbabu who agreed to stay in Toon for two more years. Those two years should give the 21 year old Swiss the chance to at least double his three first team appearances so far if his injury record is anything to go by.
As for signings from outside the club, one of our prospective transfer signings chose to retire rather than sign for us, which is encouraging, Daniel Agger throwing in the towel because he no longer “wants it” is something a few of our players did on the pitch last season.
Thankfully the Euros has kept much of the transfer activity speculation out of the papers meaning that not only do we not have to read about the £800million that Manchester City are going to spend, we also don’t have to read about West Ham, Crystal Palace or Tottenham buying all of our players or a load of strikers “more suited to the Championship” being courted by our new boss.
We already have enough strikers “more suited to the Championship” judging by last season’s performances, what we need is strikers “more suited to scoring goals”.
We do have to sit through the continued championing of Northern Ireland striker Will Grigg, the Wigan player who is “on fire”, according to the song which burst into some sort of top 10 earlier this month. Presumably the person who made up our version first, stating that “Mitro’s on fire” will be able to take legal action against the Wigan fan, similar to that which cost Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke $5million earlier this year after a court ruled that they had plagiarised Marvin Gaye. Perhaps not, but if Will Grigg is indeed on fire, this ‘heat map’ of his performance against Poland shows that his fire has been contained for now:
And what about the real footballing issues of the day, the Premier League Manager caught with his trousers down and his High Court Injunction to stop everyone in England finding out who it is!
Well I guess we’ll never get to find out his identity, unless we live in Scotland. And what has it got to do with NUFC? Nothing that I know of, unless you live in Scotland.