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Why fans should even be grateful to Lee Charnley, Steve McClaren and Mike Ashley…

5 years ago

I’m never quite sure which hashtag the twitterati are using, #rafulation or #rafalution.  Both are apt, but with slightly different connotations.  It’s difficult to find a new angle from which to view the unprecedented sea change at Newcastle United, but I’ll try, and as ever please feel free to add your comments below.

The #rafalution is how I would prefer to view what is happening at SJP, #rafulation can come later, there’s plenty of time for that.

The impact of Rafa’s arrival was brief, and sadly was too late to make any material difference to the fate of the team, but his decision to remain will surely be one that has majestically long-lasting ramifications (rafamications?).  The changes that are occurring, not only in the playing staff, but in the backroom staff, the ergonomics of the workplace, the community projects and the positivity of the fans have all stemmed from the ethos of Seńor Benitez.  Without him, none of this would have happened.

I’d like to leave Rafa to one side for a moment though (sorry Boss) and focus on some of the unsung heroes, well, maybe heroes is a bit strong, but there are people who have contributed in varying ways to the impressive turnaround at our great club.

I’ll start at the top.  Whether through luck, indifference or a genius masterplan, Mike Ashley has managed to land one of world football’s finest managers (with emphasis on ‘man’, Rafa seems like a great guy), and beyond that, has given him the financial backing none of us thought possible, especially after last winter’s splurge.

I’m not suggesting we forgive Mike Ashley his ruination of the club up to this point, but credit should be attributed where appropriate, and on this point he has gone beyond what we could have realistically expected.

For some, what has come before still rankles to such an extent that they will continue to stay away from SJP, and that’s fair enough, but the sheer number of season ticket sales suggests that at some level a sticking plaster has been draped across the gaping wound of mistrust.

Put it this way, I haven’t heard much of the vitriol towards MA in recent weeks that has been deafening over the preceding 8 years or so.  Then again, it’s not the first time, but this feels…different.

On the same score, I haven’t seen the name ‘Penfold’ bandied about much, mainly because Lee Charnley has quietly gone about doing his job magnificently.  After securing Rafa he then managed to persuade him to stay, since then he has followed his instructions to the letter, trusting the knowledge of a real football man, to be fair he did the same with McClaren.

Yes, Rafa is the reason these players are signing for us, but Penfold is the reason their clubs are selling them, and at reasonable prices.  It wasn’t Rafa’s decision to reduce ticket prices, and you can bet the donkey work behind the restructuring has been carried out by Lee and his team.  Again, credit where credit is due.

I mentioned Steve McClaren.  Unlike many, I feel sorry for him.  He tried his best, he put his heart and soul into it; he just wasn’t good enough.  However, there are certain things he did do well.  The one that sticks for me is Ian Cathro (to the right in image below).  I believe that his appointment was a real coup, evidenced by Rafa’s willingness to keep him on.

If you watch the periscope videos (of team training) you will notice that Ian has a central role, and having just turned 30 (Happy Birthday) he is a real prospect for the future, I am very pleased he is still with us (I mean at the club, it goes without saying I am pleased he is still alive).  So well done Steve, you spotted an opportunity and grabbed it; and while your legacy will be a season in the Championship, there are love handles of comfort that can be gripped between gritted teeth (Christ that’s a disgusting metaphor, please don’t visualise it).

Another often pilloried figure at SJP is Alan and Jimmy’s dad.  Graham Carr has had a hit and miss success rate with players, not always his fault I hasten to add, but something he cannot be accused of is being unable to spot a bargain.

There’s a furore surrounding Moussa Sissoko right now, anger at his lung-busting performances for France at the Euros after strolling around on our hallowed turf last season.  I’m half on the fence about this, not because I thought he was amazing last season, but because I genuinely believe he is one of our best players.  His ability to sail past any defender in the league in the 90th minute should not be underestimated, his crossing ability and skill with the ball at his feet is beyond 90% of our squad.  The fact he chooses not to use that more regularly is deeply frustrating and the criticism is well-deserved, but it does not detract from the fact that he is a world-class player.

If you put aside your disgust for a moment, and remember that we bought him for circa £1.5m (less than the loan fee we paid for Facundo Ferreyra), and now we are advertising him (rightly) for circa £35m, that is a profit of £33.5m in just a couple of years.  Even if we sold him for ‘just’ £10m, that’s four Isaac Haydens.

If we realise a huge fee for him, then I would ask Mr Carr to take a bow, because that, my friends, is amazing.  Imagine if we sold a player for £500,000 as a youngster, and were now contemplating signing him back for £100m, that would be what I call a complete clusterf***.  So again, well done Graham, you are appreciated by some.

There’s one more person I’d like to thank, and that’s Ian Fate.  No, you are right, that isn’t a real person, but somehow fate has delivered us to the Championship (or Steve McClaren, but stay with me).  This will induce scoffs from Mackems, but frankly, if they are reading this far then they must be closet Mags, but I think being in the Championship is a good thing.

When we sign players from abroad, they often struggle in the Premiership.  Usually they come from, with all due respect, lesser leagues; the Segunda Division, Ligue 1, The Eredivisie etc.  or even from comparable leagues with an emphasis on beauty rather than brawn; La Liga, The Bundesliga, Serie A etc. which means they spend a season catching up with the style of football, and often in that time are written off as ‘crap’ or ‘a waste of space’ by us demanding fans.  I think Gini Wijnaldum is an example, he started strong, but it caught up with him.

I often think that if it was practical (which it never would be) we should send players on loan to the Championship or lower (we did with Olivier Bernard I recall) to give them a season of football which is more physically demanding (more games, more ‘strong’ tackles etc.) but less technical.  Again, I mean no offence by that last remark, but it was clear last time we were relegated that by keeping some Premier League quality players we were a country mile better than every other team in that league.

So to effectively send an entire team on loan to the Championship (I see this very much as temporary measure, I seriously hope I am not wrong) and bolster it with young, hungry, quickly developing players should have an immeasurably positive effect on the team.  We will come up as Champions, gelled as a team, toughened, fitter, incredibly hungry and with one of the world’s finest managers.  As fans we will have had a thoroughly enjoyable season, spanking 4,5,6 goals past teams and enjoying our re-found voice accompanied by dramatic flags and will be fuelled with new-found enthusiasm and optimism.

I have seen so many comments along the lines of ‘I can’t wait for the season to start’, it really is a complete transformation.  Roll on August 5th.  Thanks Ian Fate.

There are still a few burning sores that need to be healed; the tacky Sp***s D***ct hoardings everywhere and the loan shark sponsor being the most prominent.  I expect this is the last year of W***a’s sponsorship, and if NUFC want to sell any strips next year (by the way, this year’s is very nice, or would be) they would do well to carefully choose the name to be plastered on the front.  My suggestion is the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, or perhaps Sage, or heck, why not tempt Scottish and Newcastle back?

So, my thoughts on the #rafalution sought to praise those people beyond the man himself and his immediate team, and tried to give praise where others are reluctant to do so.

My next article is likely to be following the Fulham match, where I fully expect to be indulging in some #rafulation.

Howay the Lads!

P.S.  I just want to add another thanks.

Fabricio Coloccini has been a wonderful servant to the club, he was definitely one of my favourite players throughout the 25+ years I have supported Newcastle United.

His ability as a footballer, defensively and in terms of skill were massively underappreciated in my opinion.  He was a classy player, one of the few genuinely world class defenders we have had in my time and I think it is easy for people to forget that when they think about the last 12 months.

The thing that strikes me about him as a person is his loyalty and his bravery.  He stuck with Newcastle despite relegation, that can’t be forgotten, he could easily have jumped ship for a top European side.

Trust me, there would have been a long queue for his services.  Above that, he has a loyalty to his family, to his hometown, to his hometown club, and I think that is admirable.

It was obvious he wanted to play there before his career ended and after his friend Jonas was so cruelly mistreated, I’m sure that the fragility of life and the flash in the pan career of a footballer became very real to him, especially considering his family had already departed.  His bravery in pushing on with that move despite reluctance from NUFC is credit to him.

It seemed different from a fan’s perspective, like he was shirking his responsibilities as club captain, yes, true, but there are some responsibilities greater still.  I will remember him for his playing, his hair, his party and most of all for his loyalty.  Thank you Colo, you are an inspiration.



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