Rafa Benitez achieving the near impossible?
Still a long way to go this season for Newcastle United to reclaim their rightful place in the premier league. After ten games in the Championship most though would agree that Newcastle United seem to be sitting in a pretty good position, especially after the result at home to Norwich City on Wednesday evening.
Make no mistake about it, the win against Norwich City was brought about as Newcastle United are now a club where everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction. That win was only possible as the fans and the players all believe 100% in the man who is now making the major football decisions at the club.
Rafa Benitez has divided opinion with his constant rotation policy, along with his continued selection of a goalkeeper who looks as if he is taking some time to get used to the challenges of English football. Much of the talk before Wednesday evening was the need to play two up front and how Mitrovic or Murphy need to come in to play alongside Gayle or Perez, as the Gayle/Diame combination didn’t seem to be working as we had all hoped.
Understandable thoughts from fans and pundits alike as Newcastle seem to have been labouring for results since the QPR whitewash. There have been times this season when Gayle has struggled to make an impact on games but how he rewarded his manager’s faith on Wednesday evening with a match winning hat-trick.
I and others were calling for a Mitrovic/Perez combination up top and I still believe this combination has a huge part to play this season. Although Gayle is a classy finisher I had my doubts about him, as he is 25 years of age now and if he was going to make it to the really top level then surely he would have done it by now. Mitrovic (22) and Perez (23) have time on their side and are still developing but I would be delighted for Gayle to prove me wrong and become the top marksmen that Newcastle have been crying out for.
Rafa also took the decision to play Karl Darlow in goal instead of Matt Sels, many believe this change should have been made some time ago. Rafa made it on Wednesday night and by making the change now he has shown fans that he is not so stubborn as to refuse to make changes in order to justify his previous selection decisions. Most fans feel that he got that one right despite Darlow conceding three. The club’s fans seem to finally be able to place their trust in a man to make the correct decisions most of the time and what more can we ask for?
This trust and belief and togetherness then carries itself from the terraces onto the pitch in a way not seen at St James Park for a number of years. This trust has not been instant and has developed over time and includes a pre-season and the summer transfer window.
Earlier in the season I was extremely disappointed to see Adam Armstrong farmed off on loan to Barnsley, as I have high hopes for the young Geordie making the grade and believe he needs a chance to show what he can do. His replacement, a 33 year old journeyman who had hardly lit up the stage with either Sunderland or Celtic. I thought to myself, if Armstrong doesn’t get a go in the championship for Newcastle then when will he ever get a go? He will just become another talented youngster who drifts down the leagues like many who come through the ranks at bigger clubs such as Chelsea etc.
However, I now understand and completely agree with the decision that was made by Rafa and his coaching staff. Armstrong is getting valuable game time at a level similar to his parent club, whereas he would have been behind Mitrovic, Gayle and Perez if he had stayed. Bringing in someone like Murphy with his experience and Championship know how has shown what a shrewd manager Benitez is. With his experience of the league and approach to leading the line, I am sure that not only will Murphy provide the squad with much needed competition for places but also has a proven goal scoring record at this level. I am convinced he will also have a positive impact on teaching the much younger Mitrovic the nuances of being a striker in the English game.
Finally, the way Rafa handled the transfer market during the summer window was nothing short of remarkable. He held firm with the Sissoko deal when Daniel Levy tried to pick the club’s pocket, he also did a deal early with Wijnaldum to avoid the pressure of having to sell two big name players late in the window.
By getting the players in through the door early he also avoided the inevitable price hike from the selling club of your target when you receive big money for a player. Clearing out the squad but rewarding players who he saw something in that were discarded by the previous regime, is what really separates the great managers from the pretenders we have had in the dugout over the last few seasons.
How many people would have honestly had Gouffran playing such an important role this season, most would have driven him back to France, but he trained hard and acted professionally and Rafa rewarded him. He has been outstanding this season so credit must go to both him and Rafa.
Scoring two goals in injury time to beat your closest rivals for promotion after being 3-2 down at home is not lucky or a coincidence. It is belief in a man who everyone knows can make a difference.
Players and fans are united in their view that they have somebody who knows what he is doing, leading the way, and when that happens…amazing, remarkable things tend to occur, like what we saw on Wednesday night.
Long may it continue.
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