I am in love. Head over heels in love. And I am not ashamed to admit it.
I am not one of these stiff upper lip, “must supress all emotion” kind of guys.
Well perhaps I was – but not anymore.
Not since Rafa Benitez came into my life.
The below doesn’t cover any new ground. You’ve most likely read it all before. If you’re anything like me though, you’ll enjoy reading it just as much as I am going to enjoy writing it.
That’s not me trying to blow my own trumpet. It’s just that the mere thought of our very own #spanishmessiah makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and sends a shiver down my spine.
You’re the same. I know you are.
And to think I’ve stood in the Strawberry corner with the rest of you barking out the not so witty “fat Spanish waiter” ditty at our current supremo.
A thousand pardons Rafael.
Everything the bloke does is spot on. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. He’s brought pride back to our city. We are united once more.
We have no divine right to win anything, and, contrary to what the media constantly trot out, we don’t believe we do.
Anyone who has visited the North East knows that. Nevertheless, it’s too easy for so called pundits to fire a few cheap shots.
The same pundits who sit and blandly churn out stats from crib sheets some poor sod with an infinitely deeper knowledge of the beautiful game has put together for them.
Anyway, enough of that. That’s another story altogether.
Where were we. Ah yes, Rafa. What a guy. The ex-Liverpool boss just oozes class. He’s flipped NUFC on its head. From top to bottom.
From being that relative we all keep visiting out of a sense of obligation despite, all of a sudden we proudly walk down the street with them on one arm.
As the Times so eloquently put it, Newcastle United was masquerading as a football club for so long.
Not anymore. Gone are the days of Pardew’s drivel, of Carver’s lip licking and of replacing prized assets with cheap knock-offs.
No stone has been left unturned in Benitez’s overhaul. No detail too small or insignificant.
There is now a coherence throughout the club. From the very youngest right through to the seniors. They all prepare the same way. There is a football ethos.
The academy and reserves train at the Academy. The first team training ground is exactly that. Something for those on the fringes to aim for. An honour to be invited along to grace the turf with the big boys.
Can you imagine the excitement of being given the nod to attend first team training? The pride. The heart pounding against the chest. What a feeling that must be.
The training ground has been given a much needed facelift.
The staff are all singing off the same hymn sheet and no longer have to pay for their own training gear.
Ticket offers have been designed to entice the next generation of fans to SJP and have led to sell-out crowds.
Youth tournaments are up and running in an attempt to nurture local talent and to rebuild frayed relationships with the local community
Benitez rightly got the manager of the month award for October but whereas some (no names mentioned Alan) would have basked in the personal glory, Rafa Benitez insisted his entire coaching staff were involved in any subsequent interviews and photo shoots. It was their award as well.
And then just when you thought he could do no more, he pulls another rabbit out of the hat.
On a typical North East November’s day, the Spaniard and his assistant spent the day visiting some of our region’s most historic sites. The Angel, Durham Cathedral, the City castle etc. al.
The gent just gets it. It isn’t just the city that is buzzing. It is the region. The toon church spreads far wider than just NE1 after all.
Things don’t look too bad on the pitch either. A 9 match winning streak and a winnable cup quarter final are a start. You get the sense he wants more though.
With cover in every position, and decent cover at that, under Rafa’s stewardship we look well equipped to bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
And after that, who knows.
Don’t mistake the former Galactico boss’ charm for being soft though.
There is a steel and a burning desire to win behind those eyes. Not one to suffer fools gladly, expect ruthlessness when it comes to shaping the squad for next season should we achieve our aim.
Some who have played an awful lot this year may find themselves out of the picture.
But they won’t be frozen out. There will be no sheepish phone calls via someone else’s mobile. Things will be done properly. And those shipped on will always look back at their time under the Spaniard’s guidance fondly. That you can be sure of.