It’s a day that sticks in the memory.
I was sat in the Milburn Stand. I found myself with a prime view from the Platinum Club seats.
Below me on the pitch, the first glimpse I got was a shock of white hair. We arose to cheer the man. The way he waved to the crowd even oozed class. I recall a hanky was strategically placed in the breast pocket of his suit. He strode onto the pitch, acknowledged the crowd, but never overly milked it.
It was September 1999 and Newcastle United had just appointed Bobby Robson as their manager. This was his first home game. Sheffield Wednesday were smashed to bits that day. Eight goals plundered.
The memory is so vivid. Robson had an instant impact. Not just in terms of likability or personality, though they were a given, but mainly on his tactical acumen.
Gone was the Gullit shambles. Players knew their jobs, individually and collectively. The senior players stood up to be counted and the younger lads played with much enthusiasm.
Bobby Robson was a manager who knew how to set up a team to score goals. Over time I came to take that era for granted.
It was only when the decision was taken to fire Bobby Robson that it dawned on me we may never see his like again. There followed a succession of managers, two relegations, and a club that looked broken.
However, out of the blue, someone in charge decided it was time to actually get something right. Rafa Benitez enters the fray (ED: Having reportedly initiated contact himself with the club through intermediaries to say he would be interested).
March 2016 was when this all began, as if we can forget. Unable to stave off relegation, ten games wasn’t enough time to work, though he nearly did it. That he decided to stay was a pivotal moment in the history of Newcastle United Football Club.
Now we stand atop of the second tier. It’s a really good position.
If anything, in this last week, more than any other, I’ve seen shades of that Robson era emerging.
Benitez, right at the eye of the storm, has overseen two tactical master classes, first at Brighton, then at Huddersfield. All the components are there. He deserves ten out of ten. The decision making, the selections, the set-up, the man management, the buy-in from the players. You gets what you pay for.
It has all come together beautifully in what has been a colossal week. This the closest we’ve been to Robson in terms of a man in charge who you can put genuine faith in to build a team and a club. This ain’t no sticking plaster. In many ways Rafa Benitez is already carrying the club, and a whole city, just as Robson did.
There have been been a few bumps along the road. He is just one man after all…but what a truly clever and gifted strategist. This is the manager who claimed a 3-1 win at Huddersfield with 24% of the possession.
The promotion job isn’t complete yet but the finishing line is now in sight. Should they go on to complete it, we’ll be back in with the big boys and have Rafa at the helm.
It has the potential to be very exciting. The hierarchy have to give him a decent budget and autonomy to set up a team that can get points in the Premier League.
If he completes the promotion task it would be an act of monumental folly not to back the manager in any way that they can. Mr Ashley?
For now we can marvel at the tactical genius in the NUFC dugout. He’s not Bobby Robson of course but a definite kindred spirit who could really take this football club places, if he’s allowed to keep working in his own way.
We’re lucky to have him. Best of luck for the run-in, Rafa.
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