Rafa Benitez playing the ultimate mind game
Following last term’s emotional rollercoaster promotion season, Tyneside was buzzing once again.
From the Bigg Market to Eldon Square, a pride not seen since the reigns of Kings Keegan and Robson had finally returned, the streets and bars of Newcastle were once again engulfed with black and white euphoria. The dense fog of previous seasons had finally lifted, the messiah sat proudly on the throne, Newcastle was once more united. The deep fog that shrouded the ambition, pride and respect of Tyneside had finally lifted.
Or so we thought.
Having been privy to several in-depth interviews this week concerning the current uncertainty surrounding our beloved Toon, several things are abundantly clear. For all the love and pride that Rafa Benitez has re-instilled into Newcastle United, it is going to take some considerable time for the scepticism and mistrust of a decade of turbulence to truly dissipate. For the fans, it is somewhat exasperating to have that deep-rooted feeling that the black and white rug could well be pulled from under us once again.
Other than a brief fortuitous interlope into the top five by Alan Pardew, we’ve had little to sing about over the past seasons. From Roeder to Allardyce, Kinnear, Pardew, Carver and McClaren we’ve fallen woefully short of the mark season after season.
From once being Fortress St James’, a stadium where no opposition wished to do battle – and that includes the Man Us, Chelseas and Arsenals of the realm- to being the near guaranteed six pointers for teams in the upper echelons of the Premier league, the mighty had truly fallen. Goliath was now certainly nailed on for an easy battle against the meek and timid David and his black and white sling.
Following the sacking of ex England manager Steve McClaren, after a tenure that saw him win just six of twenty eight Premier League games, and a third straight defeat – the 3-1 humbling to Bournemouth at St James’ Park – he was rightfully gone. Although he remained confident we would have stayed in the league, he was alone in that opinion! The club was going backwards at an alarming pace.
Gary Lineker summed it up perfectly: “The running of that great football club is beyond shambolic.”
As the world press watched on we had become a joke – from the pitch, to the boardroom and now the fans: ‘How dare Newcastle fans demand a team that play with pride, courage and conviction. How very dare they!’ Those fickle, fickle fans.
And then everything changed! The stars aligned, our lottery numbers came up and suddenly, gob smackingly, there was Rafael Benitez – Champions league winning manager – standing proudly in our very own cathedral, holding aloft the scarf.
Despite the fact he failed to keep us up, he did something far more important.
Rafael Benitez reunited the Toon.
Fast forward to May 2017. A rollercoaster season came to an end with the most exhilarating finale. We were title winners! And try telling us it was only the Championship – we know that all too well. Victory is victory and we’ll take it. Try telling that to Villa, Norwich and many other teams who have fallen into the abyss and find no way out. We are back in the big league. All is well!
Fast forward again to late June 2017 and the anti-Newcastle press are in overdrive. With no football to focus on it seems like the sights are once again firmly trained on the antics within the walls of St James Park. HMRC raids, Chinese takeover talks, Rafa Benitez about to jump ship, no money for new signings and a bloated squad with no way of thinning out the deadwood.
There’s nothing like a healthy dose of doom and gloom to quash the flames of optimism.
“It’s the hope that kills us.” This saying is no more pertinent than to the fans of Newcastle United.
So, here’s where I’d like to interject a thought. Perhaps Rafa Benitez is a psychological genius! From the elation of promotion and the wild speculation of imminent marquee signings, fans are now singing from the same hymn sheet. We understand that we can’t compete with the established clubs on the transfer front.
As of now, we have completed the signings of Christian Atsu and then Florian Lejeune, who has come in to provide competition in the heart of defence. It’s not great but it’s a start.
Bournemouth, Brighton and Huddersfield are ‘obviously’ far better placed to spend big on new signings and that’s okay with us. Will those signings set their world on fire? Only time will tell. Everton have had several years of stability in the league and are now spending big. But hang on a minute, Lukaku has just signed for Manchester United for £75 million with Rooney going the other way. So now it makes sense of the millions they’ve spent on incomings over the past few weeks. £80 million or so worth of players in and £75 million worth of Lukaku out. A net spend of just over £6 million. Huh, balanced books.
Benitez understands the transfer market better than most. He forewarned us that this was not to be an easy transfer market. It was mentioned this week that had we just now signed Matt Richie, Mo Diame, Dwight Gayle, Ciaran Clark (Daryl Murphy and Grant Hanley even) fans would accept it as good business to create a team capable of staying in the Premier league. The fact that these signings were made last season could in fact be seen as a masterstroke to negate the ridiculous over inflation of prices in this year’s crazy market. Just imagine how much we would have had to shell out to buy them in the current climate!
There is now maximum pressure on Mike Ashley to provide the funds for Benitez to add more talent to the squad before kick-off. And the departure of Graham Carr can only be seen as a positive as Rafa secures yet more keys to the palace.
Business will be done later in the window – of that I’m sure. Early window prices are ridiculous and clubs of wealth and desperation take their chances early. Like lions at the watering hole the Manchester Uniteds, Evertons and Arsenals of this world stalk, pounce and make their kills early while Newcastle United conserve their energy and wait to pick off the unsuspecting wildebeest, once the alpha males of the pride have eaten their fill. We will not be drawn into unwinnable battles as Benitez understands our status and the need to build meticulously and steadily from this season to the next.
Benitez and his coaching team are currently running the rule over the entire squad of players at Newcastle’s disposal prior to announcing his squad for the forthcoming season. Imagine if Adam Armstrong, Siem De Jong, Henri Saivet and Chancel Mbemba made the first team grade! What if young Adam Armstrong burst onto the scene as our 15 goal a season striker to push Dwight Gayle all the way. What if Emmanuel Riviere suddenly found the barn door? There are, after all, several possibilities beyond the frantic buy-or-bust relegation terror scenario.
Rafa Benitez has – over the course of just over one football year – restored the passion, optimism and love for Newcastle United. We are on the up, whilst keeping our feet firmly on the ground.
Mike Ashley has never been more willing to trust and back a manager. The fans have never been more willing to show their love and the 2017/2018 season promises to be one hell of a ride.
Fans, including myself, just need to chill out a little, lie back and wait for it all to come together – united.
Mike Ashley can even take his place in the stands and enjoy a passionate, belt and braces, battle of a game in the majestic St James’ cathedral without fear of reprisal. Well, maybe that’s still a bit of a stretch. But in Benitez we trust.
Viva la Rafulation.
Dom also has his own website which you can visit here – www.natureslarder.tv
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