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Opinion

I want to discuss what happens when Rafa leaves

3 years ago
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Things are good at the moment with Newcastle United.

Despite a painful summer, Rafa has got the troops organised and a decent start to the season sees us occupying eighth place currently. There’s a long way to go and I’m not dreaming of Europe just yet but I do think that, with Rafa at the helm, we are unlikely to be facing the relegation scrap that many predicted for us.

As an aside to the football, something even more exciting appears to be happening.

Is it finally time for pantomime villain number one to relinquish his sweaty grip on our wonderful football club? We can but dream.

We’ve all been here before but until I see the papers signed and Ashley flying off in his helicopter, I won’t get too excited. On the other hand, we’ve had a few nice surprises recently. I didn’t really believe we were going to get Benitez until it happened.

When the announcements started coming out that we were in negotiations with Rafa the gaffer I thought it was just another publicity act, to make it look like Mike Ashley was trying to do something positive for a change. Lo and behold Rafa actually arrived on Tyneside and, despite the veritable obstacle course that Mike Ashley has thrown at him, he’s hung around.

There’s been a lot of talk and articles about the potential takeover so I’m not going to write another one. I just want to say this; I hope it happens and I hope the new owner, regardless of whether they pump hundreds of millions into the club, allows the club to spend the money it generates as a minimum, maximises that money (actual paid for sponsorship in our stadium anyone?) and helps the club realise it’s potential.

Run well, this club could be so much better than we’ve grown accustomed to over the last decade.

This article is going to look way beyond this potential takeover. I want to discuss what happens when Rafa leaves. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not wishing this to be something we see any time soon.

In fact, I hope Rafa sees us as the long-term project that he can spend the rest of his career perfecting. How good would it be if we had a manager that the fans and players appreciate and trust for fifteen or twenty years. If a manager of Rafa’s calibre was allowed to stay and build a team, with the right support from above, we’d surely see an end to our embarrassingly long trophy drought.

What happens after that is crucial, however. In my lifetime I’ve witnessed two successful spells for Newcastle United. No prizes for guessing that these were under the stewardship of Messrs Keegan and Robson. Both men gave us great football and an impressive standing within English football.

When each left though, what came to follow was massively disappointing. This time round I want to see a proper contingency plan in place. Rafa’s departure shouldn’t be a rushed affair that either sees him sacked or announcing his departure days before it happens. The wheels should be in motion months, if not a whole season, before Benitez leaves.

When Keegan left he was replaced by Dalglish. On paper this was a great appointment. Kenny had won trophies aplenty with Liverpool and a season and a bit earlier had won the Premier League title with Blackburn. I still feel given time he may have been able to do something good with us but the early evidence certainly didn’t suggest this. Despite finishing second the season that he took over, having replaced Keegan in January 1997, things soon went downhill.

The following year he sold heroes of the previous two seasons, Ginola and Ferdinand. He replaced them with ageing favourites, Barnes and Rush, in his first full season in charge. That year we finished 13th and the following season Dalglish was sacked two games in.

After Bobby, things were even worse.

Sir Bobby Robson took over a shambles of a team that had been torn apart by the tenures of Dalglish and Gullit. There were still stars there; Shearer and Lee amongst the best of these. We were a mid-table side that barely resembled the swashbuckling entertainers of just two seasons previously.

Bobby made us great again. He got the most out of the ageing stars and brought through a fresh generation of hungry youngsters.

When he left though, he was replaced by Graeme Souness!

At least there was some ambition when we hired Kenny Dalglish. This was a man that had won many trophies. Souness, however, had achieved very little in his management career.

He was most famous, in fact, for receiving a phone call from a man claiming to be George Weah (it wasn’t) who was touting the talents of his alleged cousin Ali Dia (who wasn’t in any way related to Weah).

If you don’t know this story (and I’m sure you do), Graeme Souness signed the player and gave him a debut. That’s right, gave him a debut without really putting him through his paces and seeing what he was all about. Apparently he had one training session before coming on as a substitute against Leeds due to injuries, only to be subbed himself in that same game What followed was a horror show which Southampton fans probably find more disturbing than ‘It’. Ali Dia has since been voted the worst Premier League footballer of all time in various polls.

Souness was under qualified to take over from a man of Robson’s calibre and stature and, like Dalglish before him, decimated an excellent squad to take us from regular Champions League hopefuls to mid-tablers/relegation strugglers.

If a proper plan had been put in place, who knows what might have been? Bobby should have been able to finish his last season in charge as a minimum. He was getting to retirement age anyway. Even if Shepherd had decided he wanted to sack him after the poor start of the season, he could have suggested that Bobby see out the season on the understanding that it would be his last and then they could have started the preparations for finding a replacement together.

The man Bobby had as a coach/translator at Barcelona may have been a decent appointment. A young chap called Jose Mourinho.

Sometimes there can be a proper plan and it still goes wrong. Look at Jose’s current club. They had all season to line up a replacement for Ferguson and seemed to put a lot of thought into it. Realistically though, they took on a man who hadn’t won anything at the top level and only seemed to have one thing in common with Sir Alex, in that they’re both Scottish. Surely, they should have been replacing him with a Pep or a Jose or a Carlo, rather than a David. They learned their lesson and have gone for much more decorated names since.

As I said near the start of this article, I want to believe that Rafa will be our manager for many more years. All I’d really like to see is a proper and considered plan this time around when he does decide to go. Let’s get a hungry young manager who’s accomplished a few things already, lined up to step in and help push Newcastle on even further from wherever they happen to be at that time.

Here’s to hoping.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin
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