Rafa Benitez uses the ‘P’ word yet again with Newcastle United
You would almost think that Rafa Benitez has it all planned out in his head when you hear him speak.
An experienced manager who has been there, seen it done it.
A manager who has managed at all levels and served a proper apprenticeship.
Managing in the second tier in Spain and being relegated from La Liga in his early days, before going on to win league titles and European trophies.
When staying with Newcastle United after 10 games proved far too little to turn the club around after the mess created by Ashley, Carr and McClaren (amongst others), Rafa Benitez laid out his plan/vision for the club.
He said first of all he had to build a team/squad to get out of the Championship and then he would need to build another team to be able to compete in the Premier League.
At his first attempt the Spaniard delivered promotion as champions and a £40m transfer profit across the first two windows (summer 2016 and January 2017).
Obviously the second stage is proving a very different and more difficult challenge.
Rafa said that it was the club’s potential that first motivated him to approach Newcastle when McClaren was sacked, even though relegation looked all but certain.
Then when relegation did happen, once again the United boss pointed to potential as a key reason for staying on Tyneside.
Ahead of playing Manchester City and deep in a relegation battle, Benitez says ‘I think that this club still has great potential’.
Having seen Mike Ashley not keep his promises in the summer transfer window, the Newcastle manager still sees a progression that can happen, where if belatedly Ashley allows Rafa Benitez to bring in the signings that can help make sure there is no relegation, then he can build the club up to be able to compete at the right end of the table.
Rafa speaks of Newcastle United as ‘one of the teams that has to be in the top eight’ and that has always been the reality, not a divine right but the size of the club, the realistic revenues and the size of the fanbase, means that it should be seen as failure if Newcastle ever finish outside the top seven or eight.
The cynical, manipulative and ridiculous way Mike Ashley has ran Newcastle United has seen many fans lose sight of the reality, supporters encouraged to think Newcastle are always destined to be also-rans and there should be no expectation of better.
As Rafa says, top eight should be the minimum expectation if the club does everything right and then who knows what happens after that. If you are always in and around the top end then you have seasons where the clubs with more resources falter and you can end up in the top four and with Champions League football and the money that goes with it, it gives you opportunity. As has been the case with clubs such as Leicester and Tottenham.
When Rafa Benitez said he needed to build a team/squad to get out of the Championship then another for the Premier League, he never meant that he expected to get a whole new Premier League team this past summer.
However, he surely expected to be given the opportunity to bring in at least three or four players of much better quality than he already had and then build from there. Instead he found himself with a spend of around £35m and a net spend of only around £11.5m, meaning he had to use that money sparingly on making sure he had enough bodies to fill squad places, rather than signings who should have been the first names on the teamsheet.
We can all say that maybe he could have spent the better but the reality is that with so relatively little to play with, especially no doubt on wages, you are very very lucky if you can find a gem amongst your bargain shopping. Mikel Merino has given encouragement that he could be one but at the age of only 21 and his first full season in top flight football, you can’t expect him to produce every week.
This January needs to be the start of doing things right and hopefully Rafa’s recent phone conversation with Mike Ashley about the January transfer window can be the beginning of that.
We all hope that the takeover will still happen but we are in the here and now and Rafa Benitez has to be given the backing/support he needs to take another step forward.
Not to do so could be fatal for the hopes of Newcastle being anything but an also-ran.
“I think that this club still has great potential.
“If we do the things that we have to do now in January and we stay in the Premier League…it is one of the teams that has to be in the top eight – watching the table and the size of the other teams.
“But we have to be sure we understand that this is a crucial time for us (this season).
(Rafa asked how many January signings he wants) “It depends.
“I know sometimes you have a target and then you cannot get your target.
“You have to be sure that we have three or four positions (we strengthen) and we bring someone in that can give us something different.
“I think that it will be positive.
“If you talk about the massive money that has been spent in football in these years, maybe it is not easy (to compete at the top end) – but you never know.
“To improve teams like Newcastle, if you do the right things it is enough to be stronger and bigger and compete.
“If you spend £200 million, £300m every year, obviously even if you make mistakes you still have a good team, but without spending so much money, you can still improve and do well.
“That is my idea if we are (first of all) capable to stay in the Premier League.
“The players, they know, they know the quality of players (that Newcastle need) and what they want is to bring players in to compete and be better.
“You are the right back, what do you want? You want strikers and midfielders and centre backs.
“If you are the left back, you want a right full back and a striker.
“Nobody wants a (new) player in his position, but everybody knows and understands that we need players and the team will be better, then we can win more games together.”
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