When Rafa Benitez rocked up at St James Park two years ago, it was scarcely believable.
For Newcastle fans who had been subjected to Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren for the pat five years, it took some getting used to.
After McClaren belatedly got the bullet with only 10 matches remaining, Rafa Benitez approached Newcastle to say he was interested in the job.
Even Mike Ashley wasn’t daft enough to turn that chance down.
The relegation situation proved too desperate for even Rafa to save despite three wins and three draws in an unbeaten final six game run but still Newcastle supporters couldn’t believe their luck.
It was a bit like the bloke dying of thirst in the desert and discovering an oasis where supermodels were serving free beer.
Mike Ashley has dragged Newcastle United so far down, with even many Newcastle fans doubting their own club’s modern day credibility.
So the classic Only Fools and Horses three-wheeler that proclaimed their business empire as:
New York – Paris – Peckham
Was made to look almost sensible now compared to Rafa Benitez’ career route:
Valencia – Liverpool – Inter Milan – Chelsea – Napoli – Real Madrid – Newcastle United
It was a major coup, and a lifesaver, for Newcastle when Rafa Benitez agreed to stay on after relegation.
Mike Ashley giving the Manager assurances to him being supported in the transfer market and Summer 2016 was a win/win all round.
Rafa allowed to spend around £50m on remodelling/rebuilding the squad, whilst at the same time generating a £40m profit in that transfer window.
On the pitch Rafa Bentez has done the job, bouncing straight back to the Premier League as Championship title winners.
Then he has followed that up making Newcastle competitive in the bottom half of the top tier table, despite having to work with what is basically his Championship team/squad.
However, off the pitch things have really fallen apart when it comes to the manager’s relationship with the owner, especially when it comes to trust issues.
All three transfer windows since Rafa’s first Newcastle one, have been a struggle and basically a disaster, in terms of properly strengthening the team/squad.
All three windows have seen the United Manager asking Mike Ashley to honour his promises to back him, then making clear his disappointment when that hasn’t happened.
January 2017 and January 2018 saw not a single player bought. Whilst Summer 2017 saw Rafa Benitez having to shop for £4m/£5m bargains with both Brighton and Huddersfield having net spends on transfers that at least three times higher than Newcastle’s.
Plus, in January 2018, both of these other promoted clubs bought players, unlike Newcastle, to try and make sure they avoid relegation.
We now have only nine matches to go and indeed Newcastle’s survival hopes could be pretty much decided in the next two matches. Consecutive home games against rival relegation candidates Southampton and Huddersfield…two wins and NUFC pretty much safe, anything less than four points and major worries with the remaining schedule of games.
Everything is up in the air at the minute with the relegation question to be answered, then we have the ownership question – takeover or not, plus of course Rafa Benitez’ future…
The accepted thinking appears to be that the only chance of a takeover happening is if Newcastle stay up, so if relegation is our fate, it would almost certainly mean being stuck with Ashley still, which then leads us on to the question of Rafa and what happens next.
Many/most neutrals were amazed when Rafa Benitez stayed on at Newcastle despite the drop into the Championship, the reasoning being what on earth is this double La Liga and Europa League & Champions League winning manager doing still there?
The former Real Madrid boss made clear how he loved the fans and saw great potential in Newcastle United as a long-term project.
However, I just can’t see how he could/would stop if we did go down.
The risk of damage to his reputation would be far too great as no sure thing that wed bounce straight back, plus of course the thought for Rafa of going through another transfer window with the owner playing such ridiculous games with him.
To have two relegations in three seasons, even though we know it would be Ashley to blame, would be bad enough – but if Newcastle then struggled to get back up it would be severely damaging to his future career choices and reputation.
However, that moment would be lost and if he stayed after another relegation, walking out midway through the season or at the end of a failed promotion attempt, would leave him in a really poor position.
It means it is especially important that Newcastle put the relegation fears to bed as soon as possible, then get the club sold and gives Rafa Benitez to turn Newcastle United into something more than unfulfilled potential.
Never have the stakes been quite so high, although we’ve all said that more than once or twice as supporters of this quite mad club.