Rafa Benitez is in a very strong position at Newcastle United now.
It seems a very long time ago when many people questioned the Spaniard’s sanity in being prepared to drop down to the Championship, only months after being in charge at arguably the biggest club in the World.
Newcastle were in freefall when Rafa had arrived in March 2016 and even an unbeaten six game run to end the season, which included a 5-1 hammering of Spurs and comeback draws against both Liverpool & Man City, couldn’t retrieve the hopeless situation created by Mike Ashley, Graham Carr, Steve McClaren and many others.
The narrative went, that if Rafa Benitez failed at Newcastle in the second tier, then any hopes of top jobs in the future would be ruined.
However, the Champions League winning manager did an astonishing job in the Championship, promotion as champions AND a £40m profit in the transfer market.
Despite no buys allowed in either January 2017 or January 2018 and a minimal net spend in summer 2017 – Huddersfield and Brighton both having far higher net spends – Rafa Benitez can now look back on a magnificent job this season.
Saturday’s results mean that any small lingering fears of relegation have now been swept away, 10 points clear of the drop zone and at least one game in hand on all but one club below.
There are actually quite a few clubs below as well now, Newcastle in 10th place ahead of today’s game against Arsenal, with Rafa Benitez and the fans dreaming of going even higher.
Beating a tired Gunners side with nothing now to play for in the league, would give the Magpies every chance of ending the season ahead of Leicester and Everton, who are currently 8th and 9th.
Apart from a few bitter Sunderland fans, everybody else has already now come around to the opinion that actually Newcastle fans were right all along, that Rafa has done a brilliant job in very difficult circumstances this season.
However, it would be the cherry on top of the icing if Newcastle could retain a place in the top half and then get eighth place.
Rather than tainted, Rafa Benitez has surely seen his stock significantly rise, after doing such a great job at a notoriously difficult club, with an impossible owner.
Last year Rafa said it was possible he could stay at Newcastle for a decade or more as he sees it as a great long-term project.
The reason he came to Newcastle United in the first place was because of the potential he could see and nothing he had seen since had changed that.
Asked to revisit the idea of staying at Newcastle for 10 years or more, Rafa Benitez has told Sky Sports that yes this is still in his mind, as he sees it as a ‘project’ to work on long-term, where he can work with and improve players/the team over time.
However, he adds…’but I like to win’ as well.
He wants to be ‘competitive’ and to do that it ‘means you have to spend some money because if not, you cannot compete now and win something’.
Rafa comes up against a manger today who he has a lot of respect for, Arsene Wenger is now aged 68 and in his long-term project has totally transformed Arsenal, making them the club they are today, including their excellent stadium. Even if so many of their fans treat him so disgracefully.
Imagine if Rafa stayed at Newcastle for even half the 20+ years Wenger has been in North London?
It would be a great early birthday present (Rafa turns 58 on Monday) if Newcastle beat Arsenal this afternoon and if the Spaniard did stay for 10 years at St James Park, he would still only be 65 years old.
Once again we come to the crux of the problem, Mike Ashley has to properly back Rafa Benitez this summer and let him have total freedom to work in the transfer market OR he has to arrange a sale of the club ASAP now the relegation question has been answered, and let somebody else come in who can work positively with the manager.
The alternative if one of these two scenarios don’t happen, doesn’t bear thinking about.
“What I say is you need a project.
“I like to work with young players, I like to improve young players, but I like to win.
“I want to be competitive and I want to win.
“You have to have a mix of young players and players with experience – that means you have to spend some money because if not, you cannot compete now and win something.
“I liked the way his [Arsene Wenger’s] team was playing, his behaviour.
“He is someone who respects others and his approach has always been nice, positive.
“He is upset like everyone when you lose or when you think that something is wrong, but still for me, there was a big difference between him and maybe the others [managers at top clubs in the past]
“Because I have been at a top side for a while, you know you have to win.
“Everyone is expecting that you have to win the league, or you have to win the cup, or you have to win the Champions League.
“I know it’s not easy, but at the same time, you know it’s part of the job when you are at a top side.”