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Phil Thompson end of season verdict on Rafa Benitez and ‘team full of Championship players’

9 months ago
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Phil Thompson has been assessing the job done by Rafa Benitez this season.

The Sky Sports pundit declares that Rafa Benitez has ‘done an absolutely astonishing job’, something which you’d be hard pressed to find a single Newcastle to disagree with.

However, at the same time as heaping the praise on the Newcastle manager, Phil Thompson has also used a perceived lack of quality in the Newcastle squad to further build up the accolades for Rafa.

Thompson going with the often used lazy comment from pundits that Newcastle’s team/squad ‘was full of Championship players.’

You would think that it was some kind of terrible disease that handicapped you for the rest of your life, if you had ever played in the Championship.

He has got a point…up to a point, indeed Newcastle actually had nine players who were in the Championship last season and who were also in the eleven who started on Sunday. That is the eleven players who absolutely hammered Chelsea 3-0.

The only exceptions Dubravka and Lejeune, whilst two of the three subs (Hayden and Haidara) were also in the Championship last season.

I wrote something on The Mag three weeks ago (see below) about this Championship players thing.

It is a nonsense really.

The reality is that Newcastle’s Championship squad was full of players with Premier League experience, so I think to an extent that Phil Thompson and others have been looking at it upside down.

Of the 23 senior professionals listed below that started the 2017/18 season with NUFC, 18 of them had previously played in the Premier League. Of the other five, both Gamez and Lejeune had played in La Liga.

Yes Newcastle could have done with more quality but as I said back in April, calling NUFC a ‘Championship side’ is just wrong, calling them a bottom six or bottom eight Premier League side, yes.

So Newcastle have overachieved finishing 10th and getting safety with a month of the season still remaining, with Rafa Benitez the architect of that.

In fact, I would guess there has hardly been a promoted team from the Championship with so many players who had previously played in the Premier League, apart from maybe the Newcastle team of 2009/10…

When you look at the number of PL appearances before this season, Diame had 179 and Shelvey 141, so whilst they have excelled since the turn of the year, to a large extent it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, especially when you add in that the pair were also playing for Senegal and England respectively, when they signed for Newcastle.

I would be interested to know how many Brighton and Huddersfield players had played in the PL before this season…I doubt if you would need many fingers to count them.

Phil Thompson speaking to Sky Sports about Rafa Benitez and this past season:

“I think he’s done an absolutely astonishing job.

“Not too many backed them for relegation initially …

“But when the transfer window shut you were really fearing for them, as the team was already full of Championship players, and they looked like they needed more Premier League quality.

“That meant that the biggest thing they had on their side was the manager.

“Who kept the fans on side and stopped a toxic atmosphere creeping into the club.”

26 April 2018 – What I wrote on The Mag three weeks ago:

This is the squad that started the season and before each name there is the number of Premier League appearances each had made BEFORE this season kicked off:

179 Mohamed Diame

141 Jonjo Shelvey

134 Ciaran Clark

70 Ayoze Perez

66 Paul Dummett

64 Dwight Gayle

41 Matt Ritchie

37 Massadio Haidara

36 Rob Elliot

34 Aleksandar Mitrovic

33 Chancel Mbemba

30 Javier Manquillo (as well as playing in La Liga and Ligue 1)

24 DeAndre Yedlin

22 Joselu (as well as many seasons in La Liga and Bundesliga)

18 Jamaal Lascelles

9 Karl Darlow

5 Christian Atsu

3 Rolando Aarons

So 18 of Newcastle’s squad that took on the Premier League, had already played there before.

The players that had no previous Premier League appearances:

Jesus Gamez (veteran of La Liga)

Florian Lejeune (came to Newcastle after full season in La Liga)

Isaac Hayden

Mikel Merino (a season and 8 appearances in the Bundesliga)

Jacob Murphy

So of these other five, Hayden and Murphy were promising young players who had done well in the Championship, then the other three had all played to varying degrees in the other strongest European leagues.

I think where the accusers got it wrong was that they should have probably called Newcastle a bottom six or bottom eight Premier League team, rather than a Championship one.

Certainly every place above the relegation spots is a credit to Rafa Benitez and once you are getting higher than the bottom six, he deserves massive plaudits.

Newcastle’s team/squad is punching above its weight getting into the top half at present and if they can stay there, it will have proved an excellent season, compared to the level of ability Rafa had available.

Though it has to be conceded that the January loan signings have also played a key part in what has happened these past three months or so.

For me, the aim now is for Rafa Benitez to backed with signings that would give him a Premier League mid-table level team/squad and then see what he can do with them, see if he can make them the best of the rest and aim for seventh…with then who knows what can happen if all the luck did fall our way.
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