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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  • Leazes.

    Why don’t you go an work for a Love Supreme Clark?

    It’s a pity I can’t use the block button on you, Ignorant fool!

  • Dillon Tovak

    If you look at our starting 11 and imagine we were to sell them, who would be the buyer? A premier league team. (Other than our strikers)
    However once you get to the bench that isn’t the case for any, other than maybe Mbemba?

    • Leazes.

      Which Premiership clubs?…. I don’t think we aren’t talking about top ten here are we? And of the rest of the division I don’t think it would they be a great boost to their chances of escaping the relegation dog-fight.

      • Dillon Tovak

        No, not top ten. But 15th in the PL still isn’t the championship.

        • Leazes.

          Close enough.

    • Guest 2

      Gayle, Joselu, Yedlin, Perez, to PL clubs? In yer dreams, pal.

      • Wor Monga

        There’s plenty of worse players than Yedlin, and Perez in PL clubs…there’s probably 3 (who were regular PL) that would have appreciated Ayoze’s match winning goals this season!!!

        • Guest 2

          Give over, man. He’s a No 10 with the grand total of 21 goals to his name all in, or 0.2 per match.

          • Wor Monga

            It’s a team game and the partnerships up front have never been ideal all season, but Ayoze has covered a lot of ground and done his bit for the benefit of the team…he’s not the best in the PL and we could do with better, but his goals have kept us up this season, and that deserves a lot of credit in my book!!!

      • Dillon Tovak

        You may notice I omitted the strikers. But Perez and Yedlin, yes. You don’t think Brighton or Huddersfield etc would take them?

        • Guest 2

          Not now, after survival, and access to big tv revenue.

          • Dillon Tovak

            I think you’d be surprised. But it’s all speculation obviously.

  • Wor Lass

    It hardly seems worth the fuss, Jane. Plenty of people post on here saying the same thing. There`s not really any difference between the bottom of the PL and the top of the Championship, anyway – as shown by the three promoted clubs staying up. We`ve done well and some of our first 11 have shown that they are decent PL players, at least since Christmas, aided by the addition of two inspirational loanees. I`m just excitedly waiting for Jabba the Hutt to splash out gazillions of quids to bring us some top PL quality during the forthcoming window and can`t wait for you lot to tell us daily who`s “on our radar”.

    • Leazes.

      We were one key injury away from relegation again, and if he hadn’t brought in a half decent keeper we certainly wouldn’t be in the mix.

      • Wor Lass

        True – there`s two divisions in the PL now, the top half dozen and then the rest. If we`d got a decent striker that could actually run from the off in January we could have been in Europe (almost)(ish).

        • Leazes.

          Two very Distinct divisions….. Ashley was going to take us to the next level said John Hall…. he certainly did.

      • Wor Monga

        …Yeh!…but neither Dubravka or Kenedy that he brought in were ‘proven PL quality’, were they?…and neither of them were being chased by any PL club either!!!

  • mentalman

    Its the same pundits saying we are a championship team who criticised the club last season for buying our way out of the championship with premier league players

    • Leazes.

      Without Benitez’z Magic Bus it would have been a Championships side.

  • Kneebotherm8

    Double edged sword really……..last season in the second tier we were supposed to be a premier league squad playing in the championship…….this season in the top tier we’re supposed to be a championship squad playing in the premier league…….bottom line is though…..the manager has gelled the squad to be pretty successful in both divisions……you can only give credit to Rafa for achieving that……would the likes of Pardew have been able to do that……very,very doubtful………….god knows where we’d be if the likes of him had still been at the helm….

    • Paul Patterson

      There is a middle ground available. Some players might be great in the Championship, but struggle in the Premier League, Dwight Gayle being a case in point, the same could be said of Mitrovic.

    • Rich Lawson

      Only need to look at what he did to West’ Brom’ and what Moore did in 6 matches with the same players ?

  • Guest 2

    Toxic atmosphere creeping into the club? It’s been here since 2007 due to the owner, who gleefully imported every toxic numpty he could lay his hands on!

    • Wor Monga

      It’s been there since SBR was unjustly thrown out of the club…to be replaced by a succession of the worst numpties they could possibly find, and was allowed to fester until Rafa was brought in far too late to avoid relegation!!!

  • Wor Monga

    The throwaway term ‘championship quality’ makes me laugh…Burnley didn’t have a PL player in their squad until they bought Lennon and Cork, and neither of those were ‘pulling up any trees’ and yet they finished up in 7th place, above Leicester and Everton who’ve spent huge amounts on players…the top 6 clubs don’t have a player that isn’t regarded as PL quality, but there’s very little difference between the 10th position and the bottom club…

    …the difference between the rest of the clubs is in the coaching, tactical and motivational skills of the manager and the character, intelligence, unity and determination of the players…

    …it turned out that overall we had a bit more of those vital ingredients than 9 other clubs, and Lawrenson for one should know that!!!

  • Andy Mac

    The reason we struggled at the back end of last year wasnt because we were a “Championship side” but it had a lot to do with low morale in the squad brought about by Fatman’s tight R’sd penny pinching ways

    Fast forward to January and the recruitment of Kenedy, Dubravka and Slimani helped the other players believe that they were good enough to compete. Kenedy’s first game against Burnley stopped the rot, although we only drew, and Dubravka’s debut was the icing on the cake.