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Can Rafa Benitez be trusted to choose who Newcastle United sign? The facts

2 years ago

As we near the transfer window end a Groundhog Day moment is playing out once again – as much for Rafa Benitez, the staff and players as for the followers and supporters of Newcastle United. A club that, in the early and mid-years of my following, prided itself on exciting the fans and energising the players with one fantastic signing after another.

Once again though, this January transfer window looks to be limping towards its conclusion with United doing (hopefully) just enough to ‘get over the line’, in terms of retaining Premier League status for another season through a combination of loan deals and bargains.

The media claim one of the reasons for this, is the impasse between the owner and manager, where the club won’t sanction the players Benitez wants until he signs a contract extension, but Benitez quite understandably won’t sign an extension until he has seen players coming in. Part of this comes down to the owner’s desire to only sign players that are young and have the opportunity for their value to increase, whereas the manager would, quite sensibly from a footballing perspective, sign a mixture of youth and experience – accepting the fact that some older players may not recoup any of the transfer fee paid.

Further reports, for example in the Chronicle, also suggest that part of the reason for this is that Benitez’ track record at Newcastle has supposedly not been that good so far, so he is not fully trusted to choose the players that are in the long-term interest of the club.

Whilst there have been one of two obvious examples of players that have not worked out perfectly (as at any club), it baffled me that this might be the case – especially given the lack of budget that a manager of Rafa Benitez’ experience and stature has been given to work with.

Using data from, I’ve taken a look at some key indicators of ‘success’ – namely number of games played and average match rating – to determine the success or otherwise of the players signed under Benitez.

The data is for league matches only for Newcastle United, and the number of games per season has been averaged depending on their tenure on Newcastle’s books (not including where loaned out to other clubs). More information of how the ratings are determined can be found here: whoscored Explanations – to get a feel of what ‘good’ looks like in terms of rating, Sterling has a rating of 7.73 this season, Vardy has 6.76 and Richarlison has 6.87.

I’ve put all of the players into groupings below based on my view of their success.

Make your own judgement, but in my view, considering the lack of budget that Benitez has had to work with and the challenges of transitioning the squad in the Championship and then having to rebuild again once back in the Premier League, there’s far more to be positive about than negative.

Indeed the facts suggest that only 1 of the 24 players could be deemed a failure in terms of both performance and value lost – that of course is Achraf Lazaar who the club are still trying to move on and was signed for the princely sum of £3m!


Whilst there’s a range of tenures here (with some on loan), all of these players have played a role in the first eleven during their time at the club, achieving acceptable ratings and above:

The following players may not have lasted the distance at St James Park, but while they were with Newcastle they did a job and the majority of their transfer fee was recouped.

Not quite good enough

As we know, there a some players that aren’t quite up to the grade – however, there’s no one below that I would count as a failure and they’ve all exhibited effort and commitment – and to be fair their ratings reflect that.

Not quite good enough….yet

There are some players however, for whom the jury is still out on, but also fit the criteria of having future resale value.

Didn’t work out

Whilst the following players didn’t make it appearance and performance wise, the club have been able to recoup the majority of the original transfer fee paid.


One always slips through the net.

You can follow the author on Twitter @Matt_J_Norton


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