Adios Rafa Benitez – Muchas Gracias, Todo lo Mejor
From the moment Rafa Benitez strode past the Sir Bobby Robson statue in 2016, I couldn’t believe a manager of this stature could actually be at Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United.
A manager who was not just likeable, but had actually been successful, and he was willing to risk it all at this perennial disaster of a football club. And risk it he did.
The problems he encountered on arrival were entrenched not just in the team on the field but throughout the entire club and he set about attempting to rectify both. He was to sort the former but the latter still remains.
Initial demotion to the Championship was hardly a surprise, it had been coming for ages. With poor buys from a hit and miss chief scout and a counter productive transfer policy, and with negativity coursing through the first team squad’s veins, the task would be far from easy, but problems were overcome and the ship steadied.
Far from alienating the fan base with relegation, Rafa galvanised both players and support and the club roared back from potential meltdown to storm the second tier and in turn mobilise support from the terraces in a fashion not seen since the late Sir Bobby and Kevin Keegan. When we find our heroes up here we take to them.
After a brilliant season of consolidation back in the Premier League was successfully achieved, it was the manager’s aim to push on and deliver the ‘project’ he has so frequently talked about in his time at Newcastle United. With chronic under investment rampant at the club, any manager would find the task a struggle but Rafa kept on at it and must surely have hoped that, through time, it could be achieved and the powers that be would relent on past policies. He would find that a bridge too far.
The second season was similar to the first in that survival was the name of the game. Continued struggles with finances coming from above in an era where the Premier League is awash with money is entirely perplexing and must have baffled a manager who will have been asking for sizeable but modest funds. Hardly too much to ask. With lies and eventually silence emitting loudly from the club hierarchy, extending his contract was always going to be a stretch of trust between manager and club.
After that initial relegation in 2016, every target the manager set about, he achieved, an unbelievable accomplishment given that power struggles and conflict between support and club have been rife here for 12 years. That a manager can be treated so shabbily after such successes says a lot about certain people. Never mind rewarding failure, this club is now punishing success.
You can point to winning the Championship, finishing 10th, or the 13th place last season as successes (and they were) but the greatest achievement of Rafa Benitez was to unite support almost universally.
Some may sneer at the brand of football played, but a healthy percentage will rightly point out that to win ugly and be hard to beat is a hallmark of a manager we’ve never seen at Newcastle United in my lifetime, we’ve certainly never had a better defensive unit. Again, if he’d been allowed to continue the project…
The support from the rank and file is key for any relationship between a football club and fans that are being asked to pay ever increasing sums to watch whatever is put on display at St James Park and beyond THAT will be Rafa’s legacy at Newcastle United.
Forget actually winning something, merely enjoying turning up is a start. That positive connect with the club has now been bookended with Rafa’s arrival on March 11th 2016 and his official departure on June 30th 2019.
In just over three years he has managed to give hope where previously there was none. Sedentary and grateful managers have been in the job previous to Rafa Benitez and that is exactly where I believe the club will turn back to next.
Rafa was never simply happy to be in the job and he was never just going to sit it out and collect a wage. He kept talking about himself and his team and ‘a project’ was to be achieved. Unfortunately, the destruction of Newcastle United he wasn’t going to be a part of.
Where the club goes now is anybody’s guess, with deliberate self harm always not very far away, but I’m past caring. The hope Rafa Benitez gave the fans (including myself) was always going to be shortlived, as all but the truly myopic and delusional could see it ending in tears. I fully expect the mindless PR offensive from the club to start from the release of Rafa’s statement and it’s quite shameful that a football club even have such a system in place.
So that is that. Best wishes Rafa in all that you do. You (like us fans) deserve so much better. A top class manager and top class supporters should always have been a match made in heaven. It’s sad to see a manager go with a blessing from fans before a satisfactory conclusion is reached and tangible success achieved.
We will never know if a trophy could have been lifted by Rafa Benitez and certainly the image in itself gives me goose bumps at the thought. Believe me when I say it- one of the greatest missed opportunities has just sailed on by.
“Muchas Gracias. Todo lo mejor.” (Thank you very much, all the best)
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