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Opinion

‘A perfect managerial solution has now become a possibility at Newcastle United’

4 months ago
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Newcastle United remain a troubled club, but at the same time, one with a new energy and enthusiasm from supporters.

The potential financial backing is arguably the greatest in the world.

However, Eddie Howe has had a whole philosophy to overturn and early signs are, he has the ability to turn a dour squad into one which might be the most entertaining since the days of Special K.

The club’s owners have started to back him in the current transfer window. There is time for that backing to be extended, evidence suggesting that it will be.

Looking back, the last January window that saw significant investment in the playing squad was when threatened with relegation in the Ashley era. In January 2016, McClaren was given Shelvey and Townsend, as well as Doumbia and Saivet. That was on top of summer signings Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, Mbemba and Thauvin.

Similarly, though with a different eventual outcome, in January 2013 Pardew had been gifted Debuchy, Mbiwa, Gouffran, Haidara and Sissoko when close to the relegation battle.

It is understandable that choices for the new manager for the new Newcastle United owners was limited. Howe’s track record of stability and growth is fairly unique in recent years, particularly among English managers. There is much to commend him.

Sure there are gaps. Howe has had little opportunity to gain a record in EUFA competitions. He has though achieved so much for a mere 44 year old. His brand of football is attractive. He is an adventurer. Coupled with that, he had a wide ranging role at Bournemouth, a small club but one which he left in a great state for further development. Despite his success, he remains a student of the game.

The other popular manager at St James Park in recent years, was the one who recently lost his job at Everton. Rafa Benitez came in probably too late but made a valiant effort to avoid relegation. Those who criticise him for being a defensive manager might choose to ignore the last six games in the 2015-16 relegation season, those last six games yielded a record of P6 W3 D3 L0 F12 L4 Pts 12 (which included coming back to draw with both Man City and Liverpool after going behind, plus hammering Spurs 5-1 despite playing with 10 men for most of the game).

As we know, Rafa Benitez was hampered by Mike Ashley. The defensive image was cultivated in the early part of Rafa’s reign, yet transformed when he was allowed to sign Almiron, giving the team a different dimension, liberating Rondon and Perez. Newcastle United having the eighth best form in the Premier League in Benitez’ final 28 games, as well as the fifth best PL form (and fifth highest number of goals) in the final 16 matches of that 2018/19 season.

It might be worth revisiting Rafa’s past record. He won La Liga twice, as well as the UEFA Cup, with then unfashionable Valencia. When Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United ruled the Premier League roost, he won the Champions League with Liverpool. Despised by many Chelsea supporters from his Liverpool days, he won the UEFA Cup with the Stamford Bridge club. He has won domestic cups in England, Italy and Spain.

You know where this is going, right?

Rafa Benitez has unfinished business in the Premier League. He is settled in the UK with his family home, wife and daughters in the North West. Despite his successes, the prospect of managing a top side in England is clouded by the Everton experience. Arguably, his Spanish roots with Real and Valencia mean Barca will never be an option. France or Germany could be challenges that might take him away from home yet again. He remains an enthusiast for world football.

As far as NUFC goes, a bulk of the squad remains from his days. The defenders who were among the most miserly in in the Premier League. They have been unable to maintain the same level under successive managers.

We see strange successful partnerships; Morecombe and Wise, Laurel and Hardy. Clough and Taylor. Moore and Charlton, or even Moore and Tommy Taylor, Withe and Shoulder, Wyn Davies and Pop Robson, Keegan and Toshack, Hibbitt and Supermac, Shearer and Sir Les, Beardsley and Cole.

Why not be creative and channel the hungry 44 year old managerial student with the misunderstood strategic mastermind who has one of the fullest address books in the football industry?

Newcastle United has been home to some of the greats, not least Sir Bobby who was moved upstairs at Barcelona, supporting van Gaal on the way to a La Liga and UEFA Super Cup double in 1997.

Is the solution to marry the talents of Eddie Howe and Rafa Benitez?

Amanda Staveley obviously had a relationship with Rafa Benitez before Newcastle United, due to involvements in other clubs. It might be an indication of her trust that some of the early changes at the stadium and training ground are among those that Rafa recommended.

Some things seem obvious but there can be many answers to the same question.

What is 2 + 2? The mathematician would tell you the answer is 4. A statistician will reply that there is a 95% probability the answer lies between 3.95 and 4.05, an engineer may look at a slide rule and say “about 4”, an accountant will ask if buying or selling, an economist will ask what you want the answer to be, whilst a philosopher will ask “what is a number?”

It must be worth a go. Can we shackle a master of defence and a “compact” structure with progressive potential? The motivation to improve and win seems to be common thread. A mutual love of football and appreciation of the North East seems to be a given.

Could timing have led to the perfect managerial structure at St James Park? At least, Amanda, will you give it a thought? Eddie Howe and Rafa Benitez could be world beaters together.

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