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Who should be the backbone of Rafa's Newcastle United?

Should Newcastle seek to return to the Premier League at the first attempt, they must keep these players

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Newcastle United's relegation in 2009 was met with much greater anger and frustration than the one we've had to endure just seven years later. A large part of the optimism that surrounds are current predicament centers on whether Rafa Benitez, the Spanish gentleman who almost saved our bacon, will stay.

But what if he doesn't? What if he decides to take his managerial talents, excellent goatee and criminally under-appreciated fashion-sense (the man wears Cartman's 'respect my authoritay' socks) to pastures new?

You would be forgiven for succumbing to the red mist of relegation without any hope for the future. Just talk to fans of once-great clubs with storied histories like Blackburn and Leeds. For those of you who think, 'That could never happen to Newcastle', it most certainly can. We were able to win the Championship and bounce back to the Premier League in 2010 because we had a manager that cared in Chris Hughton, and had a strong group of core players who also cared: Kevin Nolan, Andy Carrol, Fabricio Colocini (remember him?).

We had to suffer the performances of a great number of men sporting the black and white stripes this season who clearly didn't care, not until it was too late at least. Or they wanted to advertise themselves to potential buyers on the market. What a coincidence that players like Janmaat and Wijnaldum played their socks off in the 5-1 rout of Spurs on the last day of the season when our fate was sealed. It's not a coincidence--they want to leave. And you know what? Good riddance.

We can get back to the top tier of English football without players who think they're too good for the club or the championship. We can forge a core akin to that of 2010 by players we have in the squad already. Jamaal Lascelles showed that he has the potential to be a future captain of the club. His insertion into the heart of a ridiculously shambolic defense helped Newcastle rattle off six games without defeat. Aleksandar Mitrovic, the crazy bastard that he is, clearly has passion. If Rafa can figure out how to tame the Serbian bull with his matador skills (he is Spanish after all), he will feast on championship defenses terrified by his sheer presence and ability to head the ball. Andros Townsend IS too good for the championship, but he proved that he had the fight to save Newcastle through his performances on the pitch, including some stunning goals and assists that sadly went to waste. He was called up by England manager Roy Hodgson for the friendly against Turkey, so there is a possibility that a Premier League team swoops in to buy him. I wouldn't blame him if he decided to leave. Jack Colback was hit or miss in the 15/16 season, but he's a Geordie lad and will do everything in his power to try and get the club back to where they belong. That type of character is crucial in a promotion battle. Rob Elliott and Karl Darlow will fight for first-choice goalkeeper. Competition breeds success, so this can only be a good thing.

It is being reported that Rafa has decided to stay with Newcastle.  Some of the core of his squad for the Championship is already on the books – perhaps more than we think if he can convince players like Andros Townsend to stay – while some players already are angling for moves away.  The cupboard, however, is far from bare.