At the club’s Benton training ground, manager Rafa Benitez met with club owner Mike Ashley. They discussed each other’s ideas and plans for the future of the club. Shortly after, Rafa stated “I’m pleased with how the meeting went and the positive approach we are all taking together to build on what we have started this season.” Some believe this is the start of Newcastle becoming the giants they once were.
It was September 17th, 1997 where Barcelona’s world class players took the field against Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. It wasn’t a friendly, this was the Champions League. Newcastle’s striker Tino Asprilla proceeded to score a hat trick in the opening 47 minutes of the match to clinch a 3-2 Champions League victory against Barca.
The late 90’s and into the millennium saw world class Newcastle squads. The likes of Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer and many more all contributed to many European nights at St. James park and top finishes in the league. However, the growing giant that was Newcastle could not keep up with its own success.
Fast-forward to 2016 with Newcastle facing its 2nd relegation in eight years. Mike Ashley just sacked manager Steve McClaren and the club is facing a dark period. What could be done to fix this once great club? The answer, Rafa Benitez. On March 11th 2016, Benitez was named the manager of Newcastle United. It was a shock to many seeing him go from the powerhouse that is Real Madrid to a relegation threatened Newcastle.
The 2015-16 season ended with Newcastle being relegated, but there was optimism due to finishing the season on a 5-1 win against Tottenham and a six-match unbeaten run. Shortly after, Rafa announced his decision to stay on for the following season.
Almost fourteen months after he took over this club, he won his first trophy. Championship League Champions! But what makes Newcastle different from every other club that has won in the second division? Rafa Benitez.
Mike Ashley released a rare statement after him and Rafa’s season ending meeting. Ashley promised to give Rafa “every penny” the club generated through promotion and other means. Some calculate that number to be between $70 -$100 million, more than Newcastle has ever received before. Ashley sees Rafa’s plan and vision and is willing to support it. Why else would he empty his pockets like he never has before? This budget, coupled with a reported large sponsorship deal with a Chinese betting company, could help Newcastle rise out of the shadows to the top of English football.
It seems Newcastle will have the money to improve and there is no argument that they will have the support of the city. In the second division, Newcastle averaged 51,108 attendees per home match. To put that in perspective, Newcastle has a higher attendance count in the second division of England than all of France, Italy, and Spain (not including Barça and Real Madrid). That’s massive! This large, loyal and loud support is arguably what kept Rafa at this club and will most likely be what brings Newcastle forward.
Even Rafa understands that there will be a slow progression getting Newcastle to where they belong. However, the signs are there for the waking of a sleeping giant. A massive fanbase, a large budget and a world class manager. Rafa has the prestige to attract world class talent, Ashley has the money to bring them in and the fans have the support to make the players stay. As Rafa said, “We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United. Every player should be honored to wear the shirt of this club. They should feel the same passion that the fans feel.” I think we can all agree with Rafa. It is time to wake the giant and bring Newcastle to glory.