In August 2015, Rafa Benitez was getting ready for his first season at Real Madrid. The Spaniard hoped to bring a La Liga title back to Real Madrid following their three-year domestic drought. Along with winning the Champions League in 2005, obtaining the position at Real Madrid was undoubtedly up there as one of his best accomplishments.
Fast-forward a few months later and Rafa Benitez was appointed the manager of a struggling Newcastle United side. No one could have predicted such a regression, but naturally many got a good laugh out of it. Going from managing Cristiano Ronaldo to Yoan Gouffran in the span of a few months is not an easy transition.
All jokes aside though, Newcastle United was a unique opportunity for Rafa Benitez. At Newcastle United, he could have more responsibilities as manager than ever before. Rafa could take Newcastle United to new heights and win over the heart of Newcastle’s huge fanbase.
Then came relegation. It turns out Steve McClaren had dug quite a hole. Though Benitez had Newcastle playing some of their best football in years, they still went down.
At this point, Rafa Benitez was at a crossroads with the bet that he initially made. His mere presence sustained hope of transformation at Newcastle, but chances of losing the bet had risen greatly. With relegation now on his resume, his stock was at an all-time low. Also, the work needed to elevate Newcastle had tripled. He would first need to lead the club to promotion and then stabilize their status in the Premier League. If everything went to plan, it would be another two years before Rafa Benitez would even get to think about making Newcastle a top side in the Premier League. Additionally, going all-in and failing to achieve promotion would be a major dent in his reputation. Despite having it all to lose, Rafa Benitez stuck around to the delight of Toon fans.
Fast forward again. With Newcastle now on the verge of securing safety, it is safe to say that Rafa did not lose his bet. After leading a “championship” squad to comparative success in the Premier League (without any real financial backing), Benitez’s stock has risen, and many teams will try to lure him away.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether Rafa Benitez will get to win his bet. For him, raising Newcastle United to another level is what this has all been about, and he is not much closer than he was two years ago. Sure, Newcastle United has improved in many aspects under Rafa’s guidance, but the main problem holding Rafa’s Newcastle United back remains. With all that Rafa has done to save the club, Mike Ashley needs to back Benitez or sell to someone who will— preferably the latter.