A chorus of boos echoed around St James’ Park following a 3-1 loss to Bournemouth. The dark clouds that had descended over Newcastle United were turning very stormy. It turned out to be Steve McClaren’s last game in charge of the club, after managing just six wins from 28 games in charge, leaving the club in 19th place.
It was turning out to be nothing short of a disastrous campaign for the magpies, staring relegation in the face once again under the ownership of Mike Ashley. The storm clouds that had gathered over Newcastle, quickly started to clear when Rafael Benitez offered to manage the club. The former Liverpool and Real Madrid managers appointment was met with jubilation, not for many years had a manager received such a warm welcome on Tyneside.
Benitez brought tactical nous to Newcastle United, the Spaniard identified the main weaknesses of the side he had just inherited and tried to make the Magpies hard to beat. Benitez’s first game in charge came away at Leicester City. Unfortunately, it was not a winning start for Benitez, losing 1-0. However, Newcastle looked like a different side under the Spaniard, there was hope of avoiding the drop.
Benitez would have to wait until 16th April to record his first of Newcastle United, recording a convincing 3-0 win over Swansea City. The Magpies ended the season unbeaten in six games, on the final game of the season, with relegation already confirmed, Newcastle ran riot at St James’ Park against Tottenham, thrashing Spurs 5-1. Benitez’s name thundered around the stadium for more than 90 minutes, overwhelmed by the support, he made the decision to stay at the club, despite dropping down a division.
The Championship was a complete unknown, even for Benitez who is and has always been so meticulous. Benitez was different to his predecessors, he took time to learn about the local area, speak with fans and locals about the club. He saw the great potential Newcastle United has, if invested in properly. Benitez knew he could take the club a long way.
Benitez relished the challenge of managing in the Championship, it was something fresh, something new and there was no doubt Benitez was looking forward to the campaign. Signings such as Dwight Gayle, Isaac Hayden and Matt Ritchie helped the Magpies storm back to the Premier League at the first attempt, winning the title on the final day of the season. Not only had Benitez built a good Championship side, he was building for the future with the idea of being in the Premier League sooner than later. In fact, six of the side that played against Brighton last weekend, all featured heavily in the Championship season.
The former Liverpool boss knew that the first season back in the Premier League would not be easy. The money involved is ludicrous, the Magpies had fallen further behind, clubs such as Bournemouth and Watford were spending bucket loads of money on players. Benitez had nowhere near the budget of the majority of the sides in the Premier League, Benitez had to be shrewd in the transfer market. He could not just pick any player he wanted, there was weeks and weeks of planning, researching which players could help Newcastle during their first season back. Not only did they have to be good enough but they had to have the right attitude.
Benitez was building a strong dressing room, a strong chemistry, a sense of togetherness. Something that had been missing from the Newcastle dressing room for some time. Benitez needed the right characters, players that would give their all for the club, players that would understand what the club means to its fans.
Newcastle would go on to finish 10th, nothing short of a miracle when you consider how little the club spent on transfers. The supporters had a team that was giving their all for the shirt, something Newcastle fans craved. There was a strong feeling that the club, if invested in could finish even higher the following season. Staff, players and fans alike all saw the potential, owner, Mike Ashley did not, or refused to see it.
Little investment followed yet again, frustrating Benitez, who was not afraid to show that frustration publicly. Benitez still feels he owes the fans, he believes they deserve to have a successful side. Newcastle supporters have stuck by Benitez since his arrival, a strong bond had been formed because of the fans’ loyalty.
Looking back on Benitez’s time in charge of the club, it is impossible to find a manager that would do a better job. He has assured the club is playing Premier League football again next season, yet again on a shoestring budget. The Premier League is a world full of diamonds and pearls, Benitez has been working miracles with pennies.
With the clock ticking, the club have little time to persuade Benitez to extend his stay on Tyneside beyond the end of this season. Benitez need the clubs’ ambitions to fall in line with his own, that is the only way he will stay at the club for at least another season. It remains to be seen if this will happen, however, there is no denying that club must do all they can to ensure Benitez stays at the club. Newcastle United finally have a manager that understands the club, sees its potential and who has a fantastic connection with the supporters. Letting Benitez walk out the door would be taking a gigantic step in the wrong direction.