Rafa’s the gaffer! And the mood has changed on Tyneside
For the first time since King Kevin Keegan returned to the club in 2008, Newcastle United fans are happy with a managerial appointment.
As the news broke on Friday afternoon that Rafael Benitez had taken over managerial duties at St James’ Park, positivity and optimism returned to a fanbase that had began to lose hope.
A dismal season so far under Steve McClaren had led to much of the Toon Army preparing for life outside of the Premier League once again, but Friday has changed it all.
Hope, belief, anticipation. 3 things that had been lacking all season for Newcastle supporters as each game seemed to just bring about more agony than the last and neutrals continue to mock the club’s demise.
However, now there is hope that Monday night’s trip to leaders Leicester may see the side returning north with at least a point to show for their efforts. Big ask I know, but they’ve got to slip up at some point right?
There is belief that the Magpies will escape from relegation, actual belief not just delusions.
Most importantly though, there is now anticipation. The trip to the King Power stadium is one that supporters are eagerly waiting for. The game cannot come quick enough, which can be said for few others this season.
Following that comes the biggest game of the season: the Tyne-Wear Derby.
Never has the game meant more with the sides separated by a single point and looking like one, if not both, will face the unthinkable prospect of life outside the Premier League next season.
Friday’s events have meant now that United fans are looking forward to this vital match, and have faith that the 4 year run of defeats to Sunderland will end. A win could provide the springboard to really kick start the season and see Newcastle escape from the drop.
The length of Rafa’s reign at Newcastle will be determined over the 10 remaining games to be played this season as there is a clause in his 3 year deal that allows him to leave should he not be able to stave off the threat of relegation. No one would expect him to drop down to the Championship and go from facing Barcelona to Burton Albion in less than a year.
Survival would bring about a summer of change on Tyneside as he would need to rebuild the squad, with recruitment coming under constant scrutiny. Chief scout Graham Carr has had most of the say on transfers during the reigns of Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren, and even he must admit he’s had a stinker on far too many occasions.
A manager like Benitez knows how he wants things done and is unlikely to be happy with someone else giving him the players to coach. He will want his own playing staff and I have no doubt that he will have demanded control over recruitment as part of his contract negotiations.
The main give away behind this is the fact he has been appointed as manager, not Head Coach as Steve McClaren was. This suggests he will run the rule over transfers and that can only be a good thing.
This is what Newcastle fans have been crying out for. The frailties in the side are obvious to everyone and there is real belief that Benitez will finally address them in the summer, should relegation be avoided.
Rafa’s arrival is a huge coup for Newcastle. A man who has had such a successful career in management has got the Toon Army believing that the good times will come back. The only question mark is around his lack of experience in a relegation battle. Perhaps he’ll need some more magic like this to keep United up…
One thing is for certain though. Benitez will be backed completely by the fans. McClaren’s appointment in the summer raised questions, but no one is questioning this one.
At a minimum this is a statement from the board that Newcastle do not lack ambition and are not prepared to be the butt of Premier League jokes anymore. And it’s gone down well…