Never will have going down felt this good. In what should, and so easily could, have been the darkest few weeks in Newcastle’s recent history has instead become the brightest ray of light to come out of St James Park for many a long year. For yesterday Rafa Benitez committed his long term future to the Magpies.
Even the most optimistic of Newcastle United fans (and there can’t be many of those left) must have known that the chances of keeping Rafa after relegation would be slim to non existent. Yet, through a combination of circumstances, the Spaniard has decided that this is the project for him.
A proven winner, a world class manager of his stature, in the Championship. Only at Newcastle United!
Rafa eying up silverware at NUFC: "I stayed because I want to win trophies"
So what are the circumstances that got us to this monumental outcome? Or, as we suggest, was the Rafa stay always the most likely outcome!
Firstly don’t underestimate fan power. From 11th March, the day that Rafa arrived in that blacked out people carrier, the Geordie faithful have done all they can to show him just how much we appreciate a manager of his calibre to lead our club. Not since Sir Bobby Robson has the Geordie nation been so universal and vocal in their admiration and support of a manager. And even by the 15th May those same fans packed St James Park to sing his name despite already being relegated. The seeds of improvement had been there for weeks by then in what would turn out to be an unbeaten run of 6 games including that thumping of Spurs on the last day.
And for everyone who turned up home and away for Rafa those last few weeks there has to be a special mention. And in particular to the Strawberry Corner lot who just sang and sang our Benitez song through that last game. You did us proud.
“The love I feel from the fans was a big influence for me to stay….” And he means it!
For Benitez his heart will always be the red of Liverpool, but for perhaps the first time since those heady days our gaffa feels that special bond and love again. For all is ego, a trait which drives him to success, you only have to listen to him to understand he is a man who enjoys ‘the love’ of an adoring nation. And whilst at Inter and Napoli he had some of this he certainly did not at Real Madrid.
He, in his own words, was ready for a project. And feeling wanted was a huge part of any decision he was going to make.
So why Newcastle? In truth, Rafa has been caught in a perfect storm!
After years away from his wife and family, who still live just outside Liverpool, he wanted to be ‘home’. His wife did not leave the UK through all his time abroad and instead is one of the most active Charity workers in the country, raising millions for charities both local and national and dedicating her time and some of the Benitez fortune to her work in the process. Benitez, like our other hero Sir Bobby, is a family man and a gentleman. Having him back in the family home was important to all. Newcastle gave him that opportunity.
Now add to this a bizarre twist in Premier League timing. The TV deal that we will miss so much (for one season only we hope) has also attracted every stellar manager from across the globe. The Premier League managers meetings will, next season, look like the Harlem Globetrotters of who’s who in management with everyone from Jose to Guardiola along for the ride. This has helped Newcastle no end with even those clubs with 'potential' sporting top names in the form of Bilic and Koeman. Of all the big clubs left with a need, Newcastle gave him an opportunity.
Then you have to look at Benitez the leader. His eventual departure from Liverpool was not due to a lack of trophies, poor performance or a fall out with the fans. It was a simple issue of control. Benitez needs to be ‘the man’ at a football club. That is not to say he wants to be all powerful, you only need to look at his decision to bring local hero Fowler back to Liverpool to see he has no issue with having other big personalities around him. No, for Benitez it is more that it has to be ‘on his terms’. And with Ashley watching on at the Spurs game (without receiving even the smallest amount of grief from the locals due to their focus on Benitez) the penny seemed to have finally dropped for Mike. Give Benitez whatever he wants. For Benitez, Newcastle gave him that perfect opportunity to grab the control he craves.
When you add the Real Madrid exit timing, Mike Ashley’s desire to protect his investment, the travel time from Liverpool to Newcastle and the potential that our great club offers someone if they can only get it right - it all adds up.
For those who watched this story unfold carefully, Rafa staying is not the shock that it must appear throughout the rest of the footballing world.
For the fans of Newcastle United we can only be grateful that we sit in the eye of this perfect storm now filled with hope that things may finally be going our way!