Rafa Benitez returns to work on Monday with his work cut out for him over the next four months.
Benitez began the summer hoping that quick, dynamic work in the transfer window and the close season could fast-track Newcastle into the next stage of his so-called Rafalution.
But a combination of factors – the presence of Justin Barnes, an unexpectedly skinny transfer budget, the club’s ponderous work – meant that they were chasing their tail for most of the summer months.
Benitez was asked before the second game of the season whether the club could salvage the transfer window and the Spaniard said they could improve it – not salvage it. In his eyes they didn’t even do that, which means that trust has evaporated between the manager and the club’s owners and questions about the manager’s long-term future will dominate the autumn and winter agenda.
If he makes it that far, finance will be available in January. But Benitez’s point has always been that you strike while the iron’s hot and leave nothing to chance – the exact opposite of reacting to relegation battle by buying in January when there is a premium attached to every player. Given that Newcastle did that in 2015 and were relegated, you’d have thought that message would have reached a more receptive audience in the boardroom.
It didn’t and that means that the job Benitez will have to do this season is different from the one that he envisaged he would be doing back in the summer.
He remains dedicated to that job – even if his commitment to the task may be tested if, say, West Ham make an approach.