Vultures Are Turning On Benitez

Last updated : 21 December 2017 By Footy Mad - Editor

Rafa Benitez enjoys the overwhelming support of Newcastle United supporters despite the sort of ruinous run that would leave most managers teetering on the precipice.

Image result for joselu newcastleThat is the jarring narrative that many looking in from the outside are struggling to compute. United fans have been accused of being trigger-happy down the years – now the accusation is that they are guilty of overlooking the faults of a manager who enjoys popular support on Tyneside.

Neither is true. No-one would say Benitez is blameless – the man himself accepts responsibility – but the simple fact is that Newcastle fans know that a fair assessment of the Spaniard’s managerial ability is impossible when he is attempting to do the job hamstrung by an underfunded squad and an owner who quite patently does not want to be here.

From Kevin Nolan to Richard Keys, it has been depressing to see a lack of understanding about the persistent problem that undermines Newcastle in the Premier League: the direction set by their owner. From someone like Nolan, who clashed with the hierarchy himself, it was especially demoralising to hear him speak of Benitez getting his excuses in when the manager has actually collected plenty of credibility from supporters for being prepared to stand up to poor decisions.

Benitez must improve but this is not just about relegation fight. It is a fight for the future direction of Newcastle and many fans have picked the man who they side with – one who took a chance on the club when it was on its uppers, stuck by them after a relegation that he battled to prevent and then has embraced as if it is his hometown club.

That the vast majority cite Ashley rather than Benitez as the architect of United’s perilous Premier League position is conundrum for those unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding it – and Richard Keys’ latest blog garnered considerable attention from Newcastle fans.

Keys wrote that Benitez’s struggle with Newcastle was proof that a “super coach” couldn’t hack it at the bottom of the Premier League. He then contended that Newcastle had spent £102million on Benitez’s watch on 17 players.

It is a figure that’s misleading given the scale of the rebuilding job that Benitez had to carry out. He sold Newcastle’s four best players – Georginio Wijnaldum, Daryl Janmaat, Moussa Sissoko and Andros Townsend – for £80million. He then carried out the next step of the much-needed rebuild: dealing with decisions on Newcastle’s most-established players like Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cisse.

With the team that McClaren had, Benitez managed three wins, four draws and three losses – 13 points from 10 games. McClaren’s previous ten had been two wins, one draw and seven defeats – seven points. With better players he was doing well.

He walked in and saw “problems everywhere”. Had there been acceptable offers for Jonjo Shelvey and Aleksandar Mitrovic, he would likely have sold them too. There was no firesale at Newcastle – Benitez was able to reinvest – but he was doing three years’ worth of rebuilding work in a season.

Keys writes of Chris Hughton’s job at Newcastle but the truth is that the core of players the then rookie boss inherited played a huge part in that promotion. The spine of the team was very strong and already established. They instilled their own winning culture. Benitez had to do that from scratch.

It is not that something that he would expect garlands for – it’s what good football managers are supposed to do – but whether he would have committed to the job if he felt the rug would have been yanked from under him half-way through is another matter. Benitez signed up for the Newcastle rebuild on the basis that there would be backing in subsequent transfer windows. For whatever reason – Graham Carr being in his ear, a lack of funds or trimming the financial fat ready for a takeover – Ashley has shifted the goalposts.

Benitez is a political animal so there’s no surprise that he has refused to meekly accept it. And that is part of the reason why supporters have warmed to him. Speak at length to him and you can feel the frustration at the fact that he feels the club is being prevented from fulfilling its potential. Fans can spot the sincerity of Benitez when he talks about Newcastle and it has insulated him against the poor results.

There are other achievements: the full houses (Newcastle have not had a crowd below 50,000 since he walked through the door), the feeling of pride in their club that fans feel and the way club staff and the players talk about Benitez is different from other managers. He has engaged as no-one else has been able to. It has earned him copious credit that Newcastle fans recognise now.

Keys made his points in a lengthy blog about British managers and how unfairly they can be treated is a theme of his. United’s previous three bosses were all English but Newcastle, despite the run, would not swap any of them for Benitez.