Rafael Benitez returned to English football on Friday with the task of saving Newcastle United from Premier League relegation after the struggling north-east side announced the Spaniard as their new manager.
Former Liverpool boss Benitez, sacked by Real Madrid earlier this season, has signed a three-year deal with Newcastle, who are currently second-bottom in the table with just 10 league games remaining this term.
His appointment was announced just hours after Newcastle confirmed earlier on Friday that they had sacked former manager Steve McClaren.
“I have the pleasure to confirm I have committed to a legendary English club, with the massive challenge of remaining part of the Premier League,” said Benitez in a Newcastle statement.
“It will be a challenge not just for me and my staff but for the players, the club and the fans.”
Benitez, who arrived at Newcastle’s St James’ Park ground shortly after 2:00 pm local time (1400 GMT) Friday for talks with club officials, was Liverpool’s manager from 2004-2010 and also had a brief stint as Chelsea caretaker boss during the 2012/13 season.
He tried to rally Newcastle’s increasingly frustrated supporters by saying: “All of us must push together in the same direction and with the same target in mind. This is the reason why I’m going to ask for your total support to successfully complete this task.”
The 55-year-old added: “Personally, it means my return to the Premier League, closer to my home and my family. I can’t be happier.
“C’mon Toon Army! The club and I need your total involvement!”
– Top European manager –
Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley hailed Benitez’s appointment, saying: “In Rafa we have, without doubt, secured the services of one of Europe’s top managers.
“He has managed some of the most successful teams at the very highest level of the game and we are proud to now have him as our manager.
“Our sole focus now is to give our full support to Rafa, his coaching team and the players in order to secure our status in the Premier League.”
Earlier, Charnley found himself apologizing for the “uncertainty” surrounding the 54-year-old McClaren’s position after Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth.
That result was widely regarded as making any extension of the former England manager’s nine-month Newcastle reign impossible, with the Magpies having won just six of their 28 league games so far this season, and on Friday the club said McClaren had been sacked with “immediate effect”.