Why Rafa Benitez took the challenge at Newcastle


For Newcastle United, the idea of hiring Rafa Benítez makes all the sense in the world. A proven “big
club” manager, whose tactics have been useful to maximizing results. For a club facing a strong likelihood of
relegation to the Championship, it would be wise to make such an appointment.

But why exactly would Benítez want to manage Newcastle United? That question is confounding to just
about everyone who watches and analyzes this sport. The Magpies find themselves mired in the
relegation zone having dramatically overspent on players this season. Sacked manager Steve McClaren
failed miserably in his effort.

Newcastle United, as a club, is a complete mess under the leadership of owner Mike Ashley. A common
complaint has previously been the low level of spending by the team, but that isn’t the case anymore.

More apparent is the toxic atmosphere around the club with supporters brandishing Ashley and his
advisors a “cockney mafia” who have parachuted into the Northeast and undermined their club.
But Ashley has somehow kept Newcastle United a viable business despite inheriting a mess when he
bought the club in 2007. The relegation of 2009 was followed up by swift promotion back to the Premier
League and a fifth place finish two seasons later. But since then the Magpies have flirted with relegation
every season, the patience of even the most dedicated supporter has been tried.

Support for the Magpies is among the most robust and energetic in the country. Newcastle is a one club
town and due to this as well as the close proximity to a major rival in Sunderland, who often is in the
same mire, the intensity of the fans is perhaps unrivaled in England. But the club has historically
underachieved. The last major domestic trophy was won in 1955, the last trip to a Wembley final was in
1999 and except for the Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson eras, the club has more often than not been
the butt of jokes. Newcastle has a tendency to spit out players and managers, many of whom are
successful prior to joining the club and then find similar success at another club after leaving the

This dynamic makes any move to Newcastle by player or coach a significant risk. It is an even greater risk
for someone like Benítez who has endured a bumpy ride in the halls of management over the last

Certainly fan passion would be an attraction to Benítez whose management of Valencia, a club with
similarly disposed fans as Newcastle, won him plaudits. The Spaniard then connected with the Liverpool
fans, legendary for their passion and commitment to the principles around the club. But since being
dismissed by the Reds’ unpopular American owners at the time in 2010, Benítez has become a bit of a
vagabond manager. He failed spectacularly both at Inter and Real Madrid while leaving Napoli arguably in
worse shape than he had inherited it. Only at Chelsea, in a short caretaker stint, did his results exceed those of his predecessor, but that came with the acrimony of the Blues fans likely due to Benítez’s ever-
dying affection for Liverpool, and his notable feuds with Jose Mourinho.

While it is obvious Benítez seeks a return to England having not set Italian or Spanish football ablaze in
glory, Newcastle seems an odd destination. With the amount of TV money flowing around the league,
Benítez could easily sit and wait for an opportunity at a more stable club like let’s say a Southampton to
present itself. He could also still be in frame for a bigger job on the continent given his pedigree.

So why is Newcastle the possible next stop on the coaching carousel for Benítez? On the surface it
makes little sense. However, the passion of the fans and the expense at which the current playing squad
has been assembled has to weigh on the mind of Benítez whose high-profile failings might have
prompted him to seek a job where if failure ensues, it is not blamed on him. And if success comes, he had
the ever-lasting love from the supporters. Benítez seeks a return to England and while Newcastle is a
perennially failing club, it is a the type of high-profile job that can quickly rehabilitate a sagging
reputation within the game.

But for that to happen, Benítez will have to steer Newcastle clear of relegation this season and achieve
something resembling secure midtable status next year. Given the Magpies recent road, that seems
highly unlikely even for the best of managers.


  1. David Bland March 12, 2016
    • Christopher Harris March 12, 2016

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