Multiple sources have reported that Rafa Benitez is likely to stay at Newcastle United after club owner Mike Ashley has agreed to give the former Liverpool, Napoli and Real Madrid manager full control of transfers, scouting, the academy, and even medical staff. Why would Rafa stay? Maybe it’s because of the statue.
Outside St. James’ Park, there’s a statue of Sir Bobby Robson. The icon was born in the north east, and though he never played for Newcastle, he was a supporter all of his life. He managed the club for only five seasons, but in three of those seasons the club finished third, fourth and fifth. The club went through to the second round of the Champions League in ’02-03 and the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) in ’04-05.
The affection Benitez has received from the Newcastle fans has been undeniable, and that’s before he has accomplished anything. If he were to bring a trophy to the north of England, the fans would love him forever.
That has to be pretty enticing for a manager.
Newcastle will have a few inherent advantages in the Championship. First, the club will get the £40 million parachute payment from the Premier League.
Second, St. James’ Park seats 15,000 more than any club in the Championship except Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough – and the Owls may win promotion this month.
Third, it seems that similar to ’09, many of the senior players are showing an interest in staying with Rafa and the club, including all three goalkeepers. Daryl Janmaat and Andros Townsend have both expressed desire to stay, and it’s hard to see most of the second division sides would be able to handle this combination on the right flank. The central defense pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba will have a full season to hone their craft on lesser opponents. If we assume that Papiss Cisse will be sold, the new strike pairing of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Adam Armstrong should provide a nice variety of skills, so long as Rafa can teach Mitro how to keep his temper in check.
If Benitez stays, it should be a frightening prospect for an opposing side to have this club and the Toon Army roll in on a Saturday afternoon.
Ashley seems to have agreed to give Benitez the control he wants for two reasons. First of all, it’s about the money. The difference between being a Championship club and a Premiership club is measured in the hundreds of millions of pounds. Even with a large stadium and a long history, Leeds United have not been able to make it back to the Premier League since relegation in 2004. If Newcastle cannot bounce back up again, the loss of revenue could cripple the club for years. Ashley may have finally realized that the way he has run the club must change, and Benitez’ pedigree and desire to make the north east a winner might finally force him to give a manager full control of the soccer side of the club.
But besides that, Ashley does seem like he wants to win. Unfortunately he’s had no idea how to do that, and has listened to his football people for far too long. Having a manager like Benitez fall into his lap must have seemed too good to be true, and he’s already how many players have pled for him to stay. Like Benitez, it’s a pretty enticing situation for Ashley, and he has to know that if he doesn’t get Benitez over the line, it might be the last straw for the supporters.
As for the on-field issues, there will be turnover, as there is for every club every year. In the summer of 2009, six top players left immediately – forwards Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and Michael Owen, winger Damien Duff, and defenders Sebastien Bassong and Habib Beye. This year, there will certainly be players exiting for greener pastures, the most likely being Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, and Cisse.
So, what could the side for 2016-17 Newcastle United look like? If Benitez stays, and we assume the players who have said they would like to stay do stay, the side could look like this without any new players:
4-4-2: Krul (c); Janmaat, Lascelles, Mbemba, Haidara; Townsend, Anita, Perez, Aarons; Armstrong, Mitrovic.
Subs – Darlow (Elliot will still be out with a knee injury), Mbabu, Dummett, Saivet and Toney.
If you want to play 4-2-3-1, then Armstrong or Perez comes off the bench and Henri Saivet comes in alongside Anita.
This lineup would assume no new players and a clearing out of fairly massive proportions – besides Wijnaldum, Sissoko and Cisse, outgoing players would include Colback, Shelvey, DeJong, Riviere, Tiote, and Coloccini. That’s a huge amount of salary off the books. It may even be the case that Benitez can convince some of these to stay, and it’s known that Benitez would like to retain most of the players.
But again, the trouble is if Benitez doesn’t stay then you can probably remove Townsend, Janmaat, Krul and maybe even Perez and Mitrovic. This would force the club into the bargain basement they faced in ’09. Yes, the bargains that turned out to be worth it, such as Danny Simpson (now an EPL champion), Wayne Routledge, Leon Best and Mike Williamson. The total expenditure was around £3 million, and they turned out to be Premier League caliber players. But with Benitez, Newcastle United wouldn’t even have to go that route as the squad would already have nearly all the players required to bounce right back. With Benitez as permanent manager, Newcastle would be prohibitive favorites for promotion. And once they get back to the Premier League for 2017-18, who knows? After all, Leicester have proved that anything is possible.
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