With Newcastle United’s £300m takeover forthcoming, a host of household names have been linked with a move to St James’ Park, both players and managers. The prospective novel owners are believed to invest significantly in the playing squad over the coming years, while it would be logical to assume they would wish for a new manager at the helm, in addition.
Current Magpies manager Steve Bruce is expected to remain until the end of the season at least, if it is to resume amid the coronavirus situation. Bruce’s tenure is not to be discredited, however. Since his arrival last summer, the 59-year-old has performed soundly and has steadied the ship somewhat, after arriving in difficult circumstances.
The Toon currently lay in 13th position, eight points clear of the relegation zone and eight points off a European place, while ‘Brucey’ has allowed his team to play with more freedom. Despite struggling early on (and displaying some lethargic performances throughout), the Magpies have picked up several impressive results this season. These include 1-0 victories at home to Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, as well as an entertaining 2-2 draw at home to Manchester City and an impressive win away at Tottenham. If he is to be relieved, Bruce can leave on a high, with his estimation among the Toon army also improving.
A number of names have been linked with the hot seat at St James’ Park, such as Mauricio Pochettino, Max Allegri, Julian Naglesmann and Andre Villas-Boas. Sky Sports have reported that former Spurs boss Pochettino is the number one target for the forthcoming owners, adding that they are willing to offer the Argentine an eye-watering £19m per year contract.
However, it is another name who has also been linked with the job, who would be an ideal managerial choice for the Magpies - former gaffer, Rafa Benitez. If Benitez does return, he would be provided with an opportunity to conclude unfinished business with the club as well as to finish off what he started to build. The Spaniard was midway through the project and, given that he departed the club only last summer, the majority of the squad still remains the same.
Although Benitez can be labelled as a pragmatic manager, with an emphasis on tactics and defensive organisation, he has demonstrated instances of forward, attacking play. This was notable with Newcastle towards the end of last season (Rafa’s third year with the club), in which the Magpies’ performances were much more easy on the eye, in comparison to the previous season and a half back in the top-flight.
The arrival of the much-touted Miguel Almiron was the catalyst of the change in approach, with the Paraguayan’s ability to stretch defences complementing the current forwards at the time – Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez. This allowed the Toon to play much further up the field, while the ‘three amigos’ combined well, allowing Newcastle to end the season with a flourish. The Magpies ended the season fourth in the form table, while they would have ended the season in seventh place based solely on the second half. The single signing of Almiron demonstrates Benitez’s virtuosity, while he would provide even more instances of football intelligence, should he return.
During his reign in the North East, Rafa grew largely frustrated at the lack of backing he received from the club’s hierarchy; however, this will not be an issue this time round. Regardless, Benitez worked wonders with a tight budget and is a master in producing the best out of what he has, finishing 10th and 13th place in his two seasons after promotion, with a core of players who had still remained from the Championship.
While Benitez has exhibited his talents without a sizable budget, he will undoubtedly perform better with substantial backing in the transfer market; as shown with the signings of Almiron, Torres and Higuain, for his respective previous clubs. Providing Benitez with a significant war chest would also be fitting of the man, considering he has never really been given the opportunity to build a longstanding project at a club, as well as considering what he has already done at Newcastle.
Having already spent three years at St James’ Park, Rafa understood the club and what it meant to the supporters as well as the city. He had a vision for the whole club, including the academy and the training ground, while also sharing a mutual feeling of love for the Toon Army.
If another manager arrived, they would implement their own philosophy on the squad – which may well work given the financial backing available. However, this risks tearing apart the squad. Currently, United have the makings and potential of a squad who are ready to compete, with the squad largely assembled by Benitez himself. If he were to return, Benitez would add to this and build, rather than start afresh, which would certainly provide an easier platform for success for the club.
The Toon Army are praying that the future owners approach ‘Rafa the gaffer’ for the job, with the lure of England (his family home), investment in the squad and a return to Newcastle hopefully proving too enticing to decline.