Since arriving in Spring 2017 it is fair to say that Rafael Benitez has ignited a fire within the “Toon Army” the likes of which may not have been seen since Sir Bobby Robson was stood in the home side of the St James’ Park dugout. The stadium is packed to the rafters and rocking for every home fixture, and there is an optimism around the club that has been seldom felt in recent years. Despite the adulation of the fans and the success of the 2017/18 campaign, there is worry among supporters that Rafa won’t be in charge at Newcastle United next season.
The impending end of season talks with owner Mike Ashley are no secret, nor is the fact that the Spaniard has only 12 months remaining on his current contract, however with the news announced recently that David Moyes will not be returning to the London Stadium next seaso rumours are already spinning that West Ham are lining up for yet another attempt at luring Benitez to the club. Could this spell the end of Rafa’s time in the North East?
Should Rafael Benitez stay?
At the start of the 2017/18 season many fans and pundits described Newcastle United as a ‘Championship team’, insisting that without heavy investment their return to the Premier League could be a short one. It is a testament to the job Rafael Benitez has done over the course of the past 9 months that not only did Newcastle avoid the relegation battle (for the most part), but they also finished in 10th place – their highest finish in the Premier League since the 2013/14 season under Alan Pardew.
The phrase “In Rafa we trust” has become gospel amongst Newcastle United fans in the past 2 years, displayed on banners across the stadium on matchday and plastered across social media daily. The chorus of “Rafa Benitez, we want you to stay” that could be heard echoing throughout the stadium at the last game romping of Chelsea wasn’t a one off and certainly wasn’t playing up to the cameras. Anyone who has attended a Newcastle United match since Benitez has taken over can attest to the fact that his name can be heard ringing down from the rafters a minimum of 2-3 times per game.
Rafa himself admitted that he viewed taking the reins at Newcastle as a project, to be built over a number of years, and while there have been a number of bumps along the road this very much remains true. While strong foundations were set during the Championship winning campaign, they were built upon in a return to the Premier League, and with the correct personnel brought in over the summer could be improved upon more still and solidify Newcastle’s place in the EPL for the foreseeable future.
Should he go?
Adversely to this, Rafael Benitez has also insisted on a number of occasions that he cannot keep performing miracles such as the 2017/18 campaign – he needs investment. This is one of the major sticking points when it comes to signing a new deal, assurances must be made that the money is going to be there to spend not just for the season ahead but for the length of a new deal.
To put things into context Newcastle United’s current record transfer fee is the £16 million paid for Michael Owen back in 2005 – the longest standing record transfer fee in the Premier League last season. With the rising fees in recent years, it is almost imperative that the club break this record in the summer window if they wish to remain competitive and retain their manager.
A lack of funds has been one of Benitez’s biggest problems during his tenure as Newcastle United manager, and as shown last season – this isn’t as much of an issue for West Ham, who splashed £51 million over the course of last season. It also isn’t the first time the Hammers have shown interest, already trying to lure him on to the London based club on two different occasions.
He should stay
While the transfer war chest could be seen as a reason for Benitez to leave St James’ Park, it is unlikely he would leave for this reason alone. While most players and managers would leap at the chance to live in London, Benitez still has very close ties to the city of Liverpool – living in the North East allows him to visit his family still living there regularly.
He has started a project at Newcastle, building for the future and putting solid foundations in place for the structure of the team. The club and fanbase are both settled, unlike the fanbase at West Ham which is currently as toxic as can be remembered in recent history – not to mention the fact that they finished below Newcastle in the league table this season and it’s likely a vast amount of dead wood would need to be cut to make the squad competitive again.
There’s also the support and love he receives from the fans at Newcastle, unlike almost anything the Premier League has seen in the past. While you may see fans singing the name of their manager on course to winning the league title, winning a cup or finishing in an important league position – how many times has a fan base roared out their managers name with the knowledge they’ll be spending at least the next season in a lower tier.
For the first time in a long time, Newcastle fans have faith in their manager – and so do the players. Speaking as one of those fans – Rafa Benitez, we want you to stay.