The cases for and against the return of Rafa Benitez

Premier League

Takeover speculation has sparked all sorts of rumours and debates amongst Newcastle fans. Alongside possible transfer budgets & targets, a hotly debated topic is that of ‘who should take the reins under the prospective ownership’. The three most prominent names in this discussion are the continuation of Steve Bruce, Mauricio Pochettino and the return of Rafa Benitez. In this article, we will discuss the cases both for and against the return of Rafa.

AGAINST:

We ran a poll where close to 1000 Newcastle fans voiced their opinion on preference of new management. It was very close, but most preferred the arrival of Pochettino as opposed to the return of Rafa. Now, we don’t conclude for a second that this represents the sentiments of all Newcastle fans, however subsection polls can be great insights into preferences if extrapolated out appropriately. Below were the three salient reasons for not wanting Rafa back.

1) Rafa left us for money’:

This comment has been floating around since the day Benitez decided not to renew his contract and leave for China. There are valid concerns here and some have felt this was a red flag – a sign of disloyalty towards Newcastle.

We do know that he is on copious amounts of money out East but there are a few mitigates here that are worth considering. Most noteworthy, was that Rafa was fed up under the current ownership and he isn’t the first manager to feel this way and act accordingly. Lack of ambition and frustrations in dealing with both Lee Charnley and Mike Ashley are often cited as the salient points. This is credible, but the most plausible reason for his departure would be a combination of both large monetary offers abroad and the difficulties with ownership on Tynseside.


2) Defensive football:

Rafa has been criticised for his defensive approach to football. Newcastle, which has a history (quite a few years ago now,) of attacking football has seen a change in the general trend of tactics as the Mike Ashley years have gone by. Rafa learned much of his tactical prowess from Italian legend Arrigo Sacchi, who coached the famous AC Milan side that won back-to-back Champions League titles in ’89 & ’90. This model of football is centred around the ideology of distinctly organised attacking formations as well as zonal defensive marking, which succeeded the typical man-to-man marking in Italy at the time. ‘Organised attacking’ setups can often be detrimental to the fluidity of play and we have seen Rafa (not only at his time in Newcastle) more than happy to ‘shut-up-shop’ and frustrate opposing teams with tightly knit defensive structures and limited go forward ball. Some believe, that if massive amounts of transfer funds are available, and given that more talented players could be purchased, Rafa won’t bring that riveting, exciting football to St James’.

In Rafa’s defence (no pun intended), he didn’t have the world greatest players at his disposal whilst in charge. On top of that, it was his tactics that kept us in the Premier League and even secured us a top 10 finish, which well surpassed the expectations of many.


3) It’s time to move on:

Some believe that the prospective new dawn for United should usher in a fresh set of minds. Pochettino is the most heavily linked name to Newcastle and his stellar resume precedes him; with successful stints at both Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, he’s considered a top tier manager, and rightly so. There is good grounding for those apprehensive of Rafa’s return to St James’; as a fellow fan correctly pointed out that managerial returns are seldom successful and more often than not, complete failures.

In parallel, there is the option to continue as is with Steve Bruce. He’s a Geordie, loves Newcastle United and seems to be one of the nicest blokes in football. But is he the right man to take Newcastle forward? Can Bruce take the Toon Army onto bigger and brighter things? Most fans don’t seem to think so.


FOR:

Rafa managed to capture the heart of the entire city during his tenure at Newcastle United. Post Sir Bobby Robson, it would be fair to say he has been the most adored boss. Managers in years gone by have found it difficult to work with the current ownership but Rafa managed to outperform his predecessors, albeit with little transfer funds available. Here are a few pointers advocating for the return of Rafa:

1) Rafa is a great manager with a proven track record:

Few argue that Rafa isn’t an accomplished manager. His track record speaks for itself, with successful stints at Valencia, Liverpool, Napoli and most recently Newcastle United. He has won the most coveted of club trophies, the Champions League as well as an often forgotten accolade – the La Liga with Valencia. This is an incredible feat in a league that is completely dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid.

If the supposed takeover happens, one would want a manager that has experience on the grandest of stages – Rafa most certainly has this. He is also highly ambitious and isn’t happy with mid-table finishes or relegation survival. This is clearly evidenced by his fall out with Newcastle’s current ownership, and was his main justification for leaving to China. Further to this, is Rafa’s knowledge and love for Newcastle. He knows this club and what it means to its fans around the world, bringing him back would not be a complete reset but would instead make assimilation with new owners far more streamlined.

2) He stuck with us through relegation:

Some tend to overlook this but it is a pertinent point to consider. Rafa’s loyalty has been questioned by many and understandably so, but we cannot forget how he stayed with the club after we were relegated in 2016. Benitez is not someone who would be found short of job offers, so one may argue that him staying does speak volumes for his loyalty towards United. It is also worth considering that we won the EFL that next season and were subsequently promoted back to the Premier League. Would this have been the case had he had gone and another manager were brought in? There is a possibility that Newcastle could have turned out very similar to that small club in red, down the road.


3) Unfinished business

Rafa has unfinished business at Newcastle United. He had a clear vision for the club – to see it back in the top 4 of English football and playing across Europe. Unfortunately, he was not given the tools to achieve this and by Mike Ashley’s own admission, Newcastle cannot spend the way City, Chelsea, Liverpool etc. do. He finished 10th in his first full season in charge of Newcastle in the Premier League, albeit with a squad that was barely Premier League worthy. Many fans want to see what Rafa can achieve if and when given the financial backing. He is a man who is well connected in Europe and has a decent record with player transfers. He is not a manager who is asking for excessive amounts of transfer funds but rather adequate backing to amass a competitive squad.


In conclusion, whether one is for or against the return of Rafa Benitez, one thing is clear, under this current ownership, United is very limited in what it can achieve. When considering a manager, one should always do it relatively. For example, a successful sacking of a manager is only as good as his replacement and accordingly the successful hiring of a manager is only as a good as the replacement opportunities forgone. In economics this is called an ‘opportunity cost’. So if Rafa is given the bosses seat in lieu of Steve Bruce, many would deem this as ideal. But if it was instead of Pep Guardiola, then we may be having a different discussion.

At the end of the day, this is all very wishful thinking and hopeful talk. Having a great manager without supportive owners is building a house on sand, and this is what Newcastle have been trying to do for many years now.