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Newcastle: Rafa Benitez committed a blunder with Grant Hanley

Former Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez enjoyed a successful time as manager of the club between 2016 and 2019 after taking over from Steve McClaren.

The Spaniard was unable to prevent relegation from the Premier League at the end of 2015/16 but only lost three of his ten matches in charge after arriving at St. James’ Park.

He then led the Magpies to the Championship title and finished 10th and 13th in his two full top-flight campaigns at the helm, steadying the ship during his time on Tyneside.

Benitez brought in a number of talented players over his three-and-a-half years at Newcastle, including the likes of Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle, Isaac Hayden, Fabian Schar and Martin Dubravka, among others.

However, he was not faultless and one blunder he committed in the transfer market was the signing of Grant Hanley from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2016.

The Spaniard claimed that the defender brought “potential” to the squad as he signed the 24-year-old for a fee in the region of £6m, with the Scotsman putting pen to paper on a five-year contract.

Hanley struggled to break into the first team throughout the 2016/17 campaign as he ended the season with five Championship starts to his name, with ten appearances in total. He lost 62% of his ground duels and the club only kept two clean sheets in those matches, which suggests that he struggled defensively as he failed to dominate attackers and keep shutouts on a regular basis.

Newcastle ended up winning the title and earned promotion back to the Premier League, which led to Benitez deciding that the central defender was not good enough to be a key member of their team in the top flight.

He was sold to Championship side Norwich for a fee The Chronicle claimed to be £3.5m, which meant that the Magpies lost £2.5m on the centre-back in just one year.

The former Toon boss splashed out a £6m fee on the defender and Hanley failed to contribute much on the pitch before leaving for almost half the price they paid for him, which is why the transfer was a blunder by the Spaniard.

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Journalist James Copley recently described him as a “colossus” after a Championship performance against Sunderland and the centre-back appears to have found his level in that division.

He has played in two Premier League seasons with Norwich but both of them ended in misery, with the Canaries finishing bottom of the table with 75 goals against them – more than any other team – in 2019/20.

In his second campaign in the top-flight with the Yellows in 2021/22, Hanley captained the team to a bottom-placed finish with 84 goals conceded – the most in the league by seven goals.

His side’s poor defensive record in both seasons and the fact that no other Premier League team has snapped him up from Norwich suggests that Newcastle were right to cash in on the 6 foot 2 defender when they did as would not have been at the level required to play for the club in the top-flight.

It was a blunder that the Magpies will not look back on fondly and Eddie Howe should be hoping to avoid similar transfer flops during his time working alongside Dan Ashworth.