Authority, leadership and direction have been in short supply at Newcastle United this season.
Steve McClaren’s predictable exit came and went late last week and in stepped Rafael Benitez. The former Real Madrid and Liverpool chief has been given the tricky task of retaining Newcastle’s Premier League status, but with only a handful of games to go, the Spaniard has one of the most difficult jobs of his managerial career ahead.
But, in the Spaniard the Magpies have a man who can provide some much needed stability to the club. Monday night’s game at Leicester City, perhaps, came a bit too soon for the ex-Kop chief as his side slipped to a 1-0 loss, but the narrow nature of the defeat will surely start to build a sense of confidence – after all, the Foxes are going to the win the league (well, maybe…).
One thing that is clear is that Benitez won’t take any slacking from club’s hierarchy that seems to interfere with every managerial appointment. McClaren always appeared to be a bit of a right-hand man for owner Mike Ashley – it didn’t work.
But Rafa has made it extremely clear that he will be doing the dictating on the touchline, albeit in a subtle way.
Lee Charnley, Newcastle’s managing director and Graham Carr, the chief scout, won’t have the same sort of power under Benitez that they might have had under McClaren.
“I haven’t spoken to him (Carr) yet but I know him. I understand why the club is going in this direction but I have to explain why we have to change a little bit – it will be good for everyone,” Rafa told a packed-out press room upon his arrival. If that isn’t a statement of intent then I don’t know what one is.
In Benitez they have a proven manager with Champions League experience and he is definitely a man that can get Newcastle out of their mess. But he needs to be left alone to do his work, to train his squad and get his ideas across to his struggling players.
He needs resources, and if the Toon do stay up he will be in dire need of a proven goalscorer and a high-calibre centre-back. Despite his legendary status at the club, Fabricio Coloccini hasn’t done enough this season and looks a little past his best.
But this is all futuristic. Benitez needs to concentrate on the here and the now, and the ways in which he can best get his thoughts across to his squad. He’s met with club idol Alan Shearer and has pulled certain leaders in the squad aside to do some one-to-one sessions. Much like Claudio Ranieri, he has made a point to single out Jonjo Shelvey and Coloccini whom he clearly believes are the club’s biggest leaders.
But for someone that recently coached Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, it must be a somewhat shock to now be working with players engrossed in a relegation battle.
Yet that’s part of the new job, and under Rafa, there will be a new vision.