Newcastle can be great again… they might just need to go down first

Too little, too late. Or perhaps not too little at all – but still probably too late.

It turns out that Rafael Benitez is shoring up the Newcastle defence. Clearly a good manager and a great organiser can work wonders, and his pedigree probably helps too. If only Newcastle could have attracted him in the summer, but Rafa was Florentino Perez’s stooge of choice at that time.

Any list of odd owners in the world of football would probably have to include Benitez’s last three employers. Perez: a man whose sole purpose as Real president seems to be buying players as if it’s transfer deadline day on his FIFA 16 Career Mode – you can just imagine his controller buzzing away permanently. Aurelio de Laurentiis at Napoli: a man who advised his players not to move to England as English women do not wash their genitalia (though the less said about that the better). And Mike Ashley: the less said about him the better too, frankly.

Poor Rafa hasn’t had much luck in that regard, and indeed he hasn’t had much luck in any regard recently. Preparing to lead Real Madrid in ‘Clasicos’ and Champions League games, he’s now struggling to keep the likes of Steven Taylor and Vurnon Anita in the Premier League. But the green shoots of recovery at Newcastle look to be sprouting.

So is it too little, too late?

In a way, no. No matter what happens. Because the long game is the important one. Finishing 17th is better than being relegated, but in terms of the long-term, it’s not that much better. If they do go down, and they do keep hold of Benitez – though that does seem somewhat unlikely – those green shoots will keep growing. It’s all about where Newcastle can be in two or three seasons. Scraping 17th place finishes is just as bad as being a yo-yo team, surely. Perhaps not financially, but certainly in terms of prestige and success.

The great organiser can turn his team of underachievers into something resembling a real football team. Rafa Benitez is the maths teacher who swoops into the failing inner-city comprehensive to turn a bunch of delinquent kids into maths wizards – there’s a film about that, right?

Even if it is too late to keep Newcastle in the division – given Sunderland’s points and game in hand – Benitez could make Newcastle’s future look much brighter.

Of the last three clubs Benitez has managed, Newcastle looks like the closest to a complete basket case. But in terms of potential, the chance of bringing such a big club back from the depths, rising like a phoenix from the flames, it is surely the most exciting one.

It’s strange to think that such a terrible season can yield anything other than more doom and gloom around a grand old club, but there is cause for optimism, even if a few good defensive performances do not make a good team.

But what it does show is that Newcastle really just needed a manager who could get the best out of the group of players they already possessed. The last time they were relegated, they managed to keep hold of their best players, if they get relegated again this season they can do the same again. If they don’t, they have a decent squad, probably a big name manager with a pre-season to work with and a truck load of TV cash to spend. And at a club that treats its heroes like religious figures, why shouldn’t Benitez try to stay and build something, even in relegation?

Surely the future’s bright for one of the Premier League’s most gloomy clubs… though if anyone can mess that up, it’ll be Mike Ashley.