Eventually, the Newcastle board put poor old Steve McClaren out of his misery.
However, the way it was done did leave a bad taste in the mouth, but it seems to be the way of things in football these days.
The anticipated arrival of Rafa Benitez wasn’t long in being announced and suddenly the Spaniard was smiling and holding the black and white stripes of the Magpies shirt in his money-grabbing hands.
It is all about the cash of course. He was out of work after being sacked by Real Madrid and he could see a payday, albeit for a few weeks. The actual intent to help Newcastle can be questioned as long as there remains the inevitable escape clause in his contract. He doesn’t want his name stained with relegation and should Newcastle go down, he will be the first to tell everyone that he tried, but it was too late. Bank on it.
The rot is setting in, if it hasn’t already, and the problem with rot is that decays the structure and continues to work its way through until there’s not much left.
With Newcastle, McClaren tried to mould a team whilst attempting to deal with the mob ‘upstairs’. He couldn’t do it and the forlorn figure ambled away from club. The rot was setting in, but can Rafa be the cure?
Club legend Alan Shearer told BBC Sport (via the Guardian): “I think it’s a good coup for Newcastle. I’m surprised, when you consider how much success he’s had and the clubs he’s been at.” When asked whether Benitez had taken on the biggest test of his career, Shearer said: “Yes, to put it bluntly. It’s a very tough challenge for him, he’s never been in a relegation battle before. He’s always managed top players and been very successful at doing that, but I think it’s an excellent appointment.”
Backed by a legend, and looked at by supporters as a possible saviour, Benitez has his work cut out. With just eight games left, he needs to start weaving some magic and his first two games have had pundits split. On one side some are saying that Newcastle are really no better, whilst others feel that there has been an improvement. The only thing that matters is points, not opinions.
Sitting second from bottom and three points away from safety, Newcastle’s season is far from over, but their run-in to the end of the season is no easy task. The next game at fellow strugglers Norwich is going to be absolutely pivotal and enthralling for the neutral.
The new manager looks a bit of a novice when it comes to life at the bottom. Not so, said the 55-year-old. “I’ve heard I’m not used to relegation battles, but I’m a coach from the [Spanish] third and second divisions originally so I have some experience.”
Moreover the difference between chasing silverware and avoiding the Championship is not as vast as it might seem. “People say it’s not the same, but I think it is,” said the coach who led Liverpool to Champions League glory. “You have to approach the games the same, you have to be calm, you don’t want to make mistakes.”
With a loss to Leicester and two dropped points at home to rivals Sunderland, some are suggesting that the Black Cats are better placed to survive. With the wily old fox Sam Allardyce, the red and white striped Wearsiders have a manager many would choose in their situation, plus they have a constant striking threat in Jermain Defoe. Newcastle do not seem to have that same presence and that could be the difference.
Sunderland also have the set-piece threat of Wahbi Khazri, the player that nearly scored against West Ham recently and whose deliveries on Sunday caused the Magpies’ defence problems and alarm.
But Newcastle, whilst looking to attack through Jonjo Shelvey, just couldn’t drive forward, as passes went to the flanks instead for the likes of Andros Townsend to have the freedom to cut inside. Despite playing better, and statistically Newcastle are better in passes and attacking than under McClaren, the visitors on Sunday still had the edge.
Norwich’s win on Saturday didn’t help the cause either and if they put a run together, then Newcastle really will be in trouble.
Alan Shearer was quoted in the Mirror as saying “Rafa Benitez is a good manager — but he is not a magician. And Newcastle’s performance yesterday proved just how tough a job he has on his hands.”
“It is very difficult for a manager to go in and suddenly make players dramatically improve. Newcastle’s problems defensively and up front are not going to disappear overnight.”
“So I’ve not seen anything yet that stops me worrying about the prospect of my old team being relegated.”
Rafa needs to work his magic and quickly if he is to become a hero on Tyneside.