Newcastle United’s victory over Arsenal at St.James’ Park all but confirmed the club’s Premier League status for another season at least as the Magpies surpassed the famed 40 point barrier.
With five matches still to play, Newcastle now sit in 10th place, a whole three points ahead of next-placed Bournemouth with the Cherries having actually played two more matches than them.
Prior to the start of the campaign, Rafa Benitez was expected to struggle with his team made up of players who had been purchased to succeed at Championship level. The summer transfer window was a challenge, with Mike Ashley unable to provide the requisite funds that the Spanish coach felt he needed.
The Tyneside club spent just £44 million on players during the summer, and there was a feeling at multiple points during the summer that the former Real Madrid coach could depart before the window closed.
Such turbulent moments passed and slowly the team began to settle back into life in the top flight. Benitez has brought out the very best of his players and the fact they sit in a solid mid-table position with only 12 points left on the board is testament to his coaching.
Life at Newcastle United is never simple, there seems to be a constant circus of goings-on behind the scenes, and the 2017/18 season has been no different with Amanda Staveley heading a takeover bid that has been in the background since November.
Negative headlines were created when it emerged the potential sale had fallen through in the winter, although both parties are now back at the negotiating table with a positive resolution hoped for by all involved.
The investment that new owners would bring wouldn’t be at the level required to challenge for a place in the top four, yet it would be exactly what Benitez deserves after his work this season.
It’s unsure whether or not the Spanish coach will extend his contract, he’s done his stock no harm with two fine full seasons in charge at Newcastle, so why should he stick around to battle against the drop with players short on talent for a second time?
The club should be in a position to kick on now, Benitez can be trusted in the transfer market, when he was working with a full financial deck at Liverpool he made some quite remarkable signings. Xabi Alonso arrived at Anfield from obscurity and became arguably the best midfielder in the Premier League at that time, whilst Pepe Reina and Lucas Leiva were important figures at the club for years, even if it took awhile for the Brazilian to be appreciated.
Newcastle United can’t spend outrageous sums of money, but failing to improve their squad in the summer would irritate Benitez immeasurably.
He’s accepted that the club is in a period of transition until the sale goes through, but he’s only risking his own reputation by staying put without the concrete promise of further investment.
It’s always difficult to compare teams in the Premier League when there are so many external factors which impact progress, however to put Newcastle United’s season into context, they have gained only one less point than Everton, a team many were tipping to challenge for a top four place following their expensive summer recruitment drive.
Prior to their eventual relegation in the 2015/16 season, it seemed as though the Magpies were perennial relegation candidates, they lacked the mettle to find safety and were often left reliant on teams below them dropping points.
Benitez has brought solidity at a crucial time in the season, whilst teams in and around the drop zone are panicking, Newcastle United have won five of their last seven Premier League matches, a run which included four successive victories against Southampton, Huddersfield, Leicester City and Arsenal.
Whilst it’s likely the days of Benitez being in the frame for a truly elite job are definitely, passé, there’s no reason as to why the Spaniard couldn’t be tempted by a club at Everton’s level with significantly more financial strength. It’s easy to wonder what Benitez would be able to achieve if he was able to spend significantly more, especially when you look at the season he’s had on Tyneside.
The future of Newcastle United is a critical point, a failure to sell the club combined with Benitez leaving would be disastrous, however the coach has a great relationship with the fans, he loves coaching the club and is hopeful of being able to build progressively from this point, of course he needs investment to achieve that.
It depends on what happens in the coming weeks, however the coach should be commended for his work this season, after being clearly unhappy with business in the summer, he’s been professional and worked his players in a way which has got the best out of them and as a result Newcastle have avoided relegation at the first time of asking.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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