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It is all change at Newcastle with Steve McClaren’s troubled reign brought to an end last week and former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez appointed as the club’s new manager.
Although few would argue that it is a positive move, as has become almost customary at the club under the Mike Ashley regime, it was handled poorly by the Newcastle hierarchy. It seemed abundantly clear to all and sundry that the writing was on the wall for McClaren when his side were beaten 3-1 at home by Bournemouth on the 5th March.
Despite spending millions in January, the former England boss was still failing to deliver results and the Toon had seen sides move clear of them at alarming speed to create what looks to be a four-horse race for 17th place.
However, they still left McClaren lingering in his precarious position for a further six days while attempts to secure Benitez were put in place and fans and players alike would have been surprised to see the Spaniard announced as their new manager on Friday when it looked like McClaren was set to lead the club into Monday’s game with Leicester.
Unquestionably though, the appointment of Benitez does represent a major coup for the club. Benitez after all was the man trusted with one of the biggest jobs in world football only last summer when he took over at the Bernabeu following successful spells at Valencia, Liverpool and Napoli.
Although things didn’t work out for Rafa at the Bernabeu, his record apart from a heavy defeat in El Clasico was by no means horrendous and he could certainly still have commanded the interest of major clubs across the continent. He is surely an upgrade on McClaren who after all was being sacked by a Championship club around the same time Benitez was replacing Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid.
It is perhaps a little surprising that he has opted to take a job at a Premier League club that is in serious danger of relegation when he could have easily landed a more stable top half job in any of Europe’s major leagues this summer and had time time to mould a team ahead of the new season.
He has never shied away from a challenge though and may though feel that with a large and loyal Geordie fanbase he has the potential to build something special at the club. He has signed on an initial 3 year contract and is set to make £2 million per year, but significantly has a release clause that will almost certainly see him leave if they are relegated in just two months time.
The clause is one that makes clear sense for both parties with Benitez too good a manager to be lingering in the Championship, while the club would most likely want someone who knows the league at a fraction of the cost should the worst happen.
Relegation is by no means the plan but Benitez and the Magpies have a massive battle on to beat the drop. Next weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby is simply enormous as it seems certain that at least one of the two North-east giants will be relegated come May.
Newcastle’s record in the fixture in recent times is utterly abysmal but this time they’ve done what Sunderland seem to do every year by appointing a new manager just in time for it, who they hope will provide the immediate lift that will lead them to safety.
Newcastle still have all of the other sides currently in the bottom six to play with another crucial trip to Norwich after the international break while home games with Swansea and Crystal Palace and an away game at Villa Park also look like matches they could potentially win and they will surely need to win most of them to stand a chance of surviving.
On paper, Newcastle have the strongest squad out of all the teams in the bottom four and they now have a proven manager who has won numerous major trophies in a highly successful managerial career.
Of the bottom four, they remain the slight favourites to beat the drop however in Benitez they have a manager that has not been involved in a relegation battle since his very early days of coaching in Spain in the late 1990s.
With only 10 games to go, he needs to make an immediate impact and get more out of these players than his predecessor managed. Chances are we will find out very quickly whether Benitez and Newcastle are a good fit.
The fans will certainly receive him warmly not least because he is not Pardew or McClaren and if he can somehow steer Newcastle to safety, Benitez could prove an excellent long-term appointment for the club.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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