In mathematics the multiplication of two negative numbers gives you a positive result. Unfortunately for Newcastle United, that rule doesn’t translate to football.
Newcastle are a club locked in a steep downward trajectory, a direction paralleled by a manager whose arrival looks imminent. You can reel off the list of huge clubs that have turned to Benitez since his famous breakdown at Liverpool and while those names are certainly impressive, his record has generally been poor. If you multiply a poor squad by a poor manager you get relegation and Championship football.
Ok, enough with the crap maths analogies – they just don’t add up. (I’m done I swear) When it comes to each new Rafa appointment many observers react the same way: “Huh? Benitez? That’s a weird one”. A quick glance at the history books and you can quite easily chart a pattern of diminishing success.
Rafa did a terrific job at Liverpool, but he lost his marbles in 2009, transforming into a comedic figure who lost his transfer market touch, his tactical inventiveness and eventually his position. In his last season, Liverpool went on their worst run in 22 years, eventually finishing 7th after their title challenge the previous season (keep an eye out for this recurring theme later) and also failed to qualify from the group stages of his Champions League.
But puzzlingly, post epic Anfield meltdown and capitulation, Benitez was somehow deemed competent enough to take over from Jose Mourinho at Inter in June 2010 – a team crowned Champions League and treble winners the previous month. By December Inter were 13 points from the Serie A summit and Rafa was sacked. He probably wasn’t even fully unpacked. Say what you like about après-Mourinho scorched earth theories, but Benitez reached David Moyes levels of bed shitting at the San Siro.
Rafa didn’t find work again until November 2012, when he came out of hiding to return to England, joining Chelsea as interim-manager – a move that caused aneurisms among Blues fans, and confused and amused the neutrals. Benitez was considered competent enough to fill a gap until the end of the season but no further. He was a highly paid placeholder. To his credit, he managed to steer Chelsea to a respectable 3rd place finish and an impressive Europa League win. He was still promptly shown the door after the final game.
Maybe it was a combination of foggy memories and insular thinking, but Rafa somehow wrangled another job at a big club in Italy a few weeks later, this time at Napoli. Despite a Coppa Italia success in his first season, Rafa took a Napoli team who finished 2nd before his arrival, to 3rd and 5th place finishes in his two seasons at the Stadio San Paolo, coming under regular heavy criticism for his team’s style of play. Benitez influence had taken a league title challenging Champions League side to a team that finished 20 points off the top within a couple of seasons. Incidentally, I don’t know if you have been watching Napoli this season under new manager Maurizio Sarri, but he has transformed them into one of Europe’s most exciting and they are right in hunt for the title again.
Benitez sensational work at Napoli was rewarded (apologies for the double-sarcasm, it was either that or quotation marks) when he was incomprehensibly appointed manager of the world’s most famous club – Real Madrid last summer. I guess that’s his just deserts for 6 years of essentially making teams worse. Am I the only one so thoroughly mystified that the clubs keep calling? He must have the same agent and PR team as OJ.
Predictably, Rafa was sacked just 6 months into his first season at the Bernabeu due to his unpopularity with fans, players, staff, neighbours,…..pigeons. That brings us all the way to today and Benitez’ links with Newcastle United.
Granted, the Newcastle job isn’t as plum a position as some of his other roles, and some will see his appointment as a bit of a coup for Mike Ashley and his cronies, but how can the board expect a manager, more famed for being a tactician than a motivator, to get anything from of a poor squad of players when he couldn’t get anything at all from squads packed with stellar, proven stars?
Newcastle are a point from safety with a game in hand, and though their perilous position is far from irreversible, the board look set to play the old “new boss = late boost” card – a tactic quite often successfully employed by struggling clubs in the back end of a season.
But wouldn’t it make more sense to instead look to appoint a more hot headed motivational type? Someone who could kick and scream players into action – to inspire them to run and fight more to redress the balance of their inferior overall abilities? Is a holistic tactician like Benitez an ideal candidate to provide a much need shot of adrenaline and enthusiasm?
Even if you put aside his management style, how can you ignore his crystal clear regression as a manager over the past half a decade? It all reeks of unimaginative planning and decision making at boardroom level. Surprise surprise.
Newcastle are a club infamous for their atrocious decision making. They look dead set to enhance that reputation by appointing Benitez.