Gary Neville fires controversial dig at Rafa Benitez – A naive assessment of the old NUFC

Gary Neville has criticised Rafa Benitez’s ‘boring’ style of football at Newcastle United, claiming games at St James’ Park should be ‘mad’ and filled with ‘incident and excitement’.

The former Man Utd manager does accept that the Spaniard is a ‘brilliant manager’, but says he was bored ‘every time’ he travelled up to Tyneside for a game during Rafa’s reign.

No doubt some will agree, with a few fans struggling to get on board with Benitez’s pragmatic style which focused on shape, organisation and keep it tight at the back before all else, but I for one find Neville’s comments pretty staggering.

Usually he’s one of the more sensible pundits on Sky Sports, however it doesn’t take a genius to work out why he failed miserably at Valencia if he values ‘incident’ and ‘excitement’ over results.

Here’s what he’s had to say to Sky Sports when discussing all things NUFC,

“To me, I’m not knocking Rafa Benitez – I think he is a brilliant manager – but I think Newcastle, when I go up there, it should just be mad,” 

“It should be really loud, the games should be mad. There should be incident and excitement.

“To be fair, some games were always 0-0. Every time I went up there over two years, I was bored. I was bored.”

In an ideal world, we’d be winning games of football and playing free-flowing football, but, right now, I’m sure most fans would take success over style – and Benitez could’ve delivered that with the right tools.

Gary can’t have it both ways. Knowing what he’s like as a pundit, he’d be the first to absolutely slate Newcastle United if we had shipped four or five against Arsenal on Sunday – yet his comments here suggest he didn’t really value the discipline and defensive organisation Benitez brought to the club, with him wanting goals, drama and excitement instead.

Neville forgets the 3-2 win over Everton from 0-2 down, the fact we’re the only team to beat Man City in the league this year and the home wins over Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea during Rafa’s reign. To say he was ‘bored’ is a petty description of a pragmatic but successful style – especially coming from a man who failed to keep a clean sheet and lost one game 7-0 during his stint in charge of Valencia.

Above all else, Benitez brought results – and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Maybe many would prefer attacking football, but just look how far that got us under Steve McClaren..

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About Olly Hawkins

Olly has been a Junior Magpie from birth. As a season ticket holder and avid Newcastle United fan - he eats, sleeps and breathes all things NUFC.

22 thoughts on “Gary Neville fires controversial dig at Rafa Benitez – A naive assessment of the old NUFC

  1. No quite sure what the laughable aspect is? He’s not wrong is he?

    Loved Rafas defensive nous and the fact we were always in the game but it wasn’t overly entertaining and fairly boring.

    He didn’t have the right players etc etc but Gary Neville isn’t disputing that.

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  2. Neville os right what game you want watch every week borong or entertaining . Football should be about entertainment and if cznt entertain getvinna lge you can

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  3. Neville is right what game you want watch every week boring or entertaining . Football should be about entertainment and if cant entertain get in a lge you can

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  4. The laughable bit in this article.

    “however it doesn’t take a genius to work out why he failed miserably at Valencia if he thinks a ‘excitement’ should be the main focus of a football manager”

    Must explain why KK was such a crap manager. 😛

    Come-on Ollie, dont get upset with every pundit comments.

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  5. So who did you enjoy watching more and who got the better results – Boring Rafa or Mad Keegan?

    Are you seriously trying to tell us that Rafa’s defence of a back 8 was not boring?

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  6. In response to the above comments – I appreciate that his football wasn’t easy on the eye, but I think Neville’s comments are extremely naive.

    Why should we be ‘mad’ and have games full of ‘incident’ just for his enjoyment? Also, see McClaren – he tried to play good football, but can you honestly say you preferred his way to Rafa’s? It’s a results game and we’ll soon realise that Rafa Benitez was the best manager we’ve had in over a decade at getting those.

    If people prefer a care-free style of football then that’s fine, but we can’t start complaining if we’re suddenly all at sea at the back and have no discipline/shape.

    Ironically, it’ll be pundits like Neville that slate us if we suddenly lack organisation and are shipping goals under Bruce – no matter how well we may attack.

    Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but Neville going on one about what football he wants to see at SJP is laughable to me when it was McClaren’s ‘attacking football’ that sent us down.

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  7. PremAndUp:
    The laughable bit in this article.

    “however it doesn’t take a genius to work out why he failed miserably at Valencia if he thinks a ‘excitement’ should be the main focus of a football manager”

    Must explain why KK was such a crap manager.😛

    Come-on Ollie, dont get upset with every pundit comments.

    I think you’ve missed my point mate.

    He’s totally missed out the fact we were organised, hard to beat and had the 7th best defence in the PL last season, demanding ‘excitement’ , ‘incident’ and ‘mad’ football all because he was a bit bored watching us.

    He didn’t get a single clean sheet during his time in charge at Valencia – and it’s not hard to see why with this approach.

    It’s laughable to suggest that a style creating results should be changed just because it wasn’t easy on the eye. Benitez / Keegan isn’t the comparison here, it’s more Benitez / McClaren. One got results via a pragmatic and defensive style, the other tried to play good football and ‘excite’ and failed miserably.

    Of course I’d love a Keegan style manager to come in and have us beating teams 4-1 every week – I value goals over clean sheets – but the team we’ve had over the past 2 years was not made to outscore teams.

    I don’t get upset with every pundits comments at all – most aren’t worth wasting time over – but when a usually sensible pundit makes such naive comments it’s worth responding to.

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  8. Think it was a fair point he made, hated the type of football he played along with thousands of others/ made you fall asleep.

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  9. Brrrian:
    So who did you enjoy watching more and who got the better results – Boring Rafa or Mad Keegan?

    Are you seriously trying to tell us that Rafa’s defence of a back 8 was not boring?

    That’s not exactly a fair comparison is it. I’d like to bet Rafa’s team would’ve been MUCH better to watch if he had the team Keegan had.

    But ask yourself how well Keegan would’ve done with the squad Rafa got promoted with..

    A fair comparison would be Benitez vs McClaren. The latter had much better players and tried to excite and attack but failed miserably.

    It’s personal choice, but I’d prefer a pragmatic and defensive approach which gets results over attacking football ending in defeat.

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  10. Olly – it’s a balance now of results and entertainment mate.

    Nobody had a problem with his tactics away to Man City or Lpool. But when you’re at home to Brighton or Huddersfield 🤷🏼‍♂️

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  11. demanding ‘excitement’ , ‘incident’ and ‘mad’ football all because he was a bit bored watching us.

    SJP has historically been associated with that type of football. He wasn’t saying it about teams without that heritage. And RAFA was overly defensive at Home. He is only saying what a large percentage of the fans have been saying for years.

    The comparison is not with McLaren who was not a ‘World Class’ manager, but with KK who supposedly was. Excitement and entertainment do matter, that’s why the fans turn up. To call him naive has more to do with your opinion than rational journalism.

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  12. Hmm.. I think you are missing Neville’s point if anything.

    I became a fan of “The Entertainers” like many others. That team was about attacking and being “mad”.. That was Newcastle. That was our identity.

    Thats all Neville is saying. And he is of course 100% right.

    The way we played under Benitez was not the Newcastle-way. And it never will be in my eyes..

    Bournemouth has been able to survive for years with better football than us so it simply isnt true it cannot be done in another way. Its just a bit harder and therefore requires a better manager..

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  13. Sharpy17:
    Olly – it’s a balance now of results and entertainment mate.

    Nobody had a problem with his tactics away to Man City or Lpool.But when you’re at home to Brighton or Huddersfield 🤷🏼‍♂️

    I take your point, but I don’t even think we were bad against those teams. Once he actually had a few good attackers to choose from (e.g Almiron and co.) we swept aside the Huddersfield’s, Cardiff’s and Burnley’s 2 and 3-0!

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  14. Scotty:
    Hmm.. I think you are missing Neville’s point if anything.

    I became a fan of “The Entertainers” like many others. That team was about attacking and being “mad”.. That was Newcastle. That was our identity.

    Thats all Neville is saying. And he is of course 100% right.

    The way we played under Benitez was not the Newcastle-way. And it never will be in my eyes..

    Bournemouth has been able to survive for years with better football than us so it simply isnt true it cannot be done in another way. Its just a bit harder and therefore requires a better manager..

    Bournemouth have also got a team full of attacking players.

    It’s easy to forget Rafa’s front four in our first season was Joselu, Atsu, Ritchie etc.!

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  15. PremAndUp:
    And now you are calling for attacking football away. bit of consistency please

    You’re not understanding my point mate. There’s nothing wrong with defending Rafa’s tactics but also feeling our current team’s best chance of winning on Saturday is to attack.

    With Rafa, I’m not saying ‘boring’ or ‘negative’ football is the way forward and the style I want to see, I’m saying it was totally justified based on the results Rafa got with a squad that was generally severely lacking in attacking quality and flare.

    If Rafa had Saint-Maximin, Joelinton and Almiron I’d have written the same article re. attacking Norwich. Just look at our team from January to May when he had Almiron/Rondon/Perez to work with – it wasn’t dull then! Don’t get me wrong, there was times we were awful – 0-1 defeat at Brighton springs to mind – but we were solid at the back and good to watch when he got the players in that he wanted. And when he didn’t he adapted to the tools available to him.

    If Rafa was still in charge and we were boring and flat despite having Almiron/Joelinton/Saint-Maximin in the side then yes it would be frustrating and a different kettle of fish, but it’s a bit different when he had Joselu, an inconsistent Perez, Atsu, Ritchie, Murphy, Kenedy etc. to work with during the majority of his time in charge of us at PL level.

    If he chose to ‘attack’ with those players at his disposal and didn’t focus on making us organised and strong defensively, that side would’ve gone down – not finished 10th.

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  16. Olly Hawkins: Bournemouth have also got a team full of attacking players.

    It’s easy to forget Rafa’s front four in our first season was Joselu, Atsu, Ritchie etc.!

    It isnt that hard to forget since Benitez bought all of them!! Not Ashleys or anyone elses fault that he didnt go for flair and creativity…

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  17. And you miss my point, Rafa;s tactics were fully justified against the top 6, but his results against the other teams did not justify his tactics. The point Neville was making was about his tactics at Home, where we have always been an attacking side. Rafa never did that and his results at home did not justify his approach. You say he didn’t have the attacking flair players, but he bought the players and wanted even more control over buying players.
    All I’m asking is that you stop attacking pundits when most of the fans agree with them. Neville was neither naive, not doe these comments justify your attack on his management skills.

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  18. Scotty: It isnt that hard to forget since Benitez bought all of them!! Not Ashleys or anyone elses fault that he didnt go for flair and creativity…

    Atsu and Joselu cost £5m each. I don’t think that gets you ‘flair and creativity’ in this day and age..

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