It is difficult to recall a pre-season such as this one. It began with more unknowns than any other…would the popular and sought-after manager stay? Which players would be sold and who would be recruited? Who would be responsible for said recruitment? Would there be an overhaul of backroom staff? Would the owner dust his hands and call it a day after a second relegation? The possibilities seemed endless, and many of them, potentially devastating.
For one moment, imagine a summer where Benitez had said ‘No’. The miraculous positivity generated by Rafa’s decision to commit his future to the club in order to build a top side, would be nothing more than a twitch on the beleaguered foreheads of hardened fans as they faced another season of bitter negativity gleefully presented to the nation by its bloodthirsty media corporations.
Leeds United and Portsmouth are two clubs that immediately spring to mind in terms of what we could have been looking forward to.
Happily though Benitez began his ‘Rafamation’ and ‘Rafalution’ by signing on the dotted line after receiving the backing he required. It was difficult to predict how he would reshape the unbalanced and overpopulated squad as he no longer possessed the lure of Premier league football to attract the calibre of players desired.
Incredibly Rafa has persuaded three Premiership footballers and a Champions League footballer to swap their lucrative environments for Championship football at St. James’ Park. He has also now added another British player in Grant Hanley. He joins Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden as a fourth British player to link up with the squad.
Now I am not one of these people who brandishes all foreign players as disloyal mercenaries who simply don’t give a damn about the club or its fans. I don’t buy that for one second. There have been plenty of British players happy to take huge wages and offer very little in return. Just as we have seen some excellent players from abroad give their heart and soul to Newcastle United. English players are often ridiculously overpriced, forcing clubs to look abroad to get the same quality for a fraction of the cost. It’s shopping at Aldi as opposed to Waitrose.
Benitez though knows the importance of buying players who know what it means to play for this huge club and are willing to fight for it. If we are to climb out of this division, it’s going to take more than players who can play a bit. It’s going require players with resolve.
It’s a case of buying players with character, hunger and desire to perform. These recent acquisitions are signings who want to play for Newcastle. Players who are going to be proud to pull on that shirt and will strive to keep it. The British quartet signed so far all appear to have these qualities.
There is a pragmatic element to this approach too with the FA announcing in March last year proposals that English league clubs are required to register at least 12 home grown players out of the permitted 25 man squad places.
For this reason alone it is no surprise to see Gini leave the club and it would be no great shock to see Sissoko also head out of Toon. If Newcastle receive more than £50 million for the pair, it makes perfect sense. There is no room for overseas passengers anymore and it is expected Riviere and Goofy will also be moved on. Goodness knows what the decision to leave the EU will do for future player recruitment.
As for now, Benitez appears to be getting it right.