Last March, on the 5th of March 2016 to be precise, I never felt so low as a Newcastle United supporter. We as a club were like the Titanic and were sinking fast. Our latest defeat came to Bournemouth under the stewardship (I say loosely) or misguidance of Steve McLaren.
A 3-1 defeat left us entrenched in the relegation zone with games running out. Despite deafening calls from those at St James for him to go, he remained defiant and was adamant he would lead the team out against Leicester.
At the time, there was much speculation as to whether the board would finally yield the axe as meetings were convened between Moncur, Charnley, Ashley and Carr. Finally, on the 9th of March McLaren had been sacked and Rafa Benitez had been appointed.
Rafa, the man who had achieved so much at Liverpool, Chelsea, Napoli and Valencia amongst other clubs, had agreed a 3-year deal with the immediate remit of trying to keep the Mags in the Premier League. Sadly, this was not going to be the case, but as many thought he would eye the exit door, an outpouring of love and affection for the man kept him in charge for the 2016-2017 season.
As life began in the Championship, two defeats, one in London to Fulham and to Huddersfield, saw us languish in 21st, leaving many fearing for our immediate future. These fears seem to be misplaced as a much-improved performance against Reading saw the lads climb the table and we did not look back.
Fast forward to May the 10th 2017 and we find ourselves back in the Premier League with part 1 of the ‘Rafalution’ complete. Whilst there have been a lot of hiccups on the way and a fear that a lack of investment could have derailed our promotion push in January, we sensationally won the league in typical scintillating fashion right at the last minute of the season. Cue mass celebration from Newcastle fans worldwide. My throat is still sore from the celebrations and the cheering as a Jack Grealish equalizer sent us all into unrestrained elation.
As we plan for life back in the Premier League, a meeting took place earlier this week between Rafa and Ashley. The media are quick to band figures around of how much Rafa would request, whether that be £70m, £100m or £150m. What was most important to gain from that meeting was that both Rafa and Mike can work together to rebuild Newcastle.
In Mike’s ten years, Newcastle nearly qualified for the Champions League in 2012 when Pardew guided us to 5th place. For me, this was a wasted opportunity as investment of around £40-50 million that summer could have kept us in and around the top 8 from 2012-2013 onwards.
Instead we went backwards and almost got relegated in 2013 finishing 16th with a last day salvation in 2015 after beating West Ham. In Rafa we finally have the man with excellent expertise, the right contacts and a real plan to bring success back to Newcastle United.
Pundits were quick to dispel rumours that Rafa is happy on Tyneside, with claims that he’d walk this summer, but going by the picture of Mike, Lee and Rafa, the three looked quite pally as they celebrated our title victory on Sunday. It was a positive sign ahead of their crunch talks.
Yesterday we received the news we’ve all been waiting for. After a ‘positive’ and ‘constructive’ meeting with Ashley and Charnley, Benitez has confirmed he will be remaining in charge of Newcastle United.
Benitez can unlock the door to Newcastle’s potential, but Ashley’s investment and backing holds the key. Now it is over to him and Charnley to stick to their guns and deliver the goods to Benitez this summer and the years to come. Get it right and we could be looking at a bright future.
Let part 2 of the Rafalution commence.
(By Gary Jackaman)
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