Rafa Benitez may have failed to get the signings he wanted over the summer, however there was one key battle he did win – our approach to recruitment, with Graham Carr’s departure allowed Benitez the freedom to put his own stamp on recruitment.
There was believed to be underlying tension between Benitez and Carr. As you’d expect from any top class manager, Benitez would have wanted things done his way, however Ashley and Carr were believed to be close, with the latter being a man who delivered the odd diamond in the rough that would go on to make Ashley a healthy profit. Yohan Cabaye being a prime example. One of Carr’s gems from France, signing for £4m, only to be sold for over 5 times that price just three impressive seasons later.
Since then, Benitez has taken over and looked to galvanise the scouting department at Newcastle United, with The Chronicle revealing some fascinating changes the Spaniard has made since Carr’s departure.
Firstly, they describe Rafa’s scouting methods to be more ‘forensic’ than anything the club had been used to, with him arriving at the club with a personal database of significant size – believed to have almost 20,000 players on it. A database where scouts from ‘every country’ are adding information on all the players they are watching every day, highlighting that Benitez’s scouting measures are perhaps just as thorough and obsessive as his training methods!
The Chronicle also revealed that Benitez has emphasised the importance of ‘character and charisma’ in a potential transfer target, believing there is much more to a player than their technical ability, focusing on their attitude, ‘approach to games’ and ‘willingness to learn’ as much as anything else. Ability is hugely important of course, but as we’ve seen in our opening 7 games, good things can come as a result of hard work, togetherness and spirit and Benitez is rightfully keen to preserve the learning culture that he has ingrained into the squad during his reign.
In addition, it seems the days of Rafa being handed down a player he didn’t ask for are over. In the Graham Carr era, The Chronicle reveal that players were sometimes given to the manager (Pardew, McClaren). They’d ‘fit the bill’, but they may not have been a player that ticked each box for all parties involved. Now it seems Benitez and new chief scout Steve Nickson work in tandem, meaning any new buy has been thoroughly considered by both, keeping everyone on the same page and increasingly the likelihood of the player working well with everyone at the club.
This section of Mark Douglas’ piece in The Chronicle perfectly highlights just how different Nickson’s role is to that of his predecessor, Graham Carr:
‘Now Newcastle’s scouting processes have been refined. Crucially, Nickson is a regular presence at the training ground – where they have built a tailor-made office for Newcastle’s head of recruitment. Carr lived in Northampton – a good base for his cross-Channel scouting missions but the distance from Newcastle could be difficult – while Nickson talks regularly face-to-face with Benitez.’
We may have access to huge player databases and leading scouting networks, but the piece also makes reference to Benitez’s vast number of contacts in the game, giving this example of where he intervened over the summer to gain some key information on a possible target:
‘Benitez’s personal experience is a help. There was a player last season – a La Liga star – who Benitez had been discussing with his scouts and he was able to make a quick call to a director of football who had worked with him before for a reference. This is the case in Italy, Spain, England, Germany and beyond: Benitez’s profile means he is well-connected in the game.’
Finally, The Chronicle admit that Newcastle often had no back up targets before Benitez took over. They give a great insight here into how Rafa’s meticulous style made sure we had options over the summer when plan A, B and C didn’t come off:
‘Technical tweaks and refinements have helped Newcastle to identify plenty of targets that they can move quickly on – and it is why they were able to secure alternatives when Benitez’s A, B and C list of targets fell through. Previously, United’s top targets were their only targets – a conscious decision by the club because they did not want to waste money. Benitez sees it differently: ‘Even if you won’t deliver me my top target, I need something to work with’.
A fascinating insight and another example of Benitez’s superb work behind the scenes at NUFC. We are very lucky to have a manager of his expertise and attention to detail at our club.