On May 15, 2016, when the final whistle goes on Premier League 2015/16 season, Newcastle United may have been relegated to the Championship, however, Rafa Benitez has done no harm to his reputation. His work with the Tyneside club in limited time has been worth applauding.
Rafa never had enough time to work with the squad and it reflected in the way Newcastle dropped vital points against Sunderland and Norwich. Then came the Southampton defeat which really jolted the spirits at St. James’ Park.
Rafa understood his plans were not working and he immediately changed things and since then The Magpies have taken 5 points from their last 3 games.
While the stat may not sound impressive but considering their last two draws were against Manchester City and Liverpool, one has to see the merit of those points.
When no one had given Newcastle a chance in those games, Rafa’s tactical changes and astute managerial brilliance led the way for his team.
One of the biggest impacts Rafa has had at the club is to introduce the youthful and dependable central defensive pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba.
The duo have been the main reason for Newcastle to grind out results in recent weeks by denying opposing strikers clear opportunities to score. Rafa has also rejuvenated Newcastle’s most skillful player – Moussa Sissoko.
The French International never got going under Steve McClaren, but Rafa made him the club captain and has indeed brought the best out of him.
Sissoko is seen all over the pitch trying to influence the game and more than anything, he wants to play for his manager.
Tactically, technically and most crucially – mentally, Benitez has improved this Newcastle side beyond all recognition.
These positives may still not be enough for them to avoid relegation this season but players have responded to Rafa and are willing to do anything for their manager.
Following Newcastle’s 1-1 draw vs. Manchester City, striker Papiss Cisse came out saying that he would go through the brick wall for Rafa, if need be.
Cisse said: “The players all listen to him. If you have a gaffer like this the only thing you want to do is go outside and fight for him. It helped us come back.
“If he asked us to run through a brick wall we would.
“It is because you want to thank him because he’s gave you your confidence back.”
It goes to show the incredible work Rafa has done at Newcastle United and in all honesty this is his football club at the moment.
He still needs 7 points to avoid relegation which looks rather unlikely given their run-in, but given the recent rise in confidence he may still pull this off.
If he does, he will most certainly remain at St. James’ Park, however, if The Magpies get relegated he may walk away.
His contract allows him to leave the club in case of relegation and given his pedigree, he would not want to work with a team in Championship.
Whatever happens from now and until the end of this season will be seen as the legacy Rafa Benitez leaves behind at Newcastle. But his players will forever remember him as the manager who showed faith in them and brought back the lost confidence at St. James’ Park.
Image Credit: Getty