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12 May 2018

Newcastle: Rafa Benitez a candidate for Manager of the Year?

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Where it went wrong in Madrid

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A match made in heaven

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Ready for another super club?

Reuters/DYLAN MARTINEZ

When Rafael Benitez joined Real Madrid in June 2015, you always got the sense it was a marriage destined for a messy divorce. 

A manager with a famously no-nonsense approach taking on a team of world superstars famed for their egos, especially one Cristiano Ronaldo, Benitez was always up against it in the Spanish capital, especially after replacing fan favourite Carlo Ancelotti. 

Where it went wrong in Madrid

Benitez tried to shake things up, perhaps too drastically. For a club that recycled managers and Galacticos at a quick rate for great expense, he admirably sought to change the direction of the club by bringing through a raft of new, young players such as Casemiro and Lucas Vazquez, who have become stars for a team set for a third consecutive Champions League title. 

For a club however that won their much-desired undecima in the previous year, the Madridistas would not endure a perhaps slight dip in results for a longer-term gain.

Ultimately Benitez, in a paradox of a just, but harsh decision by Florentino Perez, was sacked following allegations of unpopularity with supporters, displeasure with players and a failure to get good results against top sides, and just over two months later he swapped sangria for stotties, the sun for the cold, Real Madrid for Newcastle United.

A match made in heaven

While he was unable to pull off the impossible in saving Newcastle from relegation in the 2015/16 Premier League campaign, Benitez took Newcastle up again from the Championship the very next year, as champions no less. 

Working under infamously tough owner Mike Ashley, Benitez has constantly been working on a shoe-string budget, but those he has acquired have by in large turned into great successes. 

Reuters/LEE SMITH

Islam Slimani has showed glimpses of the terrific form he failed to show up front at Leicester City, and Kenedy’s arrival on loan from Chelsea in January has brought a much-needed touch of flair to supplement the harder working players.

Brighton and Huddersfield Town, the other two promoted teams alongside Newcastle, have rightly received much praise this past week for securing their Premier League status for next season. 

However, not as much noise has been made for the job Benitez has done in achieving survival over a month ago and on a smaller budget, maybe due to the fact Newcastle are seen as a bigger club. 

This shouldn’t detract from the incredible job Benitez has done in leading Newcastle to a top half of the table place, with famous home victories over Manchester United and Arsenal being the highlights of a great season. 

In fact, if the Premier League this season had started in the New Year, Newcastle would be in sixth place, a testament to the ever improving job Benitez is doing.

Ready for another super club?

It is no coincidence that the two teams set to contest this year’s Champions League final later this month in Kiev have been managed by Benitez. 

It was the Spaniard, more so than any manager, that harnessed the support of the crowd in European games at Anfield, and that twelfth man legacy has been ever-present in Liverpool’s run to the final this year. 

Real Madrid also, as mentioned earlier, have also sustained a prolonged period of European success on a foundation of players that Benitez bought through into the team.

So the question remains whether Benitez would want, if offered the chance, to manage another European supergiant? 

Arsenal have already reportedly made their interest in him known, and he still feels he needs to justify himself in Serie A after he carried out a poor job at Inter Milan; yet what's to say the Spaniard doesn't want to try and win a piece of silverware at Newcastle. 

A self-titled big club paradoxically without a major trophy since 1969, it is the natural next step for Benitez to take.

Does Benitez deserve the manager of the season award? If not, who does? Let us know by commenting below.