Optimism, doubt and several unanswered questions surround Newcastle United as Rafa Benitez faces an uphill battle during season two of the Rafalution.
Having lost eight of their last ten matches, the Magpies find themselves in 15th place with 18 points. The majority of Newcastle United supporters continue to back Rafa Benitez despite his club only being two points above the relegation zone after losing 11 of 19 matches this season.
This surprises almost every neutral pundit and fans from other teams. If any other manager experienced such a poor run with the Magpies, or any other club over a two-month period, they would have been sacked without hesitation. After playing 19 matches and losing 11 of them, the following question must be asked – why is Benitez and the poor form of his club being tolerated?
In order to answer this question, it is important to identify and understand two key factors that have contributed to Rafa Benitez’s job security and continued support from the Toon Army.
Unsuccessful Summer Transfer Window
Successive losses over the course of several weeks usually catch managers off-guard, and require in-depth explanations to supporters and the media. In the case of Newcastle United, the club’s impressive start to the season generated excitement and over-confidence among fans, but Benitez remained grounded.
He foreshadowed the dark period Newcastle United experienced prior to the victory over West Ham on December 23.
By constantly reiterating the fact that he saw this trend of losses coming as a result of a small transfer budget, Benitez bought himself more time and took some of the pressure off his shoulders. In turn, Benitez gained the sympathy of the Toon Army and directed the blame towards club owner Mike Ashley.
Prospective Owners in 2018
In order for Mike Ashley to sell the club, prospective owners, such as front-runner Amanda Staveley, need to feel a sense of assurance from Newcastle United. They will not get that assurance from the club’s dismal form as of late, but when they see an elite manager like Rafa Benitez on the sideline they see long-term stability.
If a prospective owner is going to spend over £300 million to purchase Newcastle United and invest several millions more into the transfer budget, these individuals need an experienced, high-profile manager leading the team.
In other words, Benitez enjoys job security as he knows that he is a key component to Mike Ashley’s sales pitch.
January Transfer Window
With the January transfer window approaching, the pressure is still on Mike Ashley as he knows he must spend money to avoid relegation. However, once the transfer budget is allocated the pressure will move from Ashley back to Benitez.
Everyone in England expects Benitez to act quickly and recruit new talent to improve the quality of the squad in January. The only concern is the potential scenario of new signings under-performing and Newcastle falling back into the bottom-three late in the season.
Thus far we have explained why Newcastle United’s poor run of form is being tolerated and why Benitez enjoys job stability, however, it is also important to address the question of how much longer that will be the case.
Warning: a bold statement is coming up next from a Benitez advocate. If poor results perpetuate through mid-March the club owner, whether it be Ashley or someone else, should strongly consider cutting ties with Benitez.
Why mid-March? Well, starting from March 17 until the season finale on May 13, United will have eight matches left on their schedule. Those eight matches present an opportunity for the Magpies and a new manager to obtain a maximum of 24 points.
The only problem is that three of those matches are against Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea. Noting that observation, Newcastle United should realistically aim to take 15 points to close out the season and hope they have enough to survive.
Overall, Newcastle are in a complicated situation. The Toon Army must maintain its unwavering support for the Magpies and for Rafa Benitez to turn things around. With the schedule becoming less difficult over the next few weeks, the January transfer window approaching and the potential takeover of the club currently being negotiated, the year 2018 should give Newcastle United and Benitez some hope for the future.