'New blueprint' for Newcastle Utd as Rafa Benitez takes over
Adulation from the fans persuades manager to extend his stay as Mike Ashley gives him complete control
Rafa Benitez started last season in charge of Real Madrid, but will kick off the coming campaign in the second tier of English football after agreeing to stay on as manager of relegated Newcastle United.
The 56-year-old Spaniard took temporary charge at St James' Park in March having lost his job at the Bernabeu. He was given ten games to keep struggling Newcastle in the Premier League, but was unable to steer them to safety.
Although he had been expected to walk away from the club following the drop, he has now agreed to stay on as manager after talks with Newcastle's unpopular owner Mike Ashley.
"The adulation he has received from the club's supporters has played a huge part in persuading Benitez to drop down to the Championship for the first time in his career," reports the Daily Telegraph. "But the fact there were also no other offers from Premier League clubs has helped Newcastle keep one of the most highly rated managers of his generation."
In March Benitez agreed a three-year deal with the option of a break if Newcastle were relegated, explains The Guardian. He has now agreed to stay with the club after insisting on changes to his contract.
"Most notably the Spaniard has written guarantees regarding the budget and areas of control, including recruitment," says the paper. "These follow talks with Newcastle's owner, Mike Ashley, and the managing director, Lee Charnley. The fans were desperate for him to stay and it appears Ashley has offered the 56-year-old carte blanche to rip up his old, failed Newcastle blueprint and rebuild the squad."
Ashley and Charnley have "agreed to hand Benitez total control over transfers", says the Daily Mail, which adds that he has already drawn up a list of summer targets.
Not only has he been given control over transfers, a major issue for past managers on Tyneside, Benitez has also "been promised a large transfer kitty in order to rebuild the side this summer", says the Telegraph.
What's more, the Spaniard will be allowed to reinvest the money received from player sales, "which could be a huge windfall", adds the paper. Newcastle expect to raise at least £40m from the sale of Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum, Daryl Janmaat and Andros Townsend.
Can Rafa Benitez save Newcastle United from 'toxic' owners?
Newcastle United have been relegated to the Championship at the hands of bitter local rivals Sunderland, who sent the Magpies down with victory over Everton last night.
It is the second time the club have gone down since owner Mike Ashley took over at St James' Park in 2007, and the reaction of most observers has not been to twist the knife as much as to feed the club and the regime into a blender.
Current manager Rafa Benitez (pictured above), who arrived with ten games left in the season, was not given enough time to turn the club around and it remains to be seen whether he will stay next season despite his popularity with the fans, which is in stark contrast to the standing of Ashley.
The Sports Direct boss is a hate figure on Tyneside - and with good reason, it seems, as it is he and his acolytes who are responsible for the Magpies' sorry predicament in the eyes of most observers.
There can be no doubt Newcastle "have spent big and badly, entrusted inadequate people with too much power, played with fear and acted too late", says George Caulkin of The Times. "Newcastle have become a shell, overseen by pygmies.
"In a season when Leicester City have shown the value of sound recruitment, Newcastle wasted £80m," he continues. "An uneasy, flawed policy... has now blossomed into calamity.
"If Benitez stays - he has been swayed by the warmth of supporters - the bitterness of relegation would be tempered, but Newcastle needs fumigating."
Quite so, says Craig Hope in the Daily Mail, who lays the blame at the door of Ashley and the two men he appointed to run the club, chief executive Lee Charnley and scout Graham Carr.
"Newcastle United deserve relegation," Hope rages. "They deserve to go down for appointing a failed Championship manager last summer and then allowing him to remain in post for 28 games.
"They deserve to go down for treating supporters with utter contempt for the best part of nine years under Mike Ashley's toxic ownership.
"And Ashley deserves the financial loss - £200m is the latest estimate - for blindly trusting Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr to run the club in the first place."
The pair helped assemble the most expensive side to ever be relegated from the Premier League. "If anyone wants an example of hubris, they need look no further than the St James' Park boardroom," says Louise Taylor of The Guardian.
Newcastle are in a mess of their own creation, but their cloud could have a silver lining. "What matters now is somehow persuading Benitez to stay before allowing him to implement far-reaching reform. The alternative is too agonising to contemplate," says Taylor.
The coach is already a fan favourite and could become their saviour: "Behind a warm, genial exterior the 56-year-old is a consummate political operator in whom the Sports Direct owner may have met his match."