Newcastle sack McClaren: Can Benitez resurrect the Magpies?
Spanish manager expected to take charge this weekend as Ashley finally loosens control in a bid to save club
Rafa Benitez is to take over as Newcastle United manager until the end of the season after Steve McClaren was sacked by the club on Friday morning.
McClaren's departure had appeared inevitable since defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday left the Magpies second from bottom of the table, prompting fan groups, unhappy with just six wins in 28 games, to demand his sacking.
In a statement announcing the news, the club apologised for not having acted sooner but said the delay was down to efforts "ensure the right decisions were reached with the best interests of the club at heart".
Benitez (pictured above) was expected to be confirmed as McClaren's replacement on Friday afternoon and his first match in charge will be against Leicester on Monday.
However, most observers believe he will inherit a poisoned chalice, with the Magpies in disarray on and off the pitch and little certainty over the future direction of the club. The circumstances of McClaren's sacking have only added to the sense of chaos.
Benitez, who has managed both Liverpool and Real Madrid, "is not used to taking on the task of saving a team from the drop but has been keen to return to the Premier League", says The Guardian.
But the latest episode of the St James' Park soap opera could also mark a turning point for Newcastle, says the Daily Telegraph, as exasperated owner Mike Ashley has finally agreed to change the management structure to accommodate the incoming manager, who "won a series of concessions during talks with an intermediary".
The paper says: "Benitez was only willing to take the job if he was given the role of a manager, rather than a head coach with only a minor say on recruitment issues... Newcastle’s position is so dire that Ashley is finally willing to bend on this key issue."
The Telegraph says Ashley, who is despised by the fans, is "furious" about the way the season has unfolded and more heads are likely to roll in the summer, potentially leaving Benitez in an even stronger position if he can keep the club up.
As for McClaren, the paper notes he has been sacked by five clubs in five years and will not be fondly remembered on Tyneside. His days as a top-flight manager appear to be over.