Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League at the first attempt and there is a good feeling on Tyneside once again.
The man responsible for that is Rafa Benitez.
It was a shock that the Champions League winning manager chose to take over at St. James’ Park at the back-end of last season and that was trumped when he decided to stay on after relegation.
However, the Spaniard saw the potential in the club and he has overseen an impressive rebuilding job in the North East.
The Championship is a tough league and the Magpies’ achievements this season shouldn’t be downplayed. Off the pitch, the club have reconnected with their fan-base and everyone is pulling in the same direction.
This campaign has been an exciting one for all involved and winning the title on the final day was well deserved.
Here are three things that we have learnt from Newcastle’s season…
Rafa Benitez remains a world class manager
There has already been sections of the media that have downplayed his achievements as he has only done what was expected of him, but that is unfair on the Spaniard.
It was a brave decision to stay at Newcastle and manage in the second tier, as the division is different from the Premier League.
There is a more physical style and every team plays eight more matches. It is an exhausting and unforgiving league, but Benitez tackled it professionally and deserved to finish the season as a champion.
After staying on as manager, the former Real Madrid boss worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure he was prepared for the challenge ahead. He educated himself about the Championship and drew up the perfect game plan to tackle the division.
The Championship is nowhere near as prestigious as the Champions League, but this title will still be extremely pleasing for Benitez. He showed that he could adapt to his new environment and come out as a champion.
To put his achievements into context, Aston Villa spent more money than Newcastle but failed to finish in the top half. Meanwhile, the other relegated side, Norwich City, struggled to compete at the top of the league.
The Championship is better than ever and it isn’t easy to bounce back at the first attempt. Newcastle may have been the pre-season favourites, but they were a broken club after relegation. They lost their first two matches of the league and didn’t immediately have the aura of potential champions.
Benitez transformed them into that, and for that reason, he has proven he remains an excellent manager.
There can be value in signing players over 30
Mike Ashley has been stubborn since buying Newcastle and has implemented a transfer policy of signing no player over the age of 27.
The businessman wanted his club to buy players that had a sell-on value, and there is sense in that, especially as the Magpies don’t have the financial power of the top six clubs in the Premier League.
They enjoyed success with the policy at times and recouped profits on Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy and Gini Wijnaldum. However, the Magpies became a stepping stone club and that resulted in their relegation.
The players didn’t have the motivation to perform consistently, preferring to play their best when they were against the top six clubs. Last season, they were the only team to beat Tottenham twice, but they also failed to beat Aston Villa twice.
Benitez made it clear that Newcastle wouldn’t be a stepping stone anymore and the change of transfer policy was a big reason for their success this season.
The Newcastle boss was given free reign during the summer and he bought a few players that wouldn’t have been considered by the club under the previous regime.
His big success story was Daryl Murphy. The Irishman was 33 when he was signed and he came into an underwhelming reaction. However, Benitez had a purpose for him and he became an important figure as the season progressed.
He scored five league goals and played a vital role in the away wins at Brighton and Huddersfield. They were two of the biggest wins of Newcastle’s season and they may not have been possible without the Irish international.
He may not be at the club next season, but his goals and experience for the Championship season have more than repaid his transfer fee.
Jonjo Shelvey is revitalised and ready to challenge for an England recall
One huge positive to emerge from Newcastle’s season in the Championship has been the rebirth of Jonjo Shelvey.
He has played the majority of his career in the top flight and it would have been easy to lose interest in the second tier. However, he has used this season as an opportunity to find his confidence and consistency in the middle of the park.
The 25-year-old was dropped by Benitez at the end of the previous campaign and many thought his days were numbered under the Spaniard. Shelvey didn’t share those thoughts and came back to training in the best shape of his career.
Although he started the season as a substitute at Fulham, it wasn’t long until he broke into the first team and emerged as one of the most important players in the team.
There have been a few moments of controversy, including his suspension for an alleged racist outburst, something that he and Newcastle still claim innocence for. However, it is clear that he is focused on his football and he will return to the Premier League as a better player.
He is at the right club for him, as the supporters adore him and the manager will continue to make him a better player.
The midfielder contributed five goals and eight assists over the course of the campaign. He will believe that he can reproduce those numbers in the Premier League.
This has been the first step of his revival, but if he commits himself in the same way next season, it won’t be long until he is knocking on the door for an England recall.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Fulham FC