It was a massive coup for Newcastle to keep Rafa Benitez after relegation and Lee Clark believes that the Spaniard will be able to bring the good days back to St James’ Park. Although it will be a slow process, Benitez is beginning to build something that could put him alongside Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson in Newcastle folklore. Clark goes onto say that he thinks that Benitez will be able to attract some of the best players in the world to St James’ Park.
“I know one thing – when the club do get back up, and hopefully it’s at the first attempt, because of Rafa Benitez’s standing in the game – Newcastle United will be challenging for the top players in the world again.”
This is a huge statement, but it reflects the excitement around the club at the moment. They could easily finish this season with the most points in Championship history and that would be the perfect start to the Rafa Benitez era. The Spaniard has a huge task ahead of him if he wants to take Newcastle back to the upper echelons of the Premier League, but the challenge will motivate him. The Magpies are now a club that players will want to join and it will be interesting to see which players they bring in if they are promoted as expected.
The squad depth at St James’ Park has been discussed at length this season, especially among opposition fans who think it is unfair that Newcastle have spent as much money as they have. Chris Hughton believes that it is the best squad that the Championship has ever seen. Current incumbent of the goalkeeper’s jersey, Karl Darlow, thinks that the squad are in a good place and the competition is pushing the players onto perform better on the pitch.
“Competition for places is incredible. We’ve got such a good squad that we can hopefully keep rotating and hopefully keep winning games.”
“Everyone is pushing to play in every single game, with competition fierce and it’s showing out on the field.”
Benitez has built a strong squad since arriving at Newcastle and will have done so for this reason. The Championship is a difficult league and the competition for places allows Newcastle to maintain a high level of performance. The best example is how Aleksandar Mitrovic came straight back into the team and scored four goals in two matches. The competition is providing Benitez with difficult selection problems, but that is exactly what the Spaniard wants.
Finally, Newcastle could have an exciting talent in their ranks in Yasin Ben El-Mhanni. The youngster was once called the ‘non-League Riyad Mahrez’ due to his skilful footwork. He joined Newcastle during the summer and has been playing with the under-23 squad. He starred in the side’s victory last night over Middlesbrough and netted one of the two goals. It was a good performance that impressed everybody that was at St James’ Park.
At the age of 21, he may never get the opportunity to play in the first team at Newcastle, but he was signed to improve the U23 side. Benitez will want the club to be winning at youth and senior level, breeding a winning mentality. Supporters were excited at the signing of El-Mhanni during the summer, as he once taught Neymar a skill masterclass.
If he continues to impress for the under-23 squad, there could be an outside chance that he could get an opportunity in the first team, but that seems unlikely. The strength in depth at senior level has its benefits, but it does prevent youngsters from getting a chance in the first team.
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