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Rafa Benitez has exceeded all expectations with Newcastle United this season

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Newcastle United

Rafa Benitez has exceeded all expectations with Newcastle United this season

Rafa Benitez has worked miracles at St. James’ Park this season.

The Premier League is currently home to some of the best managerial talent in world football.

Pep Guardiola has received much of the plaudits this season for his total-football revolution at Manchester City whilst Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino have provided a prestigious supporting cast.

However, upon Tyneside, Rafa Benitez has also been sprinkling his own managerial magic dust around St. James’ Park and has done a remarkable job at Newcastle United, despite working on a shoestring budget with continuous uncertainty at boardroom level.

Victory against Leicester City has all but guaranteed that the Magpies will be playing top-flight football again next season whilst also pushing the club into the top half of the table.

To say that Benitez has exceeded all expectations this campaign would be an understatement.

The 57-year-old had already etched his name into Newcastle folk law by sticking with the club following relegation and securing an instant return to the Premier League last season, but guiding the Magpies to safety is an achievement that arguably dwarfs his previous success.

However, in December the possibility of a top-half finish looked extremely unlikely.

Newcastle had picked up just nineteen points by the start of the Christmas fixtures and were stranded in a poor run of form that made them likely candidates to be sucked into the relegation zone.

However, Benitez has remained calm, composed and confident, even in the face of adversity and sketchy results, and has stimulated a dramatic resurgence during the second half of the season.

Such an achievement should not be downplayed considering the current scenario on Tyneside.

First, Benitez has been forced to work on a shoe-string budget and has had access to limited funds to utilise in the transfer market.

Much of the money that he has been able to spend has been generated through player sales whilst the 57-year-old has had to wheel and deal with loan signings and free transfers.

This was distinctly apparent in January when, with Newcastle supporter’s hopeful of seeing the club make a statement marquee signing, Benitez was permitted only to bring in a handful of loan players.

Second, the Spaniard has been forced to operate under the constant shadow of uncertainty that has been generated at boardroom level.

Mike Ashley’s divisive reign has been well publicised over the previous three years and the regular protests organised by supporters demonstrates the deteriorating relationship between the club hierarchy and the fans.

The club are currently up for sale although the list of likely buyers remains almost non-existent.

Finally, a quick glance through the Newcastle squad-list will allow you to conclude that this is effectively a team that consists of Championship players.

There a no big names and no star signings, yet Benitez had been able to mould the current group of players into a side that could finish the season in the top-half of the Premier League.

In short, the financial restriction and boardroom uncertainty has forced Benitez to rely upon his managerial quality, coaching prowess and ability to improve players.

There is no marquee signing or transfer war-chest – just Benitez working with the squad on the training pitch.

The Spaniard’s ability to improve players is typified by Jamaal Lascelles.

The central defender was once erratic and error-prone, but under Benitez he has turned into a metaphorical brick wall, a genuine leader and is now in contention to receive a call-up for the England squad.

He is almost unrecognisable to the player that looked uncomfortable on the St James’ Park turf less than three years ago.

It is undeniable that Benitez has done a remarkable job at Newcastle, but the future is uncertain and there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered.

Will the Spaniard, who is renowned for his ambition and drive, be content to stay on Tyneside for another year unless he is promised significant funds to invest in the squad?

Is he content to continue working under Mike Ashley and the uncertainty and division that the current owner generates? Only time will tell.

However, what is abundantly clear is that Benitez has worked a minor miracle at St. James’ Park this season and is rightly in contention to be named Manager of the Year.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

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