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Rafa Benitez has exceeded all expectations with Newcastle United this season

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

Martyn Cooke

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Rafa Benitez
Photo: Getty Images

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.

Derby County

Newcastle United should take advantage of Matej Vydra’s low asking fee

The Czech international has scored 20 goals in the Championship this season.

Josh Kerr

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Matej Vydra
Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United ensuring another season of Premier League football represents one of Rafael Benitez’ most impressive achievements in football to date.

The job done by the Spaniard is all the more admirable considering the Magpies striker options have been thin for large periods of the season, and the arrival of a goal-scorer is surely imminent for the Tyneside club.

According to The Telegraph, Derby County are likely to list their top-scorer Matej Vydra for sale after their failure to earn promotion to the Premier League.

This comes as massive news to a number of clubs in England’s top-flight, and Newcastle should be one of the front-runners queuing for the 26-year-old’s prolific services.

The Czech Republic international has been excellent this season firing 20 goals in 35 appearances for the Rams.

Reports suggest the club may be forced to sell their star striker in order to reduce the club’s £35 million wage bill ahead of next season.

The 26-year-old’s sale this summer will be Derby’s attempts to slash their budgets and form a strategy that is going to enable the club to push for promotion once again next season.

A fee of around £8 million could prove a major boost for Newcastle, considering the club’s financial restraints, and a 20-goal striker would surely be an improvement on Benitez’s current front-line options.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Islam Slimani’s loan move from Leicester proved to be a disaster, and the arrival of Joselu was one of the most disappointing transfers of the season.

The club are in desperate need of a goalscorer, with Perez leading the club’s individual efforts, despite being a number 10 and not an out-and-out goalscorer.

Vydra also has rare Premier League experience with West Bromwich Albion, as well as Watford, and his graft in the Championship may mean he’s ready for a return back to the top-flight.

The former West Brom striker guarantees goals and if there is one thing Tyneside supporters have missed in recent years, it is a goal-scoring hero.

At a little over £8 million, he could still prove a real bargain and a relatively insignificant risk.

Benitez has been wanting to break the bank since his arrival in 2016 but may be tempted do a deal on the cheap for the highly-rated striker.

Newcastle will be looking to improve on their impressive 10th place finish next season and the firepower of a genuine goalscorer could see them surpass the highs of this campaign.

Vydra offers pace and is even an aerial threat at just 5ft 2, so it has to be a priority for Newcastle to capture one of the bargains of the season and bring Vydra to St James’ Park.

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Manchester United

“Imagine thinking Phil Jones is better”: Newcastle fans react to Jamaal Lascelles omission

Newcastle fans can’t believe Jamaal Lascelles is not going to the World Cup this summer.

Max Cohen

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Jamaal Lascelles
Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea narrowly defeated Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, thanks to Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.

United centre-half Phil Jones conceded the spot-kick, felling the Belgian in the box and drawing the ire of Twitter in the process.

Newcastle United supporters were baffled at Jones’ poor cup final performance and criticised England manager Gareth Southgate for selecting the 26-year-old defender ahead of Jamaal Lascelles in the World Cup squad.

Against Chelsea, Jones made headlines for his high-profile mistake 20 minutes into the match.

The defender was caught flat-footed just inside his own half when Cesc Fabregas played a lofted ball in the direction of Eden Hazard.

The Belgian’s first touch was excellent and left Jones for dead, putting the Englishman on the wrong side of the ball.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Hazard then cut back across Jones, before the defender lunged into an ill-timed challenge that got nowhere near the ball.

In a cup final of such importance, mistakes such as Jones’ can prove immensely costly. And as United lost the match by the solitary goal, the centre-back’s error was devastating.

And the Manchester United defender’s poor showing incensed English supporters, who were furious at his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man team.

In particular, Newcastle United fans felt aggrieved that Jones was selected in front of their captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Lascelles has been superb all season for the Magpies, marshaling the Newcastle defence while leading the club to an impressive tenth-placed finish.

Unlike Jones, who has been an inconsistent feature in United’s side, Lascelles featured in 33 Premier League matches this season – ten more than the United defender.

The Newcastle United faithful expressed their discontent at the England manager’s defensive team selections, arguing Lascelles would have proved a far more effective option in Russia.

And as one intrepid Twitter user noted, when Newcastle United played host to Chelsea just one week ago, Lascelles kept Hazard in check and held the Blues scoreless. Jones, on the other hand, capitulated in the face of the Belgian’s skills.

England face Belgium on 28 June in their final group stage match; Newcastle and Three Lions fans alike will be praying Phil Jones does not feature.

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Huddersfield Town

Newcastle United toxicity means Rafa Benitez should move to West Ham

The Spaniard is being linked with a move to London.

Max Cohen

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Benitez
Photo: Getty Images

After West Ham United announced David Moyes would be leaving the club this summer, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez has been heavily linked with the position by Sky Sports.

Although Benitez has worked wonders at St. James’ Park and enjoys life in the Northeast, he should make the switch to east London to finally enjoy the transfer budget he deserves.

There can be no questioning the Spaniard’s tremendous accomplishments at Newcastle. Benitez was appointed too late to save the club from relegation in 2015/16, yet achieved promotion at the first time of asking in 2016/17.

Even more impressive, the ex-Liverpool boss steered the Magpies to a tenth-placed finish this season.

The team was largely the same squad that won the Championship the previous year, and it is a testament to Benitez’s skills as a manager that he led Newcastle to the top half of the table despite minimal investment.

(Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)

In particular, the manager craved a top-class goalscoring striker, yet was never given the funds to pursue a centre-forward that could effectively lead the line for the Magpies.

But it is simply unacceptable that a manager of Benitez’s quality is denied access to substantial transfer funds to strengthen his squad. In December, the Spaniard publicly aired his frustration at the uncertainty surrounding his transfer budget, due to the frugal nature of owner Mike Ashley.

There had been hopes that a takeover would occur at Newcastle, but recent reports claim that the move is off after Ashley increased his valuation of the club.

Unfortunately for Benitez, this seems to signal another offseason of limited funds and missed transfer targets. Ultimately, conditions such as these are unacceptable for a manager who has brought so much success to Newcastle.

A move to the London Stadium would allow Benitez to truly shape his squad with a generous transfer budget, a luxury that the Spaniard must be craving after several barren years under Mike Ashley.

Rafa Benitez would do well to leave behind the toxic reign of Ashley and move to West Ham, where he would be appreciated and rewarded by a supportive ownership.

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