Following three impressive years at the helm, it was announced on Monday that Rafa Benitez will be leaving Newcastle United at the end of his contract.
As hard as the news was to take for Newcastle fans, the hardest part will be finding a man to replace him.
Benitez is a man of undisputable calibre. He is the only manager in history to win the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup and has managed some of Europe’s elite: Real Madrid and Liverpool, where he was in charge on that historic night in Istanbul, to name a few.
It was a massive coup for Newcastle to attract the Spaniard in the first place, and the avoidable manner of his departure has done nothing to weaken the tide against owner Mike Ashley.
Benitez was widely regarded as one of the best managers in the league after guiding a relatively uninspiring Newcastle side to a top-half finish in 2017/18, capping off the season with a fine 3-0 win against Chelsea. Despite a net spend of -£11.2 million during his time at the club, Newcastle comfortably finished mid-table again this season, largely down to the expertise of Benitez.
Having firmly established himself as a fan favourite at St. James’ Park, it is hard to envisage another manager having a similar effect on the Tyneside club. But which managers will the Magpies be looking at to replace him?
Dream: Rafa Benitez
It is thought that finance was the primary reason that Benitez and Mike Ashley had such a strenuous relationship during his time at the club. Besides, Benitez was absolutely adored by fans and players alike: something which he has found hard to achieve throughout his managerial career. The fact that a manager with his CV was willing to stay at the club in the Championship underlines the affinity he clearly felt towards them, and it will have been with a heavy heart that Benitez opted to leave the club.
However, the proposed takeover of Newcastle could offer salvation to Benitez. The Bin Zayed group, who are in the process of purchasing the club from Mike Ashley, are reportedly willing to heavily invest in order to achieve success. Should this takeover happen, it is likely that they will turn to Benitez to head their charge, given his proven track record not just at Newcastle but across Europe.
Newcastle fans would love to see their manager remain in the dugout at St. James’ for the foreseeable future. A reappointment would be nearly risk-free, given that Benitez was a huge success at Newcastle despite operating on a budget that would be a fraction of what he would be given should the Bin Zayed group come to Tyneside. Rafa on an elite-level budget at Newcastle would not only excite the fans but the man himself. Besides money, Newcastle and Benitez seemed to be a match made in heaven: a passionate club desperate for success and a successful manager desperate to be loved.
It is certainly within the realms of possibility that we have not seen the last of Benitez in Newcastle. Should Ashley successfully sell the club, don’t be surprised to see the Spaniard donning that black and white tie again next season.
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Realistic: Mikel Arteta
Guardiola’s right-hand man at City has seen his stock rise significantly since returning to England as a coach. Specifically chosen by Guardiola to be his assistant because of his vast Premier League experience, Arteta has played a key role in sculpting one of the greatest sides that England has ever seen. Having been an apprentice to Pep since 2016, it is thought that Arteta has the ability to take the reins at a Premier League club himself.
Arteta, another Spaniard, was heavily linked to Arsenal following the departure of Arsene Wenger last summer and reportedly only missed out due to his lack of experience in comparison to Unai Emery, the man who is currently in charge at the Emirates. Such links were a great compliment to Arteta, however, a man who is clearly highly rated by football’s hierarchy. Any man personally chosen by Pep Guardiola, the greatest manager of his generation, must have something about them. Arteta will be no different.
According to the BBC, Arteta has emerged as an early favourite to replace Benitez at Newcastle. Appointing Arteta would go some way to filling the Rafa-shaped hole for the Toon Army: a young, ambitious manager synonymous with attractive football is something which Newcastle fans haven’t experienced since the early days of Alan Pardew. However, we all know how that one ended: it’s remarkable that Newcastle are even searching for a manager, given that Pardew still has a year left on the eight-year deal he signed back in 2012.
Of course, turning to an unproven manager in the hostile Premier League playground would be a risk. However, it seems inevitable that Arteta will become a top manager one day, so why not give him his chance whilst he’s a feasible option?
Wildcard: Jose Mourinho
If Rafa Benitez was a massive coup for Newcastle, it is nearly impossible to quantify what Jose Mourinho would represent. One of the greatest and most successful managers of all time, Mourinho has won the league in Portugal (twice), England (three times), Italy (twice) and Spain, as well as guiding Porto and Inter to improbable Champions League victories.
Brimming with quality and arrogance to match, Mourinho has been out of work since December following his ill-fated spell at Manchester United. He has been very open about his future and publicly stated that he would be open to the idea of managing a ‘non-winning club’, something which will have certainly alerted a number of clubs around Europe. Given the impressive stature and massive potential of Newcastle United, the Portuguese will surely be intrigued at the prospect of returning to the north of England.
Mourinho may have stated back in April that he didn’t think his next team would be English, but the potential project at Newcastle is something which will interest a number of managers. With excellent facilities, an incredible fanbase and, most importantly, the likelihood of a very competitive budget should the club change hands, it seems to tick all of Mourinho’s boxes. If Mourinho was telling the truth about wanting to ‘start a project’ at a club, then Newcastle would be the perfect opportunity for him to fulfil his wishes.
There are very few realistic candidates that would be a step-up from Benitez, but Mourinho would certainly be one of them. There was a time where Mourinho could have walked into any managerial job in the world at the snap of his fingers; whilst his spell at Manchester United may have damaged his glowing reputation, the former Chelsea boss will be itching to prove himself once more. Guiding Newcastle to success would represent arguably his greatest ever achievement.