Get Well Soon, Philippe Albert, the Belgian international and adopted Geordie ex-footballer, who was injured in a car crash yesterday, and whose 5th goal in The Black and White’s 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United in October, 1996, was the zenith of Kevin Keegan’s first reign as Manager leaving a memorable watermark of the potential of Newcastle United, football’s largest sleeping giant that Rafa Benitez is slowly awakening.
Newcastle United’s promotion back to The Premier League has – as always – made the great Geordie club the talk of the football world again, and the very pundits who fall over themselves questioning the size of the club are ironically drawing attention to how massive its true stature really is.
Craig Bellamy, in the words of his former Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson – “a great player wrapped round an unusual and volatile character.” – fired Newcastle into the second group stages of The Champions League against Feyenoord in 2002 as a player yet the intervening 15 years swinging golf clubs at teammates et. al. has seemingly erased the importance of this from his memory.
Before Newcastle easily dispatched his boyhood heroes Cardiff City 2-0 away last Friday, Bellamy the pundit spoke of Newcastle fans hoping that their club make a good impression on The Premier League, on BEIN Sports as ‘unrealistic’:
“Is it realistic? Of course it isn’t. They will go up not thinking about relegation or mid-table, they should be a Champions League club – they honestly believe that up there.
“Realistically they are a long way from that, they haven’t finished in the Champions League for 15 seasons.
“They are a long way from doing that.”
Yet 14 months ago it was ‘unrealistic’ Rafa Benitez, the most decorated manager in modern football, would become Magpies boss – but he is today.
For a club that is ludicrously considered anything other than ‘big’ by anybody who knows anything about football, the greatest sleeping giant in the world game awakening certainly rouses the twin dragons of negative opinion and envy.
The Magpies’ promotion party wasn’t yet 48 hours old when HMRC inspectors raided the club’s offices – you might have seen a footnote to the articles & stories that minor London clubs West Ham United & Chelsea were similarly examined yet naturally Newcastle received the brunt of the media interest and attention.
There is something about Newcastle United threatening to live up to its full potential that strikes terror into the football world – the same terror Craig Bellamy feels whenever Alan Shearer, who has threatened to knock him out when their paths next cross, feels when the ultimate no. 9 is in the same vicinity.
For some like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, it is the greatest professional roasting of their lives at the hands and feet of swaggering entertainers like David Ginola and Tino Asprilla, that haunts them, memories best played down or buried.
Although to be fair to ex-Liverpool stalwart and SKY Sports Pundit Carragher, he was quick to reassure Newcastle fans that his former Reds’ boss Rafa Benitez – would stay at St. James’ Park and to disregard any reports to the contrary, in the Daily Mail:
“He won’t quit. He never quits. That is something Newcastle United fans should remember as another storm starts to blow around Rafa Benitez…He wants the maximum amount of money he can get ahead of the transfer window in order to keep Newcastle competitive. If he doesn’t get the funding that he feels is necessary and next season goes badly, he can turn around & say: ‘I told you so.'”
In many ways, success – the real, trophy-winning or Top 4 Champions League-qualifying position Ashley considers success at The Magpies and said he won’t leave the club before he has achieved it – can still be vindication to the owner.
“To be categorically clear I’m not going anywhere until we win something”
was a promise Ashley made and one only Rafa Benitez can fulfil.
The appointment of Benitez was a statement in itself and the fact that Ashley has kept a very low profile – only appearing at a handful of festive fixtures at the turn of the year all away from the glare of St. James’ Park – shows perhaps he is licking his wounds after relegation and allowing Rafa to get on with the job in hand.
No doubt the glamour fixtures against Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and the like and especially Spurs, who are supported by many of Ashley’s close friends and business associates, will see the owner’s return to St. James’ Park and he will not want to be humiliated which is good news for the manager seeking summer transfer funds.
Newcastle Can Make A Big Impression First Season Back
In the summer between the promotion season of 1992-3 & Newcastle’s first ever Premier League season, Magpies manger Kevin Keegan banned the word ‘consolidation’ from the club and even told inaugural Premier League title-winning manager Alex Ferguson of Man United he was “coming for his title”.
Keegan’s optimism – backed by Sir John Hall’s money in the transfer market – proved prophetic as Newcastle finished 3rd earning the nickname The Entertainers en route.
And even after relegation in 2008-09, Newcastle bounced back again at the first time of asking under Chris Hughton and after an impressive 12th placed finish under Alan Pardew in 2010, by the 2011/2 season the club were flying and finished 5th just outside The Champions League spots after signing a clutch of players like Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, David Santon and Papiss Cisse.
The team that Pardew built for around £35M went on to reach The Quarter Finals of The Europa League the following season 2012/3 – only Vurnon Anita was added that summer – whilst struggling in the League without more squad depth.
With the greatest respect to Alan Pardew, Rafa Benitez’s reputation in the football world precedes him and with the right backing can take Newcastle further than the ex-Crystal Palace boss whose greatest achievement in management was winning the double Premier League & LMA Manger of the Year awards with NUFC on a shoestring.
Benitez was the boss who ended Valencia’s 31-year drought without a Spanish title winning La Liga twice in his 3-year spell there plus a UEFA Cup victory between 2001 and 2004 and he has been in and around the top spots and trophies with every club he has been to so will be pushing Newcastle in the same direction.
“We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United”
was the mantra that endeared Benitez so much to Geordie fans back in September so after restoring the club’s Premier League status, he will be looking to further restore Geordie pride with a more than respectable top half finish next season.
One thing is for sure, managers like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino will not be looking forward to pitting their wits against the Spanish master next season in front of 52,000 loud, proud Geordie fans roaring on ‘RafaBall’.
The best is yet to come. Don’t Stop Believin’
(The Ant and Dec Signed ‘Proud To Be A Geordie’ Plaque is being auctioned for the NUFC Fans’ FoodBank if anyone would like to make a bid for it, get in touch)