Moussa Sissoko signed for Spurs for £30M as Chelsea winger Christian Atsu became the 12th disciple to follow new Geordie Messiah, Rafa Benitez, to St. James’ Park after signing on a year-long loan deal with view to a permanent move after a transfer window that sees Newcastle make a £31M profit and truly ‘Rafalution-ise’ their squad.
A man synonymous with success, Benitez’s first transfer window as manager of Newcastle United saw the extensive turnover of a squad in need of a complete overhaul and the arrival of a dozen new players including many exciting buys to whet the football appetite of the 50,000-strong Geordie faithful.
As the transfer window drew to a close on Deadline Day, Benitez attended a UEFA Elite Coaches Forum in Nyon with many of the world’s best managers & ex-managers including Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Benitez’s squad change has truly been a ‘Rafalution’ with 18 players shipped off Newcastle’s books for either big fees like Sissoko, on year-long loan deals in the case of Dutchmen Tim Krul and Siem De Jong, the moving on of veterans Steven Taylor & Fabricio Coloccini and the release of dead wood like Sylvain Marveaux.
A further seven players in the development squad have gone out on loan notably Sammy Ameobi who joins Bolton Wanderers on a season-long loan and Adam Armstrong who teams up with Barnsley for the season.
The arrival of a group of hardened professionals, many with experience of winning The Championship and promotion not just playing in the English second tier as well as a wealth of Premier League and international experience has set up a deadly serious tilt at promotion back to the Premier League.
Make no mistake, the arrival of relatively big money buys like Matt Ritchie & Dwight Gayle for over £10M+ fees from Bournemouth & Crystal Palace respectively plus a clutch of £5M buys Grant Hanley, Ciaran Clark, Mo Diame – the man who scored the goal in last season’s Championship Final for Hull – DeAnde Yedlin and co. from the United States means Newcastle now have the squad to justify their pre-season ‘Favourites’ tag from the bookies.
The first two games and defeats of the season – a 1-0 loss at Fulham and 2-1 home reverse against Huddersfield – has served as a wake-up call to Rafa Benitez about the realities of life in The EFL Championship, a division that he had no previous management experience in.
Football is massive business – total Premier League transfer dealings went over the £1 Billion mark for the first time ever this summer due to the new TV deal – and with The Magpies red-hot favourites for the 2nd division title, it emerged bookies had even amassed a hefty liability on the club going the whole season unbeaten or winning every match until 3 penalties were not given to Newcastle at Craven Cottage in very controversial circumstances:
Not even Benitez would claim Newcastle played well yet an early sending off – Fulham’s Denis Odoi should have been dismissed 10 minutes in for a professional foul on Ayoze Perez – or early penalty given (the first stonewall incident was at 0-0 after 35 minutes with both referee and linesman with a perfect view of the handball) would have settled The Magpies down and their first win on the road would have been recorded.
Instead, early momentum was denied Newcastle resulting in a hangover against Huddersfield & the wrath of many at the club was United.
A second wave of signings was undertaken with renewed determination with Rafa’s reputation, Mike Ashley’s investment in the club and even the future of Newcastle United as a major footballing entity at stake.
Look at the fall from grace of Leeds United from Champions League Semi-Finalists as recently as 2001 to League One obscurity and Championship mediocrity since to realise what is at stake in the do-or-die restyled EFL (English Football League) Championship. Considering it took local rivals Middlesborough fully seven years to escape the second tier, not being promoted at the first attempt is not an option.
Newcastle are the 21st Premier League club in the wrong division for varying reasons from mismanagement to terrible refereeing bias that has harmed the club on the pitch and financially off it with penalty and red card statistics ringing alarmingly at Newcastle being blacklisted by officials and swindled out of the £100M TV revenue in The Great Toon Robbery (Telegraph) that should have been theirs last season but for refereeing ‘errors. (The Sun)
Yet the tide is turning since high-level investigations began – the dismissal of Brighton’s Sam Baldock was the first red card given to an opposition player playing against The Magpies since Norwich away in January, 2014 (Loic Remy dismissed alongside Canary Bradley Johnson) & the first time the club enjoyed a man advantage in any competitive match since Stoke City 5-1 win in December, 2013 when two Potters were dismissed, over 100 games ago.
JonJo Shelvey’s first goal for the club was huge and his continued presence at the club represents the fruition of investment in the 2016 transfer windows, when, after several barren windows for a club of Newcastle’s size, £100M was splashed out on internationals & Champions League players like Aleksandar Mitrovic & Chancel Mbemba.
Rafa has sold some of last season’s purchases at big profit – Holland international Gini Wijnaldum arrived for £14.5M and left for Liverpool for £25M – while money spent was recouped for both Daryl Janmaat – £7.5M to Watford – & Andros Townsend – £13M to Crystal Palace – to put Benitez’s book-balancing at a profit of £31M.
That represents excellent business considering Newcastle lost out on the £100M guaranteed windfall from the new Premier League TV rights deal next season although the club will benefit from parachute payments from relegation into The Championship to the tune of around £40M next season and £90M over three years should they not bounce back at the first attempt like they did in 2009-10.
Magpies owner Mike Ashley stressed when Rafa Benitez took over as Manager in March that he and Newcastle are committed through thick and thin –
“I”ve got no choice, I’m wedded to Newcastle like Sports Direct, I’ve got them and they’ve got me, that’s just the way it is.”
and ominously for the club’s Championship rivals, he is prepared to back Rafa Benitez to the hilt to save his top-flight marriage with the beautiful game.