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NUFC’s RAFA-lution Taking Flight On and Off The Pitch

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It is too early to establish whether Rafa Benitez will be asked to negotiate diplomatic relations between Spain and England over Gibraltar yet after the Newcastle manager tackled Brexit last week,

(On the impact of Brexit on football) “”I don’t know and maybe I will be retired in ten years time and they will still be doing the paperwork!”

there are worse candidates than the softly-spoken Spaniard orchestrating a quiet revolution in Newcastle,

A year after the uniquely-decorated managerr – Benitez is the only coach to have won the UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. – surpised the football world by joining Newcastle, he has The Magpies on the brink of promotion back to where the club belongs – The Premier League.

Benitez has not just inspired his players and football club, he has inspired an entire city by recognizing and restoring the inexorable and crucial bond between the special club who play at St. James’ Park and its loyal, passionate and long-suffering fan-base by encouraging closer links between club and community.

On the pitch, Rafa’s Magpies lead The EFL Championship by a point over second-placed Brighton – whom they have beaten home and away – and are a massive 10 points ahead of third-placed Huddersfield Town, who must now accept forcing their way into the automatic promotion slots is a very unlikely scenario.

Furthermore, Newcastle’s superior goal difference of +39 compared to Brighton’s +31 is worth an extra point in the title run-in, a race the black and whites will surely win with seven games remaining, four of which are at home.

Benitez described the 8-game final straight of the Championship steeplechase as a “mini-League” that Newcastle must win and the experienced boss wasn’t getting carried away after a 2-1 win against Wigan:

“I keep saying it’s a ‘mini league’ and we have three points in this mini league,” Benitez explained.

“We have to concentrate on the next game to get a result.

“It’ll be easier to talk about the gap if we can win the next game, but we concentrate on one game at a time.

“The 10 points is good [as a gap] and we’re talking all the time about what to do.

“You can see Brighton have problems, Huddersfield have problems to win easily – you can feel the pressure like everyone else.

“I said about Huddersfield feeling the pressure they know if they make one mistake…”

It is Benitez the strategician that separates him from his most successful recent predecessors in the St. James’ Park hot-seat, Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, who respectively led Newcastle into Premier League title-contention and into The Champions League yet never quite got over the line and won a major trophy for the club.

Newcastle are not up yet by any means and while that elusive major trophy is in the distant future, Rafa’s Magpies do not look as if they will be taking their eye off the ball in the EFL charge – it is simply not the meticulous Spaniard’s style, that of a Champions League-manager operating in The Championship.

Benitez’s style of football is not without its critics for not being attacking or adventurous enough – some at the weekend said they would like to see a more gung-ho approach at home to Wigan with more strikers yet Rafa is quick to remind people his team are winning the League with the best attack and best defence in the division and isn’t interested in the crowd-pleasing thrashings that dazzle yet ultimately do not deliver silverware.

Rafa’s eye is clearly trained on the only prize that matters this season and on the long-term future while his ultimate challenge is to transform a club with a losing mentality known for being nearly-men for too long both in the Premier League as well as in Cup competition – painful Wembley FA Cup Final defeats courtesy of Arsenal and Man United in the late 90s, even Man City & Liverpool in the 70s linger in the NUFC fans’ collective consciousness.

Yet when his team find their confidence to overcome the ‘anxiety’ he detects in front of goal, Newcastle will be one step closer to calming any latent nerves about falling at the final hurdle and will certainly claim the Championship crown at a canter.

Rafa-lution Off The Pitch

Benitez’s universal popularity on Tyneside has even been likened to the Keegan-mania that surrounded the first, second and third comings of The Messiah King Kev and one great similarity Benitez shares with Kevin Keegan – along with the Liverpool connection of course – is bridging the club with the local community and fans.

Keegan was an arch-advocate that Newcastle United belongs to the Geordie people and Newcastle fans and hosted open training sessions in his spells on Tyneside as manager and encouraged, even made it the duty of his players, to go out and help the local community wherever they could.

Similarly, Benitez is doing the same and having previously endorsed The Gallowgate Flags fans’ initiative to help bring back the legendary St. James’ Park atmosphere, he spoke in his Wigan press conference about the NUFC Fans’ Food Bank intiative that is coming to the aid of the city’s poverty crisis:

Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden previously paid a visit to the West End Food Bank that the club’s fans contribute to via the NUFC Fans’ FoodBank and following that and Rafa getting on board with it, a record amount of 2.8 tonnes and £1414.98 was raised at Saturday’s match day collection.

Next up on the community agenda is Newcastle fans eschewing the opportunity to seek revenge on Sunderland supporters who hired a plane to fly over St. James’ Park as a final slap in the face after the club’s relegation last season – and instead simply to organise a big collection via JustGiving for the NUFC FoodBank, Premier class indeed.

 


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Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police

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Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.

According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.

Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.

The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:

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Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch

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Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.

Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.

“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.

“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.

“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”

Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.

“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.

“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.

“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”

 

 

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Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player

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27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.

Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.

Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.

Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.

“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”

“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.

“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”

“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.

“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.

“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.

“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.

“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.

“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”

Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.

“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.

“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.

“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.

“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.

“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”

 

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