A day with Rafa Benitez: Why Newcastle’s manager won’t throw the book at his Newcastle players

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez
Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez

It’s the small things.

The small things can make a big difference.

One thing Rafa Benitez doesn’t have much of is time.

Benitez, clearly, would like to change a lot of things at Newcastle United.

But that’s for the future – if the club stays up.

The present is about staying in the Premier League.

With the experience that I have, I know that we cannot try to change everything. So we will try two or three things to change to give a very clear message, so we don’t give them 20 ideas.

Rafa Benitez

And Benitez is reluctant to over-burden his players with new ideas and new information so late in the campaign.

“With the experience that I have, I know that we cannot try to change everything,” said Benitez.

“So we will try two or three things to change to give a very clear message, so we don’t give them 20 ideas.”

The Spaniard has set about his unenviable task at St James’s Park with an energy and enthusiasm which has rubbed off on a team which is second-bottom with eight games left to play.

Benitez feels he can make a difference in the final eight games of the season with the backing of his players, staff and the club’s fans.

His belief is unwavering.

The 55-year-old, fresh from a brief sabbatical after his dismissal at Real Madrid, has swept away any staleness behind the scenes.

Benitez’s love of the game is infectious. He must have told the story of what happened at half-time during Liverpool’s Champions League final against AC Milan thousands of times.

But his face still lights up when he recalls that night in Istanbul when his side came from 3-0 down to lift the trophy.

He inherited a random selection of books in his office at United’s Benton training ground. They were left behind by previous incumbents.

Benitez – whose window looks out on to the training fields – quickly sorted and categorised them.

The only books he wants to keep are those concerned with football. The rest can go.

“What I have done is to classify them,” said Benitez.

“They were here for years and I was asking ‘why do you have these books here?’

“All these books ... I am not very interested in.”

He pointed to the football books and added: “These ones, I find interesting.”

Benitez’s office is neat and uncluttered.

On the pitch, he’s trying to make things uncomplicated.

Confidence, in his view, is all-important, and it’s going to take time to get that back into a fragile team lacking leaders.

Benitez and his coaching staff – who have been heartened by the reaction of the players over the past fortnight since he succeeded Steve McClaren at the club – are concentrating the basics of possession and defensive shape.

Training is intense and intelligent.

Benitez is hamstrung by injuries, but he feels he has enough.

There will be blood. And sweat. And tears.

But day by day, week by week, Newcastle appear to be moving forward under Benitez.