Miles Starforth: Why I wouldn't blame Rafa Benitez if he walked away
You wouldn't blame Rafa Benitez if he walked away from Newcastle United.
After all, Benitez seemingly has more to lose than to gain by staying on.
If, and it’s still an “if”, he stays at St James’s Park, one of Europe’s most respected coaches be putting his reputation on the line in one of football’s most unforgiving divisions.
Brighton and Hove Albion took 89 points this season – losing just five games in the process – and STILL didn’t go up automatically.
The margins are fine in the Premier League.
But they can be finer still in English football’s second tier.
So why would Benitez, used to managing Champions League clubs, manage in the Championship?
It’s a question being asked around England – and in Benitez’s native Spain – given his stature in the European game.
Benitez’s reputation is intact, even enhanced, after his 10 games at Newcastle.
Only Southampton took more points than United (12) from their last six games.
The problem was the 28 games that came before Benitez’s arrival.
I think we saw why Benitez is seriously considering staying at St James’s Park on Sunday.
It was extraordinary.
Newcastle supporters chanted Benitez’s name throughout the club’s equally-extraordinary 5-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Benitez was unwanted and unloved at Real Madrid in the first half of the season.
The campaign ended with a love-in at a stadium where there has been no love lost between fans and some of Mike Ashley’s managerial appointments, and the warmth and affection felt for him on Tyneside means something.
But not everything.
You don’t have the career that Benitez has had, and manage the clubs he has managed, by being overly sentimental.
That strength of feeling alone won’t keep him at St James’s Park.
Why should it? The backing from above is just as important.
Benitez – who has been in a strong bargaining position in his talks with owner Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley – won’t let his heart rule his head.
Fans tugged on his heartstrings during Sunday’s 5-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur, a game which offered an infuriating glimpse into what should have been this season.
But Benitez isn’t as emotional as some of his predecessors.
If he is to take charge in the Championship, he’ll do it his way, and he wants everything down in black and white before he takes what would be seen as a huge career gamble.
The stakes for the club are even bigger.
It simply can’t afford to be out of the Premier League for more than one season.
Benitez, rightly, thinks he should have the final say over incoming and outgoing transfers.
He’s seen enough in the past couple of months to know the club has made some huge, and hugely-expensive, errors in the transfer market.
Henri Saivet? Seydou Doumbia? Just why did the club sign them if Steve McClaren, Benitez’s predecessor, didn’t want them?
Benitez didn’t rate them either.
In the Graham Carr era, there’s been a huge disconnect between the players that have been needed on Tyneside and those who have arrived at the club.
Carr has brought technically-gifted players to the club.
But they’ve lacked other qualities, and the dressing room has suffered.
A stronger dressing room would have made all the difference this season.
If Benitez stays on Tyneside, expect chief scout Carr to leave.
Should Benitez elect to remain, he will have got assurances on a number of other issues, including the long-delayed redevelopment of the club’s training ground.
If talks continue to progress well, Benitez could be confirmed as the club’s Championship manager – and the highest-paid coach in the history of the division – next week.
In the meantime, there’s a danger a Premier League club could make Benitez an alternative offer.
It is clear Benitez – whose family is based on The Wirral – would consider any other jobs in the top flight.
Why wouldn’t he?
Everton have been mentioned, though the club is by no means certain to approach the former Liverpool manager, who wants to be in charge of an English club with stature, ambition and potential.
Newcastle fulfil those criteria.
However, because of the mistakes of others, the club will not be in the Premier League next season.
Getting it back there won’t be easy.
And I, for one, don’t blame Benitez for taking his time before making a decision.