Rafa Benitez reflects on a rollercoaster first year at Newcastle

Rafa Benitez says he has no regrets about joining Newcastle United ahead of his one-year anniversary at the club.
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez and assistants during the Sky                                                           Bet Championship match at the John Smiths Stadium, HuddersfieldNewcastle United manager Rafael Benitez and assistants during the Sky                                                           Bet Championship match at the John Smiths Stadium, Huddersfield
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez and assistants during the Sky Bet Championship match at the John Smiths Stadium, Huddersfield

Benitez is almost 12 months into his career at St James’s Park.

The 56-year-old joined the club, which was battling to stay in the Premier League, on March 11 last year.

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Benitez just failed to keep United in the top flight, but he was persuaded to stay by the club’s fans – and the promise of funds to rebuild the squad.

Today, Newcastle lead the Championship by five points after a remarkable eight months in English football’s second tier.

“Twelve months ago, still I didn’t know what was going on,” said Benitez, who succeeded Steve McClaren at the helm.

“Staying here last season, watching the fans – hearing the fans more than just watching – was crucial in my decision, and now I am really pleased because you can see the fans are so happy.

“Always when we go away, they are so happy.

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“To have the city – the whole club – following the team in a positive way is really important, especially when you come from Italy or Spain, and you know what is going on around.

“You can come, you can do your job, you can coach the team and enjoy.”

Benitez was out of work a year ago, having been dismissed by European giants Real Madrid two months earlier.

The Spaniard was looking for a job in England after spells in Italy and his homeland.

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Asked if he was happy that he had come to Newcastle, Benitez added: “Yes, I am really happy with that.”

Benitez, however, has had little time to reflect on the past 11 months given the Championship’s hectic schedule.

United have played 35 games already this season.

The past seven days have seen away fixtures against promotion rivals Huddersfield Town and Brighton and Hove Albion.

And Benitez has been too absorbed in his job to spend too much time looking back.

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Asked if he had reflected on the past year, Benitez said: “Yes, but you don’t have too much time.

“When you play two games in a week, you have to prepare the next game.

“You finish one, and then, without time, you have to see the clips, see the reports and then start preparing the tactics, so you don’t have too much time to reflect on the whole year.

“Obviously, we have been thinking about what we have done, what we could do a little bit better and what we would like to do in the future.

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“But now the priority is just to concentrate on trying to win games and be sure that we are where we want to be.”

Newcastle are 14 points of the 90-point mark which has, up to now, guaranteed promotion back to Premier League. Benitez, however, isn’t setting his team any targets beyond winning their next game.

Asked how many more wins United needed to secure promotion, Benitez said: “Hopefully one at Reading, and then we will see what happens. One at a time.”

Benitez, more used to managing in the Champions League, is enjoying the Championship.

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“I like my job,” he said. “Sometimes people say ‘Rafa is lucky because he is doing a job that he likes and is getting paid good money’.

“And that is true. In my case, I enjoy doing my job, and then I try to enjoy preparing for every single game.

“There is the nervousness and the anxiety, but I enjoy the game in the way that I did as a young coach.

“I try to make sure the players understand their job, and then, obviously, after the main this is to win.

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“When you win, your are happy, but if not, then you have to start again.

“I like to prepare games, to watch the games, to change things and analyse games after.”

Newcastle beat Reading 4-1 at St James’s Park in August.

On the game against Jaap Stam’s fifth-placed side, Benitez said: “They will play in the same way they have all season.

“They will try to keep the ball and play in a high tempo. We will try to manage that in the way we did in the first game this season.

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“As a manager, it always depends on your players. You can have an idea about how to play, but they make the difference.

“They did really well. The work rate of the players the other day (in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town) was fantastic. You can see the response from the players.”