Fabricio Coloccini says Rafa Benitez changed Newcastle United for the better – before he ran out of time.
The club was relegated this week without kicking a ball.
Sunderland’s 3-0 win over Everton on Wednesday night condemned Newcastle to the Championship.
Benitez succeeded the sacked Steve McClaren early March, but fans had called for a managerial change long before then given the club’s dismal form.
And the 56-year-old had just 10 games – two more than Alan Shearer was given the last time United went down in 2009 – in which to turn United’s fortunes around.
Fans now fear the club, having lost its top-flight status, will also lose Benitez.
Newcastle take on Tottenham Hotspur at St James’s Park on Sunday in what could prove to be Benitez’s last match in charge, with the 56-year-old having a break clause in his contract allowing him to leave in the event of relegation.
Asked about the team’s improvement under Benitez, Coloccini said: “We changed a lot of things.
“We changed the right way. Maybe it was too late, and that’s why we are in this position.”
Newcastle lost 10 successive away games in all competitions, and that run, ultimately, cost the club a place in the Premier League, though Coloccini, sidelined since February with a calf injury, feels there were a “lot” of factors behind United’s relegation.
Asked about the team’s form away from home, Coloccini added: “It’s not one thing. It’s a lot of things.
“Maybe I’m not the right person to speak about that.
“I know I’m the captain, but I think it’s more (for) the club to speak about those things.
“Now we are in this situation. We just have to try to win the next game. Nothing else.”
Coloccini – who was handed a contract extension on the eve of the campaign – suffered an setback on his return from injury last month, and he won’t be fit for the Tottenham game.
“When you have a grade two, it’s really difficult,” said the 34-year-old. “It’s not a grade one, it’s a grade two.
“I tried to come earlier because of the situation we were win. I tried to push. That was maybe a mistake. Now I think it’s impossible for me to be fit.
“I’m in the middle of the treatment. I don’t think so.”
Coloccini was at Villa Park last weekend to support his team-mates, who were held to a goalless draw by relegated Aston Villa.
On his role behind the scenes, he said: “That’s all I can do. I can’t even train with them. I can’t go outside.
“I can just be around the training ground and with them in the dressing room.”