Newcastle United fans trusted Rafa Benitez's process – but it's a different story this season
This isn’t the worst start to a season in recent years. It’s not even close.
Newcastle United are winless with six games played this season. The club is 17th in the Premier League with three points, and there have been vocal calls from fans for Steve Bruce to go in recent weeks.
The injury-hit team’s form is worrying, and supporters vented their frustration at Vicarage Road on Saturday after Newcastle failed to take advantage of a series of chances against Watford.
The game ended 1-1 after Ismaila Sarr cancelled out Sean Longstaff’s first-half opener with a 72nd minute strike. United fans again chanted “we want Brucie out”, though the head coach, on a rolling contract, is understood to be secure in his position at the club.
Bruce – who guided the club to a 12th-placed finish last season – was asked how he “shut out the noise” at Newcastle after the game.
“It’s very, very difficult,” said Bruce. “And that’s what it is – it’s noise. I get on with my job, try to do the job as best I can. We’ve got the makings of a half-decent team. We’ve got four or five players missing, but I can see us progressing, where maybe others can’t, but certainly I can.”
And that’s the thing. Fans don’t trust the process right now. They can’t see the team progressing.
It was a different story three years ago under Rafa Benitez when the club went 10 games without a win at the start of the 2018/19 season.
It was the club’s worst start in 120 years, and United’s first win didn’t come until November 2, when a goal from Ayoze Perez gave the team a 1-0 win over Watford.
Yes, there was frustration at the time, but supporters trusted Benitez’s process. They didn’t turn on the club’s manager, who had made no secret of his own frustration at a lack of backing from owner Mike Ashley that summer.
Benitez had, quite deliberately, gone public with his concerns in an extraordinary press conference following a 4-0 pre-season defeat to Braga in Portugal.
“Things are not going well off the pitch – and you can see a reflection of that on the pitch,” said Benitez.
Asked what was going wrong off the field, Benitez added: “Everything.”
That summer was the beginning of the end at United for Benitez, a master at getting his message across, and he left the club at the end of the season after failing to agree a new deal with Ashley.
Benitez had claimed the previous season that his team would be stronger in the second half of the campaign. And they were. They finished 10th.
It was the same story in 2018/19, as Newcastle, strengthened by the January addition of Miguel Almiron, went on to finish 13th in the Premier League, ending the season with a convincing 4-0 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The story of that season tells us that there is more than enough time for Bruce – who stopped short of criticising the club’s hierarchy after only getting one player, former loanee Joe Willock, in the summer – to guide the club away from trouble.
However, many fans have seemingly seen enough already – and aren’t willing to give him that time.