Hero of the Week: The Spanish Buddha that is Rafa Benitez

Date published: Friday 28th June 2019 12:33 - Sarah Winterburn

Who’s This Week’s Hero, Johnny?
My hero this week is one of the greatest managers working today (or working for the next couple of days, at least) and one of the loveliest fellas too. His trophy list is impressive…

Valencia: La Liga: 2001–02, 2003–04. UEFA Cup: 2003–04
Liverpool: FA Cup: 2005–06, FA Community Shield: 2006, UEFA Champions League: 2004–05, UEFA Super Cup: 2005, Inter Milan
Inter Milan: Supercoppa Italiana: 2010, FIFA Club World Cup: 2010
Chelsea: UEFA Europa League: 2012–13
Napoli: Coppa Italia: 2013–14, Supercoppa Italiana: 2014
Newcastle United: EFL Championship: 2016–17

Round of belly and flushed of cheek, it has always seemed like sharing a long dinner with him over several fine bottles of rioja would be one of the best evenings of your life. Still remarkably only 59 and with up to 15 years of management petrol left in his capacious tank, this is a man for whom more future glories still surely await. He is absolutely loved by Liverpool fan and Newcastle fans, less so by a certain west London contingent; this week he decided he’d had enough of his bosses and decided to walk away from the football citadel that is St James Park and go somewhere where his employers don’t actually take the pish out of him and hopefully to work an employer whose boss at least wears proper jeans and not the weird denim trousers that these appear to be…

Oh yes, that’ll be Rafa Benitez, then.


What Have They Done To Deserve This Then?
This week marked the end of his three years on Tyneside but it felt like it had been in the pipeline for some months at this great but most dysfunctional of clubs. He gets hero status for even trying to keep Newcastle competitive in the top flight in hard circumstances.

Deprived of even a modicum of funds to build a successful team, but achieving a 10th and 13th place really was a work of high quality. Indeed, it is to be hoped that owner Mike Ashley and his ship of fools will soon understand the huge job the Spaniard did on relatively meagre resources. He got a second tier side to be a mid Premier League team when under almost anyone else, they’d either have never made it back into the top flight from the Championship – plenty of big spending sides don’t – but would certainly have been relegated if the did. And that is surely what awaits them in the coming season. Rafa turned a clown’s car into a serviceable low-priced saloon that, just occasionally, could deliver an outstanding performance.

He’s this week’s hero for sticking around so long, for doing a good job in trying circumstances and for just being Rafa; a Spanish Buddha who exudes something special, who emits a vibe which is both wise and warm.

People love Rafa. I mean, they genuinely do. It is as though he has such a good soul that its benevolence infects all around positively.

He GOT Newcastle, by which I mean that he understood the club the place and the cultural environment it exists in. Not everyone does. Not everyone can. It is not like other places. It is unique. Even if you have no interest in football, you still know what the club is doing if you live in Newcastle. You can hear the roar from the ground as you shop in town on a Saturday afternoon. Even those non-football people like my missus, who is a born and bred Geordie and cares not one jot for football, still wants the Toon to do well. You can’t ignore Newcastle United if you’re from or live in Newcastle. It is in your DNA and in one way or another it dominates life.

Making a poor side into a decent side is arguably a bigger achievement than turning a great side into title winners. It is certainly tougher to do. Under Steve McClaren, the Magpies were hopeless having won just seven times in 31 games and enjoying a 22.6% win rate. McClaren is nothing special as a manager – though his time at the Boro will forever be written in legend – but his time on Tyneside showed just how bad Newcastle United were and how an average manager didn’t have a hope in hell of turning them into a functioning unit. Rafa finished with a 42% win ratio.

He remains one of the most iconic managers of Liverpool because of Istanbul and is still loved there. If you ever need cheering up, watch Rafa dancing


Anyone Grumpy About It?
No-one blames Rafa for walking at all. No-one has a bad word for him. The hate is all Ashley’s to own. But of course, everyone is fed up that he’s had to do it. Even neutrals are sad to see the big man leave. The ‘if Rafa walks we walk’ signs have been appearing in town and howay man, this time you better mean it.

Until the fans say ‘everyone out’ and abstain from their club until the Ashley regime is broken, then this will be your reality forever more. Ashley will never sell the club because no-one will give him the amount he wants. Indeed, it isn’t unlikely that he has no desire to sell it at all and is simply royally taking the pish.

But Rafa’s greatest gift to the fans could yet be delivered if his walking out is the straw that breaks the back of the supporters. Just don’t buy season tickets, don’t go to games, don’t buy paywall TV, go and watch Blyth Spartans or Crook Town instead. They need your money, not Ashley.

Do not under any circumstances think that not supporting your club with your money is going against your club. In this case it is not. Indeed, the true loyal fan of NUFC is one that will stay away to banish the Ashley evil incubus that squats on the club, draining the life out of the place while f**king it. It won’t take long. Bring the whole bloody lot down, devalue the asset, make it worthless and then start again. Everything that Ashley had tried to kill, can be rebuilt.


What Was The Media Response?
There a few media blarters who have tried to make a name for themselves by actually siding with Ashley and calling Newcastle fans unreasonable but even they seem to have been silenced in recent months. There is a widespread recognition that it is an appalling situation caused by an appalling man who has run the club equally appallingly.

Ex-players like Alan Shearer, Chris Waddle, Gavin Peacock and Mick Quinn lined up to decry the situation and lay the blame at the heinous trousers of Ashley and many more from the world of football have been quoted as, in essence, saying it is an absolute sh*tshow.


What The People Say
Having done a Manager of the Week last year on Rafa, I knew there was so much love for the man and once again, it came pouring out. I am not sure if there is anyone in the modern game that is held by so many in such affection.

We start with our traditional Haiku from @4_4_haiku:

Master tactician
Sports Directly exploited
For dire avarice

Last thing he did after losing his job as LFC manager was making a donation to the HJC. Could’ve been from China and people our way would still insist he’s scouse through and through. Love him.

Humiliated Big Sam without even realising it. That’s good enough for me!

He changed a club and culture (amongst playing staff) at Newcastle. Our injury record dramatically improved under him and for the first time in my lifetime I felt confident in our defence. He got fans dreaming again and did all the small stuff without complaint. I’ll miss him.

Everyone forgets that he won the Champions League in his first season.

Superb manager, bar Inter and Real (and maybe Napoli, where he didn’t do as well as was expected, but I guess that was because of the bar he sets when he goes to a new club)

When Rafa was a youth coach at Real Madrid in the 1990s, he used to store his match analysis data on CD Roms (way ahead of his time). His car was written off on the way to training one day and when he finally arrived at work, his players asked him if the CD Roms were OK.

I was delighted for him that he found a fan base that loved him as much as we did, it took Klopp’s arrival to finally get over Rafa leaving. Genuinely good man and a great manager. And his rant was the complete opposite. Calm, pre planned and thought out.

I’ll never forget him donating £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group when he left Liverpool. Also on a less serious note, him sitting down for a penalty shootout win over Chelsea. Not just a great manager but a true gent!

The magic man, that team he had built in 2009 was my favourite up until this year. I’ll miss him in the Premier League, there was something reassuring with him being at Newcastle and adored by the fans as it’s absolutely what he deserved after Inter/Madrid/Chelsea. Also Istanbul

Put quite simply, he “gets” it. His work in the local community is legendary and goes above and beyond what would be expected. As a manager sees what is needed acts accordingly – many questioned his bringing in of Rondon for example, but worked perfectly in his system.

Anne Williams thanking him for his support during the Hillsborough campaign remains deeply moving

I reckon that Rafa sees football like Stephen Hawking sees the night sky. Mere mortals like us don’t understand goals like Rafa does. We see, but we don’t understand.

Handled himself brilliantly at my team, Chelsea. I enjoyed a bit of rafa-baiting before he joined us but, after our meathead fans’ twattery, have nothing but respect for the man who won us a trophy FFS

In the summer of 2005, when the famous Ashes series was taking place in England, Rafa was asked in a press conference if he was a fan of cricket. He replied: “I do not understand this game. I cannot say to my wife I’m going to watch a game and come home 5 days later”

Cheesy as hell but was much more than a manager. Involved in local causes, food banks, supporters assocs etc. Understood. And obviously the best manager we could hoped 2 have. Season ticket cancelled, gutted but can’t let fatty win. I’ll now pretend to enjoy walks on a Saturday

Don’t want to take too much away from Newcastle fans here but his sacking from Liverpool hurt like hell. Hurt like losing a father figure who helped you focus on your goals and we got lucky that out owners got bought out shortly after, here’s hoping Ashley goes too.


What Does The Future Hold?
Rafa ain’t done yet, not by a long way. Talk of a £12m move to China seems wide of the mark for someone whose family is still resident on Merseyside. He must already have more money than he’ll ever be able to spend and any new job will pay plenty too. Not everyone craves ever more money. A challenge is clearly what motivates him. He would not have stayed at Newcastle in the second tier if that was not the case. He is not a Mourinho type who simply wants to buy his way to success and aggrandise himself on the back of the owners’ wealth. The job he did at Chelsea in the teeth of hatred from some, showed the stones the man has. He is what Jurgen Klopp might call a F**king Mentality Monster.

Many clubs would love Rafa but would Rafa love many clubs? Where else can offer him the working-class soul of Newcastle or Liverpool but also the financial support to be successful? Where needs the transformative Rafa magic? He seems sure to dip out of the game for a few months or a year until the right opening happens. Clubs I’ve seen suggested for him in the future include Arsenal, Leeds United and Sunderland (that seems very unlikely!) but he’s not managed in Germany yet and with Bayern in a possible transition period, Dortmund not being in the best shape, maybe there’s an opportunity for him to Rafa-up the Bundesliga. Surely the spectacular sausages would tempt a man who enjoys the good things in life.

But wherever the game takes him next, many of us will always follow Rafa, will always wish the best for him. What an extraordinary man.

John Nicholson

More Related Articles