Newcastle United had a woeful start to the season in the Premier League, which, despite their belated last ditch attempts could not save them from being condemned to the 2nd tier of English football. Their last throw of the dice was the shock appointment of Rafa Benitez, who had also coached Real Madrid last season itself. Though he was partially successful in rallying his demoralised troops, the climb was too steep for them in the end.
While finding positives from a season in which they have been relegated is tough, the Toons will have realised things could have been worse. The biggest achievement last season, hands down, was their ability to retain Rafa Benitez as their manager despite the drop. He had an option to leave the club if they failed to stay up, but he decided to take up the challenge, which was in stark contrast to whatever he has faced till date.
A funny and interesting thing about the Championship is, though it is a step down from the Premier League, it is considered harder to succeed here. Teams, having a majority of foreign players, usually tend to struggle as the number of matches and adjusting to the 2nd tier require a major change in mind-set. The more talented overseas players usually fail to muster the mentality that is required to put you head down and go on day after day.
And this was exactly what we witnessed with the sale of Wijnaldum to Liverpool for £25m. The Dutch international was one of their bright sparks last season but the club were unable to convince him to stay. A similar situation seems to be ensuing with their other star player Moussa Sissoko, with the player desperate to escape the struggles of the Championship. Newcastle seem to be determined to retain his services and have slapped a £35m price tag on the Frenchman in order to stave off interest.
While on one hand they are having a hard time keeping their star players, on the other hand Rafa has been gradually forming a British core who will be suited to the travails of the Championship. The signings of Dwight Gayle, Matt Richie, Issac Hayden and Grant Hanley point to that fact and the recent reports of the Magpies being interested in Wolverhampton Wanderer player Conor Coady does not come as a surprise.
The former England Under-20 star moved to the Black Country from Liverpool for £2m last summer but he could be one of the first casualties of the new regime at Molineux. Chinese company Fosun International purchased the Championship side for £30m and are set to overhaul the squad with the help of super-agent Jorge Mendes. While the midfielder had made 39 appearances last season, he has bafflingly been frozen out of the team during the pre-season itself.
If Newcastle go ahead with the transfer it would make for a reunion of sorts for the player with Rafa Benitez after their previous stint at Liverpool. The 23-year old central midfielder has admirable ability to concentrate throughout the match and likes to play passes along the ground thus maintaining the tempo of the game while retaining possession. He will have to improve on his tackling, though the fact he doesn’t dive into them is a redeeming factor.
He will look to improve under the stewardship of Benitez and hope he establishes himself at a big club like Newcastle and helps them gain immediate promotion as they so desire.