Sunday 4 December 2016

Benitez identifies Shearer as key ally for survival mission

Luke Edwards

Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30

Newcastle United's new manager Rafael Benitez says he will enlist the help of Toon legend Alan Shearer. Photo: Scott Heppell/PA Wire.
Newcastle United's new manager Rafael Benitez says he will enlist the help of Toon legend Alan Shearer. Photo: Scott Heppell/PA Wire.

Rafael Benitez will enlist the help of Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer as he looks to find the key to unlock the club's potential.

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Benitez has arrived on a survival mission, given just 10 games to save the club from relegation, starting at Premier League leaders Leicester City tonight.

And one of the first things he has done is speak to Shearer, who was manager when Newcastle were last relegated to the Championship in 2009.

Shearer has been ostracised by owner Mike Ashley, with the club even making the petty decision to rebrand the bar named in his honour at St James' Park, changing it from 'Shearer's' to 'Nine' without consulting him.

Grudges

In turn, the club's record goal-scorer and former England captain has been one of the regime's most vocal critics, but Benitez knows he needs to tap into his knowledge of what makes the city and the football club tick if he is going to be successful.

After just three days as Newcastle manager, Benitez is already proving he will do what he feels is best, rather than maintain the grudges of the Ashley regime.

There is even a possibility Shearer could become involved in helping the team more directly in the future.

"Alan Shearer loves the club," said Benitez. "He told me if you do well it will be amazing. He said 'if you need me or want to know anything - about the city, about the fans, about everything - you can always ask'.

"We didn't have too much time to prepare for Leicester so I said 'Listen, fantastic. We will have lunch any time'. He was great, he was really good."

Shearer has not returned to management since he failed to keep his hometown club up during a brief eight-game reign at the end of a traumatic season on Tyneside, in which he was the fourth manager to take charge of the team.

Nevertheless, Benitez would be wise to get him on board, even if it is just in an advisory role, because few understand what is needed to succeed as a Newcastle player more than the BBC pundit.

At the moment, Benitez has more pragmatic concerns and he has made it clear that - unlike the great Newcastle sides of the past - his main priority at the moment is to work on the team's defensive shape.

"If you have a team that is really good in possession and you are much better than the opposition, you have to think in terms of attacking," Benitez explained. "If you have a team that has problems in defence, then you have to improve the defence. That much is obvious.

"In this case, we have to improve both parts of our game - in attack and also in defence.

"In terms of the team and the next games, it is always easier to improve in defence. Why? Because it is very simple.

"The goal is 7.32m x 2.44m, which is quite small. Your goal [has to be] small for them so you can clear the ball and you are a great defender. You have to score in a small goal.

"That is the reason Alan Shearer was so good to score there. It is easier in terms of your work, but you cannot just concentrate on that. We also have to score goals. We have to do both things at the same time."

Asked whether he ever expected to be Newcastle's manager, given he started the season in charge of Real Madrid, Benitez replied: "I am someone that analyses things in a certain way. I would have said, 'why not?'

Challenge

"The teams in the Premier League are so big and they will be even bigger. So when you see a team like Newcastle, with all the potential, you say 'We can improve things, we can be very big'.

"So I can do it, and I am convinced that I can do it. But, to do that, I need to concentrate on these 10 games.

"You have talk with the players. They have to believe in what you say and after they have to follow you," he added.

"During the game, we need to do exactly the same things [as we do in training]. Maybe it's too early - I don't know if we can do it against Leicester because they are doing really well."

Perhaps, the biggest challenge Benitez faces is to get goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic, Papiss Cissé or Manu Rivière, the hapless trio who helped get McClaren the sack. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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