Monday 20 May 2019

Gunners could do worse than target Benitez after stellar season

Rafael Benitez issues instructions to his Newcastle players in front of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Photo: REUTERS
Rafael Benitez issues instructions to his Newcastle players in front of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Photo: REUTERS

Jason Burt

Rafael Benitez spent Monday at his family home in Merseyside celebrating his 58thbirthday having given the Newcastle United players two days off. Even then he found time, early in the morning, to again watch Newcastle win over Arsenal which confirmed they would be in the Premier League next season and, later in the day, also watched Everton's draw away to Swansea City on Saturday.

Everton, who had considered trying to hire Benitez as their manager earlier in this campaign when Ronald Koeman was sacked, are Newcastle's next league opponents and it is not lost on the Spaniard that a positive result would help him finish above them despite their lavish spending. Plus, and like all managers Benitez is motivated by such things, he would be making a point.

In fact it is entirely possible that if Newcastle, currently on 41 points, pushed on they could even overtake Leicester City to secure an eighth place finish in their first season back in the top-flight.

That would be a remarkable achievement. Indeed there are those close to Benitez who already believe that keeping Newcastle up this season - and doing so with five games to go - and bringing them to their current status of 10thplace is already his most significant achievement since he first came to England in 2004 after winning La Liga, for the second time, and the UEFA Cup with Valencia.

That is some bold statement to make and not least because, of course, Benitez won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 which also kind of makes that statement sound frankly absurd.

But what they mean is that given the difficult circumstances he has faced at Newcastle, the stifling toxicity that had enveloped the club around Mike Ashley's unpopular ownership, the sapping distractions that could have brought, the politics and economics at play, then his stewardship has been a triumph of management and good coaching and staying focussed on the job in hand.

Benitez remains a more than competent manager and, maybe, just one who deserves not only greater recognition for his achievements so far at Newcastle but to be considered when conversations take place about who should be in charge of bigger and better-resourced clubs.

That is choppy water. If Arsenal turned to Benitez should Arsene Wenger leave would it be such an underwhelming appointment? Although there would not be the vitriol that greeted him at Chelsea it would hardly be embraced. And, yet, why not? There is nothing in the body of work Benitez has achieved in his career to suggest that he is no longer a coach worthy of being at a Champions League club while Arsenal currently do not enjoy that status even if they have the resources.

With one year left on his contract at Newcastle it remains to be seen what Benitez does. He is in a stronger-than-ever position, loved by the fans and players and having preserved Premier League status and with it the crucial financial security that brings.

Newcastle is a good fit. But obviously it would be shrewd for him to wait and see what happens around ownership. With the certainty of staying up it should flush out potential buyers and with that status secured in April it will hopefully give them plenty of time to complete a deal.

The job he has done at Newcastle and the circumstances he has dealt with should not be under-estimated as he has re-affirmed his status as an elite coach. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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