Rafael Benitez is convinced Newcastle United can be “very big” in the Premier League if he can steer them to safety this season.
The 55-year-old took over at St James’ Park on Friday charged with fighting off relegation over the next 10 games. Those matches will also decide Benitez’s longer-term future, with his three-year contract understood to contain a break clause in the event of the Magpies going down to the Championship.
Benitez, of course, started the campaign at Real Madrid engaged in a quest for the biggest silverware in club football.
Asked what he would have thought had he been told in June that he would end the season on Tyneside, he said: “If I was like I am now – convinced – I would be delighted. Why not?
“I am someone who analyses things in a certain way. 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.”
It seems a long time since Newcastle last threatened to upset the established order in the Premier League, with Alan Pardew’s fifth-place finish in 2011-12 the closest they have come since the Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson days.
When asked if he could take the club back into the top four, Benitez replied with a smile: “Don’t push me.
“I said before, I think we are one of the important teams in the Premier League – but we have to stay in the Premier League.”
Benitez will head into his first game at Leicester City on Monday evening knowing he has work to do at both ends of the pitch with scoring goals and keeping them out the root of the club’s problems so far this season.
He said: “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 also have to score in a small goal – that is the reason Alan Shearer was so good. We have to do both things at the same time.”