Newcastle United are facing an uncertain future following relegation, but Harry De Cosemo believes keeping hold of Rafa Benitez can offer precious clarity.
It was only natural that it would end this way. Newcastle United closed the book on another season last Sunday, along with this particular chapter of their love-hate relationship with Premier League football.
But after an entire campaign of doom and gloom, the lights went out in style with a victory that springs hope and infuriates in equal measure.
Last week, they became the only side in the top-flight to fail to beat Aston Villa, arguably the worst ever team to grace the league and a poster advertisement for crisis, either home or away. The mood changed when three points against Tottenham Hotspur cemented them as the only team to do the double over Mauricio Pochettino’s side this season.
Better than anything, that statistic sums the season up on Tyneside, but this were no ordinary victory, it was a 5-1 thrashing.
The narrative of the season has been a failure to deliver when it really matters, but Newcastle have shown they can mix it with the very best at times, even when on the brink of combustion.
Placing blame on one specific party is difficult. The board have been incompetent, the coaching weak and the players fragile.
Strangely, predicting when the team would put in a good performance and get a result became markedly easy, and Sunday was certainly one of those occasions, despite relegation giving the points little more than numerical value.
As frustrating as it may have been, that result has spread a good feeling around the club for the future. The aim of the game from a fans’ point of view was to make sure Rafael Benitez understood he was loved and there was something worth staying for, despite the break-clause in his contract becoming active this week.
Benitez has been more than receptive about staying on after talks with both managing director Lee Charnley and Mike Ashley. If he were to stay, fears over an implosion from within, resulting in years away from the Premier League, would be eased.
Despite never working at that level in England before, his vast experience from the past prepares him for anything. His aura, a particularly calming one, can repair a connection between club and fans, which has been fractured for a number of years.
Managers at all levels, for the most part, admit they are nothing without good players. Benitez’s failure to keep Newcastle up has more been a question of time than quality at his disposal but, if he were to stay and then succeed in repeating the Championship success of 2009/10, it would be imperative that large chunk of the squad stays.
Newcastle are about to find out what real vulnerability to losing their players is. Having a business model built around attracting quality players, supposedly above the club’s station, meant they were always open to selling at the right price. Some have left for pastures new, not many have succeeded, but the dynamic is different now.
The club must balance their finances against building a talented squad hungry for success, while the players, who have already seen their levels of interest questioned, must decide whether they are up for the fight, much like seven years ago.
On that occasion, it looked for long periods of pre-season that things wouldn’t pan out quite as they did. Uncertainty over both club ownership and management made buying and selling players difficult. It wasn’t until some senior figures, namely Kevin Nolan, stood up and demanded commitment that things appeared to click into place. Deadwood departed and the rest, as they say, is history.
Should he stay, Benitez will want similar answers, and his presence could sway a few who are on the fence. There are many more question marks over the players this time, the core of senior, understanding professionals isn’t no longer in place, but some players, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez for example, have suggested they will be helping Newcastle bounce back next season.
A summer full of doubt and ambivalence is ahead, whether Benitez stays or goes, because nobody quite knows what will happen. The other question worth asking is, despite ability, which players are suited to second-tier football? Technique, touch and finesse are much less important than physical attributes in the Championship, but it can also serve to toughen up a good few.
Every player is different, there is no one way of thinking. Moussa Sissoko, Gini Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat are three players who will look to grow their careers on the international stage, meaning now, at the peak of their powers, is the time to get as high up the ladder as possible. The unpredictability of Newcastle’s situation makes it tough to analyse.
Many fans don’t care who stays or goes, other than Benitez. Faith is completely with him, and with players backing him too, it is hard to see such a clear way forward without him.
Fans identify with him, he wants what they want, and keeping as many those who can offer something to the promotion push is much more likely to happen with him in charge.