Rafael Benitez is confident he can wake “a sleeping giant” and has underlined his belief that he can save Newcastle from relegation disaster.
The 55-year-old former Real Madrid boss was handed the reins last week after the Magpies dispensed with the services of Steve McClaren with the club anchored inside the relegation zone and in very real danger of losing its Premier League status for the second time in seven years.
Having observed the Magpies from afar during his spells with Liverpool and Chelsea, Benitez is convinced they are capable of much, much more and is desperate to get the chance to take them to where he believes they should be – provided he can prevent a £100million catastrophe.
He said: “I decided to come because I knew how big this clubs was; the fans, the stadium, everything. You can see that it’s a sleeping giant.
“Then you think maybe with your experience and talking with everyone at the club, I can see that if we stay up, we can achieve things because the potential is here.”
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Whether or not Benitez gets the chance to realise that potential will depend on whether or not he can keep Newcastle in the top-flight with his three-year contract including a break clause should the worst come to the worst.
However, as he prepared for Sunday’s derby showdown with Sunderland, he said: “At the moment, my job is to give players confidence, to win games, and to stay in the Premier League. I think that we can do it; still I think that we can do it.
“Obviously if we win this game, it will be easier for everyone because it will give them more confidence and help them to work hard and do really well, so then we will have more confidence and believe that we can do it.
“I think if we stay up – and I am sure we will stay up – then we can improve a lot.”
He added with a smile: “I have confidence that we will stay up and I am sure everything will be fine. I am sure that next year, we will have a great season.”
One man who has offered to join Benitez’s coaching staff is former Newcastle striker Patrick Kluivert, but in the meantime, Benitez has been left in little doubt as to what the derby means to the club’s fans during his first week in the city, and he is is not expecting any let-up as kick-off approaches.
He said: “A derby is a derby and here in the city, everywhere when you talk to people, always they are saying: ‘Oh you have to win this game, come on Rafa!’.
“Still I am sure I will have two or three more meetings and local people will say more.”