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I remember constantly moaning about how Pardew never ever developed/improved a player.

 

I genuinely can't think of a better manager we've had for improving players technically than Rafa. Sir Bobby and KK were very good at creating a positive environment which many players flourished in but neither were as good as Rafa in polishing very rough diamonds.

 

Love this guy.

 

Pardew actually made them worse players.

 

He did. I think there can perhaps be a case for Cabaye being improved but he actually started really well and maintained that, allowing for up's and down's of form, throughout. If you had to give Pardew something then he enabled a good transition into British football though, I guess.

 

That's being generous.

 

What Rafa has done with so many others is marvellous. The difference a genuine coach makes is night and day.

 

The difference is so stark because not only have we had some of the worst managers in PL history recently, but Rafa is also one of the best coaches in the world.

 

Yes - it's funny though, that Pardew effectively blagged a 5th place finish, and the best Rafa may ever do here is 14th or something but the value of Rafa's ability to polish a cumulative turd is absolutely vast.

 

Pardew with this bunch would take them down.

 

Rafa, with this bunch over a period of time, could probably get them top half consistently just through organisation.

 

How Ashley can't see that or be able to place a value on that astounds me. I mean, he literally pays for himself, in the extra places he'll grab us in the league table.

 

Even if Pardew, Allardyce, Warnock or whoever kept us up at fourth bottom, Rafa would probably have us in 13th/14th by comparison this effectively working for free through the extra ££££££££'s in finishing spots.

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I remember constantly moaning about how Pardew never ever developed/improved a player.

 

I genuinely can't think of a better manager we've had for improving players technically than Rafa. Sir Bobby and KK were very good at creating a positive environment which many players flourished in but neither were as good as Rafa in polishing very rough diamonds.

 

Love this guy.

 

Pardew actually made them worse players.

 

He did. I think there can perhaps be a case for Cabaye being improved but he actually started really well and maintained that, allowing for up's and down's of form, throughout. If you had to give Pardew something then he enabled a good transition into British football though, I guess.

 

That's being generous.

 

What Rafa has done with so many others is marvellous. The difference a genuine coach makes is night and day.

 

The difference is so stark because not only have we had some of the worst managers in PL history recently, but Rafa is also one of the best coaches in the world.

 

Yes - it's funny though, that Pardew effectively blagged a 5th place finish, and the best Rafa may ever do here is 14th or something but the value of Rafa's ability to polish a cumulative turd is absolutely vast.

 

Pardew with this bunch would take them down.

 

Rafa, with this bunch over a period of time, could probably get them top half consistently just through organisation.

 

How Ashley can't see that or be able to place a value on that astounds me. I mean, he literally pays for himself, in the extra places he'll grab us in the league table.

 

Even if Pardew, Allardyce, Warnock or whoever kept us up at fourth bottom, Rafa would probably have us in 13th/14th by comparison this effectively working for free through the extra ££££££££'s in finishing spots.

 

The 5th place was nothing to do with Pardew in my opinion.

 

We got 5th despite Pardew, not because of him. Mainly down to having some good quality new players who had not yet been Pardewed and who were still playing at a level they were used to before the rot set in.

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Pardew, to his credit I guess, was at least good at initially motivating a team by making the right noises, it's fatally that when you're past that bluster phase that there's fuck all there and when things go wrong he's the opposite of motivational, able to think objectively etc. Thank fuck he's limited to punditry atm.

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Pardew, to his credit I guess, was at least good at initially motivating a team by making the right noises, it's fatally that when you're past that bluster phase that there's f*** all there and when things go wrong he's the opposite of motivational, able to think objectively etc. Thank f*** he's limited to punditry atm.

 

#wait

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I know it's said several times a week, but fuck me the chronicle site man :anguish:

 

If the evidence was not compelling enough for him after a Championship title was delivered, perhaps now Mike Ashley is beginning to realise that the single greatest asset Newcastle United have had in a decade-and-a-half is their current manager.

 

Should the Magpies owner ever needed convincing that Benitez is the man who can bring both success and profit to Newcastle simultaneously, he need only consider what the Spaniard has already achieved so far this team - not to mention his immense success last season.

 

 

Ashley should take a look at the starting XI who took to the field on Saturday and then compare it to every other Premier League side.

 

A starting line-up with an average age of just 25 - the youngest in the Premier League - a captain who is just 23, as well as seven players aged 25 or under. The only United player past his 30th birthday is Rob Elliot - and, for a goalkeeper, 31 is no age at all.

 

Yet three-successive victories have been delivered by a newly-promoted team whose starting XI on Saturday cost less than £60million to construct - Matt Ritchie alone makes up a fifth of that outlay - and who have only a smattering of top-flight experience between them.

 

Imagine what Benitez could be considering achieving had he been allowed to remodel his Newcastle squad in the summer as he so desired.

 

Jamaal Lascelles celebrates with teammates after he heads the ball to score Newcastle's second goal during the match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St James' Park

Jamaal Lascelles celebrates with teammates after he heads the ball to score Newcastle's second goal during the match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St James' Park (Image: Newcastle United)

Make no mistake, Benitez wanted further reinforcements and he also sought greater experience and leadership to be brought in during the window, but he was also keen to sign young, hungry players who he can develop.

 

He was not demanding £20m-plus signings; rather, he was looking to bring in talented young individuals his scouting team had identified, and then bolster their progress by developing them alongside a few seasoned and proven Premier League performers.

 

Inside 12 months, the improvement in Isaac Hayden has been exponential; Ayoze Perez has added physicality and nous to his game; Chancel Mbemba rarely makes the rash decisions which undermined his game previously; Christian Atsu is discovering consistency in his performances; Ciaran Clark has progressed from an accident-prone defender at Aston Villa to Mr Dependable at the back; while Jamaal Lascelles is showing maturity beyond his years both on an off the pitch.

 

READ MORE

'It gives us a big advantage' - Jamaal Lascelles on why Newcastle's youthfulness is their strength

Their progress is not merely coincidental. Benitez and his coaching staff’s influence on those six players cannot be understated.

 

Due to the less-arduous nature of the Premier League schedule when compared to the Championship, Benitez and his backroom team are also enjoying more time on the training pitch with the squad this term - and the impact of those additional meticulous sessions is obvious.

 

When Magpies supporters look at the marked improvement in those six players, they must tingle with excitement at the prospect of Mikel Merino potentially working under Benitez long term, given how impressive the young Spaniard’s performances have already been to date.

 

Mikel Merino of Newcastle United

Mikel Merino of Newcastle United (Image: Newcastle United)

Again, Merino was a player Benitez identified.

 

Yet what is so frustrating about Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle is that he does not appear to immediately appreciate the single-greatest asset he has at his disposal.

 

Instead, Ashley points to the £6.5m spent on Matz Sels, the £4m on Achraf Lazaar and the £5.5m on Grant Hanley; he sees cold, hard figures, yet he appears to fail to grasp the full picture.

 

READ MORE

Why the flexibility Newcastle have shown across three differing wins is a cause for real optimism

When Benitez sat down with Ashley in May, the Newcastle manager presented a detailed business plan to the owner in which he explained how the Magpies could marry on-field success with making profit. Football is the priority, but money would follow.

 

Yes, Pepe Reina is 35. Yes, the Spaniard would be an expensive short-term addition once wages are considered. Yes, it is even arguable that the former Liverpool goalkeeper’s best years are behind him.

 

But Reina’s experience, his presence in the dressing room and his close relationship with Benitez would have been invaluable in terms of the impact they would have had on the youth within the United squad.

 

Pepe Reina

Pepe Reina (Image: Getty Images Europe)

Benitez is comfortable working without the over-arching model which Ashley has for the club which is to buy young prospects and develop them into top-level players. He acknowledges the financial restraints too.

 

Yet what he desires is the flexibility to sprinkle - wholly necessarily - a little bit of experience within his squad to further help develop the youngsters he has at his disposal.

 

The owner did not grasp the actuality of the situation, however. Instead, for the second-successive summer, he failed to deliver on promises Benitez believes were made - and this breakdown in trust must be repaired.

 

Ashley’s approach to the summer borders upon the nonsensical from a business point of view because the flaw in his running of the club has always been his failure to appoint a top-class coach until Benitez. Buy young and cheap, sell big once these players have developed; that is Ashley’s transfer strategy.

 

But what such an over-arching model requires is an excellent coach who is going to ensure that youngster fulfils their potential. Then Newcastle can either sell them on for a large profit or, preferably, retain an asset who they have bought for a modest fee but whose value to the side becomes exponentially greater than the original price paid.

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http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/how-rafa-benitez-built-band-13645018

 

  How Rafa Benitez built a band of brothers: Checks, balance and detoxifying the dressing room

 

Newcastle United's dressing room is a very different place from 2015, when they struggled to survive

 

COMMENTS

 

BYMARK DOUGLAS

 

19:30, 19 SEP 2017

 

Igor Gluscevic will never forget the phone call from Rafa Benitez.

 

An underrated striker who carved out a career in Holland, Spain and – crucially – under Benitez at Spanish second tier side Extremadura, Gluscevic’s retirement at the age of 34 saw him offered the chance to reunite with his former boss at Anfield.

 

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He could not turn it down. Gluscevic was the man who first alerted Benitez to Dirk Kuyt – a favour that the Spaniard rewarded with a full-time scouting role with the remit of unearthing rough diamonds from the Balkans to aid the Spaniard’s Anfield overhaul.

 

He became a trusted recruitment lieutenant, absorbed into the Benitez inner circle. But it was a role that required some patience. “Benitez called me one time, it was about a certain player he wanted some information on,” he explained to ESPN last year.

 

“He called me and said: ‘Igor, I don’t understand the look of the player when he missed a chance. Is he angry? Is he disappointed? Does it matter for him?’ He was going into this detail and I was laughing and said: ‘Rafa, come on. You are going into so much detail.’

 

“It was not easy to work with him, he was asking, asking and asking for many different types of information. But at the end of the day, I preferred this a lot and these details are very important in certain players when you have to spend millions.”

 

To understand how Newcastle’s manager built the black and white band of brothers who have reversed the negative narrative at St James’ Park, you need look no further than this story. It is typical of the kind of approach that has detoxified the dressing room at St James’ Park over the last 15 months.

 

Benitez’s attention to detail may be presented as an amusing anecdote but these questions are key to comprehending the way the Spaniard manages. He sweats the small stuff and that means trying to get a handle not just on the player – anyone can make a judgement on that – but also the person. Analysing that look might be the final piece of the jigsaw Benitez pieces together on a player’s personality.

 

When Jamaal Lascelles said United have “different players” with a “different mentality” from the one that set them on the path to Premier League relegation in 2015, he is not wrong. But it is not a happy coincidence or a slice of good fortune that the collective character has improved: it is one of the central principles of successive Benitez recruitment drives.

 

Newcastle United pre-season training at Carton House, Ireland, Rafa Benitez (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)CLEARING THE DECKS

 

There has been a ruthlessness about Benitez’s team building – he has sold 11 of the club’s longest-serving players in an effort to rip out the prevailing culture of negativity and that he inherited.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

How one life change can help you beat common health problems

 

Sponsored by PHE

 

It was a squad that had talent but also problems. It was too quiet. It was renowned in football as an easy touch – Crystal Palace coach John Salako said that pre-game instructions to his team were “Knock the spirit out of them and they will go”. There were too many kingdoms being preserved in there: long-serving players who were more interested in their own careers than Newcastle’s. There was a mini-mutiny in there when Alan Pardew threatened to fine Yohan Cabaye for a wildcat strike before the first game of the 2013/14 season against Manchester City,

 

Benitez was disturbed by the statistic that United had conceded three or more goals seven times already that season. A sweep of the footage of their games that season revealed many of those heavy defeats as a case of United not being able – or not being motivated – to prevent heavy reversals.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

In the short-term, he worked with what he had. Moussa Sissoko was promoted to captain. Benitez liked him as a player: he was strong, versatile and influential. But he typified a dressing room that saw the club as a platform and not a destination. Most believed they had outgrown Newcastle .

 

So Benitez began to cut. He wanted a dressing room that would support each other: that would challenge team-mates if they were in the wrong. Tough characters did not necessarily mean difficult characters – he intended to challenge the players and would not push back if they challenged him or asked him why he was telling them to do certain things.

 

It says a lot that Benitez never forgets former colleagues. He has a wide network of people he has worked with and remains on friendly terms with them: many former players have gone on to be scouts, agents or administrators at other clubs. Gluscevic made the move from scout to agent: his advice on Stevan Jovetic was ringing in Benitez’s ears when he encouraged Newcastle’s administrators to make a move this summer.

 

What he believes he can get from these former colleagues is honesty. He wants to know everything about players he is scouting and he’s not afraid to move away from talented ones if he feels that they would not fit into the prevailing culture at Newcastle – which is one of self-improvement.

 

Training is important. A winning culture, he feels, starts with approaching every session with the mentality that you should be doing your absolute utmost. Bad trainers need not apply at Newcastle: Benitez does not think allowances can be made for anyone.

 

Isaac Hayden tells a story of being awake in the hours after that dispiriting defeat to Ipswich last Easter, ruminating over what he could have done better. He sought out Benitez to ask what could be done. The pair were locked in his office for hours, Benitez out of his seat pointing out positions, movements and ways of seeing the game.

 

This is a culture which relies on those arriving to sign up to it. He wanted Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina because he has seen at first hand how he inspires change and improvement in those around him. It is, he feels, the key to creating a positive atmosphere.

 

THE BACKGROUND CHECKS

 

Benitez meets everyone who arrives – and those who don’t too. But before they sit down over a coffee, there will have been a minimum of two or three referees for that player. “When I pick players, I need to be sure I am choosing players who really want it and are not always making excuses when they make mistakes,” he explained.

 

These background checks have formed a crucial part of Benitez’s work assembling this squad. There is a neat narrative running through this squad of Newcastle bringing in players who have had to fight back from some sort of adversity.

 

Matt Ritchie was playing in the fourth division a few years before he arrived at Newcastle; Dwight Gayle had to combine a carpentry job with non-league football – and actually took a pay cut to sign for Bishop’s Stortford. This summer, Florian Lejeune – who rebuilt his career in the Spanish second tier – was signed along with Mikel Merino, who had hunger after failing to make an impact at Borussia Dortmund.

 

Benitez likes those who have had to work for what they have. He urged Tammy Abraham to remove himself from his comfort zone in the south to come and play for Newcastle. It was a convincing sales pitch that won over the Chelsea striker, which explains the anger that Newcastle did not complete the deal.

 

He has a model for a player. In my book Inside the Rafalution I quoted Mauro Pederzoli, another former Benitez scout, who worked with him in 2007.

 

“There are simple but unbreakable rules that Benitez passes on to his scouts,” he said, when interviewed a decade ago.

 

“Benitez doesn’t want headline-hogging players but discipline. He avoids small players and ‘fancy dans’. He looks for ‘fair and strong’ players. Put together those players and you get a Benitez team. His Liverpool team was a side that topped the fair play league. In one season they had no player sent off in the league.”

 

By the same token, he is not afraid to turn down players who he feels would not fit into Newcastle’s dressing room culture. There were two this summer who might have excited fans if Newcastle’s manager had followed up interest, but Benitez felt they would not work at his club.

 

Indeed he sought in-depth references on Joe Hart, who was being offered at a reasonable loan rate. He was told that he had not impressed on-the-field at Torino.

 

READ MOREEverything is Black and White podcast: Can Newcastle make it four in a row?MAKING SURE THE SQUAD HAS THE BALANCE

 

It is not just about the first XI. The hardest part of building a squad is maintaining the hunger and edge of those on the fringes.

 

“Some players will be more important than the others,” Benitez has said. “But they are all part of our movement. If we do well, they are all important.”

 

The first part of this is making sure that he brings in the right characters and explains their role with clarity and honesty. Again, some players were offered on loan this summer but with the caveat that they must play or there would be financial penalties. They were not assurances Newcastle’s manager was prepared to offer.

 

Having players prepared to work hard even when they’re not in the team is not easy. Focus is easy to preach about but in practice, it is difficult to maintain if your opportunities are limited. Daryl Murphy was a perfect example of retaining his edge when called upon last season. This year, Benitez believes he has maintained a core of professionals who will react the same way.

 

Again, there’s a ruthlessness about this. Jack Colback has no way back and neither did Tim Krul. There have to be consequences if he feels players either won’t fit into the culture or aren’t applying themselves right. The decision to send under-23 players back to the Academy headquarters – made early in his time at Newcastle – was a clear attempt to focus on a squad of players who had to be ready to be called upon.

 

The players know that they will get opportunities and that they are masters of their own destiny. Play well when you’re called upon and you will stay in the side. The continued exile of Jonjo Shelvey – Newcastle’s best player – is evidence of that. There are no special cases at Benitez’s Newcastle – and it’s very healthy.

 

 

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I know it's said several times a week, but fuck me the chronicle site man :anguish:

 

If the evidence was not compelling enough for him after a Championship title was delivered, perhaps now Mike Ashley is beginning to realise that the single greatest asset Newcastle United have had in a decade-and-a-half is their current manager.

 

Should the Magpies owner ever needed convincing that Benitez is the man who can bring both success and profit to Newcastle simultaneously, he need only consider what the Spaniard has already achieved so far this team - not to mention his immense success last season.

 

 

Ashley should take a look at the starting XI who took to the field on Saturday and then compare it to every other Premier League side.

 

A starting line-up with an average age of just 25 - the youngest in the Premier League - a captain who is just 23, as well as seven players aged 25 or under. The only United player past his 30th birthday is Rob Elliot - and, for a goalkeeper, 31 is no age at all.

 

Yet three-successive victories have been delivered by a newly-promoted team whose starting XI on Saturday cost less than £60million to construct - Matt Ritchie alone makes up a fifth of that outlay - and who have only a smattering of top-flight experience between them.

 

Imagine what Benitez could be considering achieving had he been allowed to remodel his Newcastle squad in the summer as he so desired.

 

Jamaal Lascelles celebrates with teammates after he heads the ball to score Newcastle's second goal during the match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St James' Park

Jamaal Lascelles celebrates with teammates after he heads the ball to score Newcastle's second goal during the match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St James' Park (Image: Newcastle United)

Make no mistake, Benitez wanted further reinforcements and he also sought greater experience and leadership to be brought in during the window, but he was also keen to sign young, hungry players who he can develop.

 

He was not demanding £20m-plus signings; rather, he was looking to bring in talented young individuals his scouting team had identified, and then bolster their progress by developing them alongside a few seasoned and proven Premier League performers.

 

Inside 12 months, the improvement in Isaac Hayden has been exponential; Ayoze Perez has added physicality and nous to his game; Chancel Mbemba rarely makes the rash decisions which undermined his game previously; Christian Atsu is discovering consistency in his performances; Ciaran Clark has progressed from an accident-prone defender at Aston Villa to Mr Dependable at the back; while Jamaal Lascelles is showing maturity beyond his years both on an off the pitch.

 

READ MORE

'It gives us a big advantage' - Jamaal Lascelles on why Newcastle's youthfulness is their strength

Their progress is not merely coincidental. Benitez and his coaching staff’s influence on those six players cannot be understated.

 

Due to the less-arduous nature of the Premier League schedule when compared to the Championship, Benitez and his backroom team are also enjoying more time on the training pitch with the squad this term - and the impact of those additional meticulous sessions is obvious.

 

When Magpies supporters look at the marked improvement in those six players, they must tingle with excitement at the prospect of Mikel Merino potentially working under Benitez long term, given how impressive the young Spaniard’s performances have already been to date.

 

Mikel Merino of Newcastle United

Mikel Merino of Newcastle United (Image: Newcastle United)

Again, Merino was a player Benitez identified.

 

Yet what is so frustrating about Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle is that he does not appear to immediately appreciate the single-greatest asset he has at his disposal.

 

Instead, Ashley points to the £6.5m spent on Matz Sels, the £4m on Achraf Lazaar and the £5.5m on Grant Hanley; he sees cold, hard figures, yet he appears to fail to grasp the full picture.

 

READ MORE

Why the flexibility Newcastle have shown across three differing wins is a cause for real optimism

When Benitez sat down with Ashley in May, the Newcastle manager presented a detailed business plan to the owner in which he explained how the Magpies could marry on-field success with making profit. Football is the priority, but money would follow.

 

Yes, Pepe Reina is 35. Yes, the Spaniard would be an expensive short-term addition once wages are considered. Yes, it is even arguable that the former Liverpool goalkeeper’s best years are behind him.

 

But Reina’s experience, his presence in the dressing room and his close relationship with Benitez would have been invaluable in terms of the impact they would have had on the youth within the United squad.

 

Pepe Reina

Pepe Reina (Image: Getty Images Europe)

Benitez is comfortable working without the over-arching model which Ashley has for the club which is to buy young prospects and develop them into top-level players. He acknowledges the financial restraints too.

 

Yet what he desires is the flexibility to sprinkle - wholly necessarily - a little bit of experience within his squad to further help develop the youngsters he has at his disposal.

 

The owner did not grasp the actuality of the situation, however. Instead, for the second-successive summer, he failed to deliver on promises Benitez believes were made - and this breakdown in trust must be repaired.

 

Ashley’s approach to the summer borders upon the nonsensical from a business point of view because the flaw in his running of the club has always been his failure to appoint a top-class coach until Benitez. Buy young and cheap, sell big once these players have developed; that is Ashley’s transfer strategy.

 

But what such an over-arching model requires is an excellent coach who is going to ensure that youngster fulfils their potential. Then Newcastle can either sell them on for a large profit or, preferably, retain an asset who they have bought for a modest fee but whose value to the side becomes exponentially greater than the original price paid.

 

I like this copy and pasting people do. It gives me the chronicle content without giving them the clickthroughs; then if I want the full chronicle experience afterward I can down a pint of bleach and get someone to beat me unconscious with a spade for the same effect.

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http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/how-rafa-benitez-built-band-13645018

 

  How Rafa Benitez built a band of brothers: Checks, balance and detoxifying the dressing room

 

Newcastle United's dressing room is a very different place from 2015, when they struggled to survive

 

COMMENTS

 

BYMARK DOUGLAS

 

19:30, 19 SEP 2017

 

Igor Gluscevic will never forget the phone call from Rafa Benitez.

 

An underrated striker who carved out a career in Holland, Spain and – crucially – under Benitez at Spanish second tier side Extremadura, Gluscevic’s retirement at the age of 34 saw him offered the chance to reunite with his former boss at Anfield.

 

ADVERTISING

 

inRead invented by Teads

 

He could not turn it down. Gluscevic was the man who first alerted Benitez to Dirk Kuyt – a favour that the Spaniard rewarded with a full-time scouting role with the remit of unearthing rough diamonds from the Balkans to aid the Spaniard’s Anfield overhaul.

 

He became a trusted recruitment lieutenant, absorbed into the Benitez inner circle. But it was a role that required some patience. “Benitez called me one time, it was about a certain player he wanted some information on,” he explained to ESPN last year.

 

“He called me and said: ‘Igor, I don’t understand the look of the player when he missed a chance. Is he angry? Is he disappointed? Does it matter for him?’ He was going into this detail and I was laughing and said: ‘Rafa, come on. You are going into so much detail.’

 

“It was not easy to work with him, he was asking, asking and asking for many different types of information. But at the end of the day, I preferred this a lot and these details are very important in certain players when you have to spend millions.”

 

To understand how Newcastle’s manager built the black and white band of brothers who have reversed the negative narrative at St James’ Park, you need look no further than this story. It is typical of the kind of approach that has detoxified the dressing room at St James’ Park over the last 15 months.

 

Benitez’s attention to detail may be presented as an amusing anecdote but these questions are key to comprehending the way the Spaniard manages. He sweats the small stuff and that means trying to get a handle not just on the player – anyone can make a judgement on that – but also the person. Analysing that look might be the final piece of the jigsaw Benitez pieces together on a player’s personality.

 

When Jamaal Lascelles said United have “different players” with a “different mentality” from the one that set them on the path to Premier League relegation in 2015, he is not wrong. But it is not a happy coincidence or a slice of good fortune that the collective character has improved: it is one of the central principles of successive Benitez recruitment drives.

 

Newcastle United pre-season training at Carton House, Ireland, Rafa Benitez (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)CLEARING THE DECKS

 

There has been a ruthlessness about Benitez’s team building – he has sold 11 of the club’s longest-serving players in an effort to rip out the prevailing culture of negativity and that he inherited.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

How one life change can help you beat common health problems

 

Sponsored by PHE

 

It was a squad that had talent but also problems. It was too quiet. It was renowned in football as an easy touch – Crystal Palace coach John Salako said that pre-game instructions to his team were “Knock the spirit out of them and they will go”. There were too many kingdoms being preserved in there: long-serving players who were more interested in their own careers than Newcastle’s. There was a mini-mutiny in there when Alan Pardew threatened to fine Yohan Cabaye for a wildcat strike before the first game of the 2013/14 season against Manchester City,

 

Benitez was disturbed by the statistic that United had conceded three or more goals seven times already that season. A sweep of the footage of their games that season revealed many of those heavy defeats as a case of United not being able – or not being motivated – to prevent heavy reversals.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

In the short-term, he worked with what he had. Moussa Sissoko was promoted to captain. Benitez liked him as a player: he was strong, versatile and influential. But he typified a dressing room that saw the club as a platform and not a destination. Most believed they had outgrown Newcastle .

 

So Benitez began to cut. He wanted a dressing room that would support each other: that would challenge team-mates if they were in the wrong. Tough characters did not necessarily mean difficult characters – he intended to challenge the players and would not push back if they challenged him or asked him why he was telling them to do certain things.

 

It says a lot that Benitez never forgets former colleagues. He has a wide network of people he has worked with and remains on friendly terms with them: many former players have gone on to be scouts, agents or administrators at other clubs. Gluscevic made the move from scout to agent: his advice on Stevan Jovetic was ringing in Benitez’s ears when he encouraged Newcastle’s administrators to make a move this summer.

 

What he believes he can get from these former colleagues is honesty. He wants to know everything about players he is scouting and he’s not afraid to move away from talented ones if he feels that they would not fit into the prevailing culture at Newcastle – which is one of self-improvement.

 

Training is important. A winning culture, he feels, starts with approaching every session with the mentality that you should be doing your absolute utmost. Bad trainers need not apply at Newcastle: Benitez does not think allowances can be made for anyone.

 

Isaac Hayden tells a story of being awake in the hours after that dispiriting defeat to Ipswich last Easter, ruminating over what he could have done better. He sought out Benitez to ask what could be done. The pair were locked in his office for hours, Benitez out of his seat pointing out positions, movements and ways of seeing the game.

 

This is a culture which relies on those arriving to sign up to it. He wanted Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina because he has seen at first hand how he inspires change and improvement in those around him. It is, he feels, the key to creating a positive atmosphere.

 

THE BACKGROUND CHECKS

 

Benitez meets everyone who arrives – and those who don’t too. But before they sit down over a coffee, there will have been a minimum of two or three referees for that player. “When I pick players, I need to be sure I am choosing players who really want it and are not always making excuses when they make mistakes,” he explained.

 

These background checks have formed a crucial part of Benitez’s work assembling this squad. There is a neat narrative running through this squad of Newcastle bringing in players who have had to fight back from some sort of adversity.

 

Matt Ritchie was playing in the fourth division a few years before he arrived at Newcastle; Dwight Gayle had to combine a carpentry job with non-league football – and actually took a pay cut to sign for Bishop’s Stortford. This summer, Florian Lejeune – who rebuilt his career in the Spanish second tier – was signed along with Mikel Merino, who had hunger after failing to make an impact at Borussia Dortmund.

 

Benitez likes those who have had to work for what they have. He urged Tammy Abraham to remove himself from his comfort zone in the south to come and play for Newcastle. It was a convincing sales pitch that won over the Chelsea striker, which explains the anger that Newcastle did not complete the deal.

 

He has a model for a player. In my book Inside the Rafalution I quoted Mauro Pederzoli, another former Benitez scout, who worked with him in 2007.

 

“There are simple but unbreakable rules that Benitez passes on to his scouts,” he said, when interviewed a decade ago.

 

“Benitez doesn’t want headline-hogging players but discipline. He avoids small players and ‘fancy dans’. He looks for ‘fair and strong’ players. Put together those players and you get a Benitez team. His Liverpool team was a side that topped the fair play league. In one season they had no player sent off in the league.”

 

By the same token, he is not afraid to turn down players who he feels would not fit into Newcastle’s dressing room culture. There were two this summer who might have excited fans if Newcastle’s manager had followed up interest, but Benitez felt they would not work at his club.

 

Indeed he sought in-depth references on Joe Hart, who was being offered at a reasonable loan rate. He was told that he had not impressed on-the-field at Torino.

 

READ MOREEverything is Black and White podcast: Can Newcastle make it four in a row?MAKING SURE THE SQUAD HAS THE BALANCE

 

It is not just about the first XI. The hardest part of building a squad is maintaining the hunger and edge of those on the fringes.

 

“Some players will be more important than the others,” Benitez has said. “But they are all part of our movement. If we do well, they are all important.”

 

The first part of this is making sure that he brings in the right characters and explains their role with clarity and honesty. Again, some players were offered on loan this summer but with the caveat that they must play or there would be financial penalties. They were not assurances Newcastle’s manager was prepared to offer.

 

Having players prepared to work hard even when they’re not in the team is not easy. Focus is easy to preach about but in practice, it is difficult to maintain if your opportunities are limited. Daryl Murphy was a perfect example of retaining his edge when called upon last season. This year, Benitez believes he has maintained a core of professionals who will react the same way.

 

Again, there’s a ruthlessness about this. Jack Colback has no way back and neither did Tim Krul. There have to be consequences if he feels players either won’t fit into the culture or aren’t applying themselves right. The decision to send under-23 players back to the Academy headquarters – made early in his time at Newcastle – was a clear attempt to focus on a squad of players who had to be ready to be called upon.

 

The players know that they will get opportunities and that they are masters of their own destiny. Play well when you’re called upon and you will stay in the side. The continued exile of Jonjo Shelvey – Newcastle’s best player – is evidence of that. There are no special cases at Benitez’s Newcastle – and it’s very healthy.

 

 

 

Smashing read that. Wish we had an owner who understood football enough to appreciate it.

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Isaac Hayden tells a story of being awake in the hours after that dispiriting defeat to Ipswich last Easter, ruminating over what he could have done better. He sought out Benitez to ask what could be done. The pair were locked in his office for hours, Benitez out of his seat pointing out positions, movements and ways of seeing the game.

 

 

 

 

 

Smashing read that. Wish we had an owner who understood football enough to appreciate it.

 

Class.

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