Steve McLaren sacked at Newcastle, Rafa Benitez taking over: Why?

The inevitable has happened, Newcastle United has finally sacked Steve McLaren after a rather disappointing 7-6-18 record and a current 19th place showing in the English Premier League table. The big news isn’t about McLaren being sacked, we’ve expected that for a while and probably should have happened earlier. It’s more about who is likely coming in to replace McLaren.

Newcastle revealed that Rafa Benitez is going to take over in hopes to turn around Newcastle’s hopes and keep them in the Premier League. Benitez certainly has the credentials, a Champions League title with Liverpool, two Europa League/UEFA Cup titles with Chelsea and Valencia, two La Liga titles with Valencia and domestic cups with Liverpool, Inter and Napoli. His most recent spell was at Real madrid, where it ended in him getting sacked after seven months and seemed like he never really had a fair chance among players as well as fans.

Having said that, why would Rafa Benitez want to take over Newcastle and be in a relegation fight? Yeah, his spell at Real Madrid was largely unsuccessful but this is a huge drop from the Bernabeu, surely there were other jobs available.

This isn’t to say Newcastle is a terrible place to manage. Newcastle has a great fanbase, is popular and has the tools to make a good team. The issue, as usual with Newcastle, is the man who owns the team. And as long as Mike Ashley owns Newcastle United, no manager can be successful under him.

Take a look at the managers under Ashley’s reign and how they fared:

Sam Allardyce (2007-08) – 8-6-10
Nigel Pearson (Caretaker) – 1-0-1
Kevin Keegan (2008) – 6-6-9
Chris Houghton (Caretaker) – 0-0-3
Joe Kinnear (2008-09) – 4-8-6
Alan Shearer (Caretaker) – 1-2-5
Chris Houghton (2009-10) – 38-11-15 (In Championship and promoted)
Alan Pardew (2010-15) – 71-41-73 (Qualified for Europa League)
John Carver (Caretaker) – 3-4-13
Steve McLaren (2015-16) – 7-6-18

Except for the early part of Alan Pardew’s tenure, this hasn’t been a very stellar run in Newcastle’s history under Mike Ashley. Managers either had terrible records or in the case of Chris Houghton, had to get the team back to the Premier League.

One reason is Mike Ashley’s reluctance to spend much money to adequately mount a challenge for the top half of the table or for trophies. Pardew was able to work around Ashley’s lack of spending by tapping into the French player market. With signings like Yohan Cobaye, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle enjoyed their only blip of EPL success by finishing 5th and getting a Europa League spot.

So why would Rafa Benitez want to take over this? The big reason is that he wants to be back into the Premier League. With the added competitiveness and money coming in, the EPL is a destination for people regardless of what team they end up with. With Rafa’s heart set on the EPL, he isn’t going to be on a top team so his best case scenario is a midtable team or lower. And seeing what Leicester City has done this season, that may give the belief to guys like Rafa Benitez and teams like Newcastle United that they can do something similar.

But the Leicester City story is special and this is one instance in the entire history of the English Premier League. There is no guarantee and it’s actually highly unlikely a Leicester City dream scenario will be anywhere close to the norm. In reality, Newcastle is likely to be relegated down to the Championship regardless of who takes over as manager.

Rafa Benitez is a great manager but even this is going to be tough. Newcastle is in a battle with Norwich and Sunderland and all three teams are within a point of each other. Two of these teams will be relegated so this puts each team at a 66% chance of getting relegated. If Newcastle somehow survives this season, maybe Rafa can turn the team around and get back to being a midtable team. But regardless of who is leading the players, it won’t solve their Mike Ashley problem and that is the real reason Newcastle is fading into irrelevance.

[Photo: Newcastle United]

Phillip Bupp

About Phillip Bupp

Managing editor for 32 Flags, news editor for The Comeback and staff writer for Awful Announcing. I also do video highlight game coverage for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me @phillipbupp, @32flags as well as @MLSTitleBelt, a project where the title holder must defend the title in every MLS game.