I’m not knocking it. As someone who used to holiday in Valencia and watch Benitez’s great side there with the likes of Aimar, Ayala, Baraja, Albelda and so on in the early Noughties, and I was more than a little jealous when Liverpool got him in 2004 as I wanted him for Newcastle when Bobby Robson retired. That was about a month before Robson was sacked and we ended up with Graeme Souness. 12 years later it’s still a case “better late than never.” However, even more, it is just another symbol of the topsy-turvy world that lies down the St James’ Park rabbit hole. In the Premiership, when they should have been appointing someone like Benitez, or Ronald Koeman to pluck another example of someone who would have been very good without being completely out of reach, they throw in a Joe Kinnear or a John Carver just to make things more dangerous and interesting, and then when relegation is all but inevitable, then they appoint a Champions League winner to manage us in the Championship.
Carrying on the topsy turvy theme, there has also been a complete role reversal in terms policy on coaches and transfers. In the old pre-second relegation days, the managers, along with the highly influential figure of Graham Carr, were good old fashioned, salt of the earth British football characters either fished out from the dustbin of English football history, or assistant coaches with no real top level managerial experience plucked from backroom obscurity. On the other hand the player policy was the exact opposite, with a succession of French Fancies imported into Tyneside in a so called “French Revolution.”
Now in Benitez we have the opposite of a John Carver, Joe Kinnear or Iain Dowie in the dugout, the epitome of a sophisticated, Continental manager. One might have expected that the man who bought such talents as Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso when he was last managing in England would replace the French Revolution with some kind of Spanish Inquisition. However, as the manager profile has swung one way (to the delight of most fans), the average player profile has now swung back in the other direction and Benitez has been more like a Mike Bassett trawling for British battlers. After all though, it was Benitez who also signed players like a young Jonjo Shelvey, as well as an older Craig Bellamy when he was managing Liverpool too so he is a man for all seasons. In a sign of how fiercely competitive the Championship is becoming now though, Benitez isn’t the only Champions League winner in the Championship this season with Roberto di Matteo at Aston Villa. Like last time with Chris Hughton, there is only one benchmark for success though and that is promotion at the first attempt.