Rafa explained to the local press last week at the Benton training grounds that he spent two seasons (1997-1999) at a small Spanish club Extremadura.
In his first season there he had them promoted to La Liga and in the next season they were relegated after losing a two-legged play-off with Villareal, so he does have some experience in fighting relegation in his management career.
Rafa Benitez at the Benton training ground
Talking to the local reporters late last week Rafa pointed that fact out:
“When I took the Newcastle job, some of the media said I didn’t have experience of relegation battles but I had experience at Extremadura.”
So first of all let´s understand the facts of what happened when Rafa was in charge of Extremadura from 1997 to 1999.
This is what it says in Wikipedia about Rafa´s two years there:
In 1997, he joined another Segunda Division side, Extremadura, and this time led them to promotion, finishing second in the table behind Deportivo Alaves after winning 23 out of 42 games.
Extremadura only survived one season in the Primera Division however and were relegated in 1999 after finishing 17th and losing a play-off to Villarreal.
And this is how Rafa explained that experience in fighting relegation at Extremadura to local reporters last week, as he was trying to make several points about relegation.
Before he joined the small club they had already been promoted and relegated in the previous two seasons, which Rafa describes:
“The main thing I told the Chairman then was: ‘Stay calm. Stay calm until the end of the season.’
“Extremadura is a small team, it’s a small village that were promoted (in 1996) to the first division and it was a miracle – a miracle.”
“Then the same coach that was very close to the Chairman, he was still in charge and they lost their first seven games in La Liga (in the 1996-1997 season).”
“So on the way back from the stadium to the center of the village was the path of the elephants because they were all like this with their hands down looking towards the ground, because they had lost seven games in a row.”
“He was in a panic to sign players in that January and they were relegated (in 1997).”
“Then I signed for them and they were promoted again, that was another miracle because you lose your best players to the Premier League and to the Champions League.”
“Then I told the Chairman: ‘I will sign two years but you have to guarantee that I will stay two years. You have to stay calm because we can be safe at the end of the season.’”
“He says: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’”
“The last game we played against Villarreal and we were fifth-from-bottom; two were relegated, two were going to have to play in the play-offs.”
“We had a problem with the center-back, we had a problem with injuries, and then we drew against Villarreal and we had to play the play-off, and we were relegated.”
“People say ‘Oh you were relegated,’ but we were fine until the last day.”
“So what I am trying to say is we have until the last game of the season against Tottenham, and we are fine for now, so what we have to do is believe we can do it.”
“If early, much better. If not, carry on, carry on and then we have our chances.”
What Rafa is saying there with that story is that things can change dramatically towards the end of the season and it´s possible to go down or stay up right at the death.
We had a little experience of that last season when we only just survived in that last game against West Ham.
There´s probably a little hint there also for Managing Director Lee Charnley to stay calm – he looked like death warmed up at half time last Sunday when we were 1-0 down to Sunderland.
So maybe Crystal Palace – or some other club – could be like Extremadura in the La Liga back in 1999 and get caught right at the end of the season and be relegated?
We have eight games to play and every single game is important, including the ones at the very end.
And with Rafa having been at the club for several weeks by then, maybe we can put a late winning streak together whatever happens in the next few games?
In short Rafa is saying keep the faith until that very last game – whatever happens.
Of course it´s not exactly great for the nerves, which have been just a little bit frayed for the last few years supporting Newcastle United Football Club.
It would be great if we can win the next five games and be safe quickly.
But that´s unlikely to happen – apparently.