We all knew we were getting a world-class manager in last March when Rafa Benitez famously walked through the door at St. James’ Park after Lee Charnley had finally fired Steve McClaren and out him out of his misery.
A lot of us actually thought we had died and gone to heaven.
It had been rumored for maybe two years that Rafa could be interested in the job, but I tried a few times to put that rumor to bed by saying it was ridiculous that a manager like Rafa Benitez would never join a club with Mike Ashley as the owner.
But I turned out to be wrong (not again?) and in fact Rafa was putting out feelers to the Tyneside club, because he wanted to manage closer to home.
Rafa Benitez with young star Isaac Hayden
That was after he had left Liverpool in 2010 and managed Inter Milan and then Naples for two years (2013-2015).
In between he was interim manager for six months at Chelsea and he won the Europa League for them, but the Blues fans didn’t want him.
He then joined Real Madrid for about seven months in June, 2015 after he had been very close to becoming the West Ham manager.
That was all happening while his wife Maria de Montserrat and their two teenage daughters Claudia and Agata were living in the family house in the Wirral near Liverpool.
One of the young stars he brought in last summer was Isaac Hayden from Arsenal for just £2.5M and Isaac has been a huge success for Newcastle.
Isaac has given a brilliant interview today in the Chronicle, where he talks about Rafa’s many attributes as a world-class manager:
“You’ve seen the other teams that have been relegated and where they are now,” “So it’s not just about buying players, it’s about players gelling together.”
“Even that doesn’t guarantee anything, so you’ve got to give the manager here a lot of credit.” “He has developed a team that is doing well in this division.”
“To have 85 points at this stage of the season is very good.” “Obviously I wasn’t here last season.”
“But since I arrived it has been nothing short of a great time.”
“The manager has unified everyone, on and off the pitch.”
“That’s along with the fans and the support staff, everyone has unified and we have produced a fantastic season so far because of that.”
“But these three games will define our season, and we have to make sure we take this opportunity.”
“For me personally he has improved me as a player.” “Would I be the same player if I wasn’t here? I don’t think I would be.”
“Tactically, technically – every aspect of my game has improved.” “That’s also down to having game time as well.”
“To get the manager’s trust is not easy, especially as a young player and especially in a team that is fighting to win promotion.”
“It’s OK if you are my age playing in a team with nothing to play for.
“But to get that trust from him within this team, is important for me, and I can only thank him for that.
“Hopefully I’ve repaid him over the course of the season.”
“Hammering players in the Press, different managers have different styles,” “You see it with Mourinho and Luke Shaw.
“I’ve played with Luke Shaw, I know him quite well and he’s handled it quite well.
“But that’s just managers’ styles, you have to understand that.”
“Every manager is different and he likes to do that or that’s the way he wants to do it and that’s that.”
“But Rafa has been fantastic to us, the manager.”
“Every single one of the players in there has had opportunities to play and it’s just up to individuals to take them.”
Great words there from Isaac Hayden, who has quickly become a real fan favorite on Tyneside.
Before this season Isaac had played only 26 first team games in his career at Arsenal and on loan last season at Hull City.
But he has made 32 appearances this season in defensive midfield for us and he’s been simply fantastic – such a nice lad and a technically gifted young footballer.
If he continues this kind of improvement he’s shown this season under Rafa, then he will become an England International quite quickly.