Newcastle are in big trouble. Fact.

Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez. Photo by Ronnie MacDonald 

Rafa’s back. Steve McClaren’s reign as Newcastle boss didn’t last long and it yielded few points. Newcastle find themselves in the relegation zone with nine matches left to play. The final two games of their season are at home to Tottenham and Manchester City so that makes April a rather important month for Benitez.

The Spaniard’s recent career trajectory is Real Madrid – Napoli – Newcastle. Or to put it another way Ronaldo – Higuain – Mitrovic. That’s the sort of downhill momentum that a luge team would be pleased with. I hope Benitez has topped up his tan in his previous two gigs because as Gazza memorably sang, it’s mostly “fog on the Tyne.”

The sun doesn’t shine much in Newcastle at the best of times (though has there ever been a set of fans more inclined to attend matches half naked? Ha way the tops) but there seems to have been a persistently dark cloud hanging over St. James’ Park for a long time now.

Newcastle fans are among the most loyal anywhere but their club is going nowhere. Boardroom bungling has certainly been a factor as Newcastle have lurched from one crisis to another.

Owner Mike Ashley has been summoned to appear before Parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills select committee to give evidence about the treatment of workers at his firm, Sports Direct. A recent BBC investigation raised concerns about ‘the treatment of low paid workers and enforcement of the national minimum wage.’

In response, Ashley invited MPs to visit the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, an invitation that members (honourable and otherwise) appear to have declined. He did not invite them to visit St. James’ Park, where the average wage must be considerably higher than the minimum. The effort some of those players are displaying in return for their wages could be described as minimal though.

Had MPs visited Newcastle’s ground on Januray 12th this year they would have seen a banner unfurled by supporters that read: ‘#SportsDirectShame’. A protest isn’t really a protest these days if it doesn’t include a hashtag.

What those supporters have witnessed on the pitch has been pretty shameful and I wonder if any have written to their local MP. That would be Labour’s Chi Onwurah, who happens to serve on the Business, Innovation, and Skills Committee that are so keen to make the acquaintance of Mr. Ashley. Perhaps they will be conducting an investigation to see if there’s any evidence of business, innovation or skills at Newcastle FC.

The committee are probably more concerned with assessing the implications of a potential Brexit from the EU. Newcastle fans fears revolve around the Nexit question: will Newcastle exit the Premier League this season? I doubt they spend very much time contemplating Europe at the moment.

Benitez is a manager whose career is on the way down and I think he’s just taken charge of a club on the way down as well.

In my view, Villa are already long gone, and Swansea I expect to be safe so that leaves two from Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland. Newcastle v Sunderland this weekend is a huge game. The home side will be hoping for a Benitez bounce as without it they are likely to soon be tumbling through the relegation trapdoor.

Rafa specialises in making teams hard to beat and Newcastle could certainly use a little of that right now but the air of defeat that lingers around the club is as thick and smothering as the Tyne fog.

Newcastle fans must now be used to flirting with relegation but this year I think they will consummate that relationship. The facts of life for those supporters cannot be denied; their club is in big trouble.

Moyes will be Moyes

Photo by: Paul Townsend

Photo by: Paul Townsend

David Moyes is back in management after agreeing a contract with Real Sociedad. It’s a bold step for a man whose dream job at Manchester United became a nightmare after just a few months. Lauded on his arrival at Old Trafford as Fergie’s ‘chosen one’ he was sacked 10 months later, looking like the ‘frozen one’ in the glare of the Glazer headlights.

I have written previously that I think Moyes undermined himself with his demeanour as Manchester United boss. Too often he looked daunted. This was not entirely unreasonable given that following Ferguson could never be less than daunting but he had to either hide it or get over it quickly. He didn’t really seem to do either.

Contrast Moyes’ demeanour with that of van Gaal, the Dutchman looks as though he’s never been daunted his life.

Relocating to Spain in a bid to rehabilitate his reputation is surely another daunting prospect for Moyes but I wish him well and I think he’ll succeed. He certainly made mistakes in Manchester but when you look at the start that van Gaal’s made with a much better squad, a reassessment of the difficulties endured by his predecessor is warranted.

Even signing Fellaini is starting to make some sort of sense. I still think that was a mistake actually but not the huge one that it initially appeared to be. A much bigger mistake was not performing immediate and radical surgery on the squad that he inherited from Ferguson. Not only was it necessary in itself it would also have helped to establish Moyes’ own authority at Manchester United.

Alas he didn’t and the authority that would have come from winning matches was somewhat hampered by the frequency with which his side lost them.

Moyes takes over a Sociedad side sitting 15th in La Liga. Of course new managers never take over sides that are winning do they? Oh wait, well, anyway, this side that he’s just assumed responsibility for have not been winning much of late and a period of rebuilding looks to be required.

The biggest challenge that Moyes will face in the first few months is the language barrier. He’ll be taking intensive Spanish classes but it will still be hard to get his players to fully understand what he wants from them. Moyes is a hands-on type of coach and so being properly understood will be all the more important for him.

It must be admitted though that some of Manchester United’s displays under him were so disjointed that you have to wonder if he gave the team talk in Spanish.

One man who knows what it’s like to venture abroad as a coach nursing a bruised reputation is Steve McClaren. He has warned Moyes that his head will probably be spinning to begin with until he starts to adapt to the culture and gets to know the league.

McLaren achieved great success with Twente in the Eredivisie, guiding them to the title. Real will probably win the league in Spain this season but it won’t be Sociedad. Moyes will content himself with more modest achievements from his new side.

He’s chosen another daunting assignment but hopefully he’s learned enough not to show it this time.