13 Mar Rafa on relegation
I’m not afraid of the drop, claims Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez insists he is not “scared” of relegation as he attempts to drag new club Newcastle to safety.
The Magpies will head for Barclays Premier League leaders Leicester on Monday evening in deep trouble and knowing their plight could get worse before it gets better with just 10 games of the season remaining.
However, 55-year-old former Real Madrid boss does not fear the challenge ahead of him after replacing Steve McClaren at the St James’ Park helm.
Benitez said: “‘Scared’ is not the word. I know that it is a difficult situation, but believe me, I’ve done the maths. It is positive. After watching some games, the team is good, so why not? We can do it.
“After that, the future is brilliant because you have the power, the fans, the stadium and very positive things.
“You have the squad. You have to adapt a little bit, but there is great potential, so it is very important to concentrate on these 10 games.”
Benitez, who, like McClaren, will have a seat on the club’s football board, will also have the title ‘manager’, something not enjoyed by his most recent predecessor nor the man he replaced, Alan Pardew.
The abandonment of the controversial head coach model is perhaps significant, or at least will be if the Spaniard manages to keep the club up and then embarks upon a summer recruitment programme.
However, in the meantime, that is not even a consideration for him.
He said: “You have to help me. We need to concentrate on these 10 games. If everything is fine, as I expect, and we are in the Premier League, then we can talk about what my position is and the final decisions, whether I am involved in the signings.
“I will be part of the board, as was Steve, I will be there and in contact with [managing director] Lee [Charnley] every day.
“I don’t see a big issue with this as they will try to bring the best players for me, they will be the best players for the club.
“But we have to, in this short space of time, take each game one at a time, be very positive and try to give everything from everyone.”
Benitez, of course, famously presided over Liverpool’s remarkable Champions League final fightback against AC Milan in 2005, a game in which his side triumphed on penalties after trailing 3-0 at half-time.
Asked how Newcastle’s current situation compared to that task, he replied with a smile: “That was just 10-15 minutes that we were under pressure and after that, we tried to enjoy it. Here we have 10 games.”
Benitez remains a hero on the red half of Merseyside, and he sees similarities between the two cities and the place football has in the hearts of their people.
He said: “I was talking to people in Liverpool and with Michael Owen, Kenny Dalglish, people who know both sides, and they are very similar. They are working-class people and they love football, the passion is there.
“We can smell football in Liverpool – as well as The Beatles – and it is the same here too. For me, that is very important as you have to feel the support of the fans from day one, hopefully until the last day.”