Steve McClaren Fired As Newcastle Manager, Is Immediately Replaced By Rafa Benítez

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Earlier today, Steve McClaren was relieved of his duties earlier today with Newcastle sitting second from bottom of the Premier League, one point from safety but short of confidence or indeed any capacity to get results when it matters.

Hours later the club unveiled McClaren’s successor— Rafa Benítez.

Benítez, who last served as Real Madrid manager for half a season before poor results and a dressing room revolt caught up with him, signed a three year contract for reportedly much more money than McClaren was earning. That contract is said to include a significant bonus for Benítez should the club escape relegation this season as well as a break clause in case they don’t.

The Newcastle appointment marks Benítez’ third stint in the Premier League. He’s best known for his time at Liverpool, who he led to an historic win in the 2005 Champions League Final, as well as the FA Cup in 2006 and coming very close to winning the Premier League title in 2008-09. In 2012-13 he served as interim manager at Chelsea, where he was regularly and loudly booed by fans despite guiding them to third in the Premier League and a Europa League title.

For his part, Benítez seemed up for the task in a statement released to the press:

I have the pleasure to confirm I have committed to a legendary English club, with the massive challenge of remaining part of the Premier League. It will be a challenge not just for me and my staff but for the players, the club and the fans. All of us must push together in the same direction and with the same target in mind. Personally, it means my return to the Premier League, closer to my home and my family. I can’t be happier. C’mon Toon Army! The club and I need your total involvement!

Meanwhile, McClaren could perhaps be forgiven for feeling somewhat bitter. The former England manager was subjected to a week of public speculation over his job following the 3-1 loss to Bournemouth last week, with the club remaining silent at first before it was revealed the club was meeting to decide his fate. McClaren was reportedly asked to come in for a meeting but refused, at which point he was informed over the phone that he was out of a job.

Newcastle seemed to acknowledge their failure to do right by McClaren in their statement:

We acknowledge that reaching this decision has taken a number of days and that this has caused uncertainty for everyone involved, in particular for Steve and the players, for which we apologise. […] [Newcastle] would like to thank Steve personally for his services to Newcastle United. He is a man of integrity and class and he has conducted himself with great dignity during this difficult time.

Although Benítez’ stock has fallen in recent years, it’s hard to read his Newcastle appointment as anything other than a step down. With all do respect to the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Stéphane Sessègnon, Newcastle’s squad is a world away from the one occupied by Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodríguez. While his failure at Real Madrid no doubt hurt his chances of waltzing into another club of Champions League caliber, taking a job with a team where success means avoiding relegation is either very puzzling or very, very sad. Still, Newcastle are surely feeling good about themselves— if Rafa can’t keep them up, it’s doubtful anyone else could have.

At press time, rumors of José Mourinho’s appointment as Aston Villa manager remain unsubstantiated.