Rafael Benitez is set to outline his plan for the “massive” challenge of dragging Newcastle out of relegation trouble.
The 55-year-old Spaniard met the players he inherited from the sacked Steve McClaren within an hour of the announcement of his appointment on Friday afternoon. They were called in on a day off and their new boss took training ahead of Monday night’s daunting trip to leaders Leicester.
Benitez, who will face the media for the first time as Magpies boss at 2pm on Saturday, has signed an initial three-year contract, which Press Association Sport understands contains a break clause at the end of this season should the club get relegated.
He will take charge at St James’ Park for the first time in next Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby clash with Sunderland in a game neither side dare lose in the circumstances.
Benitez, who will have the title “manager” rather than “head coach”, a significant shift from the club’s recent model, said: “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.”
He added in an interview with nufcTV: “When I decide to come it is because I am convinced we can stay in the Premier League.
“We know that we have a great future ahead, but we need to concentrate on the present – the present is to try to win the next game against Leicester.”
As McClaren headed off in the opposite direction, he did so convinced he would have kept Newcastle in the Barclays Premier League.
The 54-year-old was shown the door after just nine months in charge on Tyneside hours before former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss Benitez was unveiled as his replacement, and he walked away still insisting he would have got the club across the finishing line despite winning just six of the 28 league games for which he was in charge.
In a statement issued through the League Managers’ Association, McClaren said: “I am obviously very disappointed with the decision.
“I appreciate any frustrations relating to the team’s results and the club subsequently finding itself in a battle to avoid relegation. I remain confident, however, that we would have stayed in the Premier League with a view to building for next season.”
That is a view, however, which was clearly not shared by those fans who made their feelings abundantly clear during and after last Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth, which left the Magpies in 19th place in the table and a point adrift of safety.
Ultimately, managing director Lee Charnley, the man who had appointed McClaren in June last year, was not convinced either and after an increasingly unseemly hiatus which stretched into a sixth day, he finally moved.