(Reuters) - After a frustrating close season transfer window, Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez is making the best of his lot, with his personable approach reaping rewards.
Despite finishing top of the Championship last season, Benitez was keen to significantly bolster his squad before the beginning of the new Premier League campaign.
However, owner Mike Ashley revealed last month that the club cannot compete with the Premier League’s big spenders, even with the additional TV revenue, and Benitez had to settle with just six new additions to a Championship-level squad.
“I had a meeting with Mike and his advisers (in May),” the Spaniard told Sky Sports. “The meeting was very clear. So what happened after wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.”
Nonetheless, Benitez has steered his team to fourth in the table after five matches on Newcastle’s return to the top flight, keeping things simple, and entrusting his young squad to do the job.
“We’ve got a really good relationship,” 23-year-old captain Jamaal Lascelles said of his manager in The Telegraph newspaper this week. “His door is always open and he’s always making sure things are done the right way.”
Benitez’s approach so far has meant that only two sides have lower possession on average than Newcastle and no club has completed fewer passes per game - but they have still picked up three wins from their last three matches.
“Rafa is a world-class manager,” former Newcastle striker Micky Quinn told local newspaper The Chronicle. “And he is using all of those coaching skills to make this United side one of the most organised in the whole of the Premier League.”
It isn’t the first time Benitez has produced results greater than the sum of his squad’s parts. Liverpool’s Champions League winning side in 2005 contained Djimi Traore, Milan Baros and Harry Kewell – players who struggled to reach such heights after Benitez left Anfield.
Now, with a goalkeeper who has made 44 appearances for Newcastle in six years, a centre-back relegated with Aston Villa, a central midfielder cast aside by Borussia Dortmund and a starting striker who was offloaded by Stoke after scoring four goals in 27 games, Benitez has a spine of players with something to prove.
And the faith he shows has galvanised this squad to produce unexpected results. There’s still a long way to go, but should Newcastle keep hold of their meticulous manager, supporters can afford to be optimistic about what the team could achieve this season.
Reporting by Pete Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge