Rafa Benitez says he is preparing himself for a relegation battle for the first time in 20 years – and insists even good managers will lose matches if their team is not up to scratch.
The Newcastle boss remains concerned about the strength of his squad and is angry that promises made by owner Mike Ashley have not come to fruition.
Benitez had thought he would be able to add more in terms of both quality and quantity this summer – they have spent £30.5million on five players – and he is frustrated with the club’s hierarchy over their slow progress.
And the Spaniard has warned supporters that this season will be very different to last, when they won 29 matches on their way to the Championship title.
‘This is a totally different challenge. Last year we were much better than the other teams in 70 per cent of the games and we had to manage expectations,’ said Benitez.
‘This year it could be the total opposite, so we have to make sure we are mentally strong when we are losing.
We have to be happy because we are back in the Premier League, but the only way we can have good aspirations is to improve the squad now.’
Benitez has spent the last two decades challenging for – and winning – trophies with the likes of Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid. Indeed, the last time he entered a new season knowing he would be scrapping for survival was with Extremadura in 1998.
’It’s a long time ago,’ said Benitez, who had taken the club into Spain’s top division but suffered relegation two years later following a play-off
‘I didn’t have any problem because when I decided to stay with Extremadura I had the same idea that I have now – I was happy in the village and I said that we could only do our best.
‘So I have been at teams before where it was difficult to win. You have to manage in a different way. The main thing is to be sure that you have a strong mentality in the team.’ Benitez has even played down his own influence on the fate of the Magpies this season and his point is this – without good players it is harder for any manager to succeed.
‘The name of the manager doesn’t matter – it’s about the team,’ he said.
‘If you have the right tools you can compete and do different things. When you have a very strong team then it doesn’t matter if the manager isn’t good enough because you can still win.
In my experience, I have seen a lot of managers win only because their players are so good.
‘People outside think the one who wins is a great manager, but sometimes it is only because of the team. The thing that matters most is the players.
‘The reality is that the best managers in the Premier League have been there a while and they have been able to spend some money on top-class players, so they have a better squad than we have.
‘So you can be a good manager but lose games because your team is not good enough.’