Rafael Benítez is one of the most renowned managers in world football; 12 months ago the Spaniard was preparing for a campaign in the Champions League and La Liga at one of the most prestigious clubs in the world: Real Madrid.
Although it is felt by many that he should not have had his contract at the club terminated so soon, in January of 2016, ‘Rafa’ found himself out of a job.
After only 2 months away from football management, Benítez returned to England and the Premier League where he had previously managed Chelsea and Liverpool where he won the Champions League in 2005.
He arrived in Tyneside and was unveiled as the manager of Newcastle United, who were in danger of relegation following a poor season, on March 11th 2016.
He failed to fully turn around their atrocious run of form that had seen Steve McClaren sacked and they were relegated from the Premier League.
They now find themselves in the Football League Championship and at the beginning of the transfer window, the fans of the club and the manager called out for owner Mike Ashley to spend money in areas that will see them fight to retain their Premier League status, and follow in the footsteps of rivals Middlesbrough who were promoted to the top flight last season.
Ashley, Benítez and the recruitment staff at the club have acted decisively in this window so far as they have managed to secure the signatures of Matt Ritchie from Bournemouth, Dwight Gayle from Crystal Palace and Matz Sels from Belgian side Gent.
Alternatively, many fans are sorry to see Andros Townsend leave after only 6 months at the club to go to Crystal Palace. The Englishman performed well in his short term at the Magpies, scoring 4 goals and assisting twice.
With some quality signings already secured, it is clear that the Newcastle staff’s aims are to escape the Championship at the first time of asking with players such as Ritchie and Gayle.
These two are well suited for this league and its style of play with the former being a significant figure in Bournemouth’s promotion in the season of 2014/2015 as he scored 11 goals and provided 13 assists, an impressive amount.
The question is, however: can Benítez handle the pressure and unpredictability of the Championship and begin to understand its less prestigious and unforgiving smaller teams? Sides such as Burton Albion and Rotherham, who have a differing philosophies of sitting tight and playing for a draw against the better teams in the league.
It may be a far cry away from the Santiago Bernabéu and the excitement of the Liga BBVA or the Premier League, but will this unique league prove to be a challenge for Rafael Benítez and his footballing philosophy or will he manage to get Newcastle United back to the Barclays Premier League?
Similarly, just over 1 year ago, Roberto Di Matteo was managing the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Benedikt Howedes at German club Schalke. He had also previously won the Champions League in 2012 while in charge of Chelsea as caretaker manager.
This win, and also the victory in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool secured him the role of Chelsea manager, however this was short-lived as Di Matteo was sacked later that year after a poor run of form and bad results in the Champions league and Barclays Premier League. However, at this point he had become very well known and many clubs across Europe were interested in appointing him as manager.
After many months out of management, he became the manager of Schalke who at that point were sitting at 11th place in the Bundesliga. Di Matteo resigned at the end of the season having taken the club up to sixth place and qualifying for the Europa League despite an abysmal run of form with 2 wins in the last 10 matches, this run up to the end of the season cost them a Champions League spot which ultimately led to Di Matteo’s resignation.
On the other hand, he had achieved a great deal of success and recognition from the footballing world as he had turned round Schalke’s inevitably appalling season while in charge and had also nearly achieved further Champions League success by beating Real Madrid 4-3 in Madrid.
However, Schalke had lost 2–0 in the first leg in February and the final score was therefore 5-4 on aggregate.
He now faces a situation that is almost identical to that of Benítez as Di Matteo was appointed the manager of newly relegated Championship club Aston Villa on 2nd June 2016.
With Aston Villa being a powerful force in comparison to the rest of their new league it is probable that they will perform well and adapt to the league and its harsh nature.
With the Bournemouth’s Tommy Elphick joining their squad they have acquired a great leader who is used to commanding his side at this level having done so in the past for the Cherries, he can hopefully help Villa cement a position at the head of the Sky Bet Championship.
They will be battling it out with other great squads at the top end of the league however with Newcastle, Brighton, Norwich and Derby County all desperate for a chance to gain promotion
It is definitely going to be intriguing to watch the way these two clubs and their new, experienced managers try to cope with the Football League.
But will Aston Villa, Newcastle or perhaps both manage to seal their place in the top two places of the Championship and retain their position in the elite of English football?