Ruben Dias was named Premier League player of the season by the football writers this month.
The central defender is hot favourite to also be named the PFA Premier League player of the season.
Signed only nine months ago, tonight the Manchester City player hopes to help his new club complete what would be the greatest season ever in their history, if they add the Champions League to League Cup and Premier League winners.
Not a bad debut season for the £65m signing BUT he could have been playing for Newcastle United instead…
Asked to preview the Champions League final by The Times, Rafa Benitez has been full of praise for both defences and one defender in particular:
Rafa Benitez speaking to The Times:
“This is a final between the two sides with the best defensive records in the Premier League.
“Manchester City conceded 32 goals and Chelsea 36 last season.
“When I was in charge of Newcastle United, I had a meeting with Benfica officials in Liverpool.
“We were discussing some players and one name I mentioned was Ruben Dias.
“He was valued at £20 million at the time but they did not want to sell him.
“He was a young player and they wanted him to be the new centre back in the first team.
“He has since become an important player for City.
“He can read the game very well and he is good on the ball.”
If Benfica had been willing to sell back then, it might have been an insurmountable battle for Rafa Benitez to then get Mike Ashley to allow £20m to be spent on a defender.
However, it will make many Newcastle fans stop and think about the ‘what if’…the what if Rafa Benitez had been backed by Mike Ashley and instead of been forced out by the NUFC owner, had seen his ambitious plans for Newcastle United given a chance by Ashley.
Rafa wanted the opportunity to do at Newcastle United what he did when at Napoli, be backed to have a very big transfer window of spending, on the understanding that the following season would see far smaller spending. Benitez though insisting on the freedom to buy the players of his choice, with also part of his plan being that some players brought in would then significantly increase in value and be then sold, to allow further ambitious spending future years to allow Napoli to grow stronger and stronger.
In summer 2013, Rafa was allowed to spend £97m by Napoli, though it was actually only a net spend of around £30m, thanks largely to selling Edinson Cavani for £58m to PSG. The key thing though, was that Rafa Benitez was allowed to go for his own targets.
The following season of 2014/15, Rafa Benitez kept to his word and was happy despite only a £13m net spend, with £33m going on players and £18m recouped. The then Napoli manager happy because in that summer 2013 window he’d been allowed to have a breakthrough window of investment in the squad.
Amongst his summer signings of 2013, Rafa Benitez paid £35m for Higuain who later went to Juventus for £81m, as well as £8m spent on Jorginho who Chelsea later paid £51m for. Napoli benefiting by some £89m profit just on this pair, money that Napoli and the managers who followed Rafa Benitez got the benefit of, in terms of investing in the Napoli team / squad.
If in summer 2017 or summer 2018, Mike Ashley had allowed similar backing and freedom to Rafa Benitez as he experienced at Napoli in summer 2013, who knows where Newcastle United might be now?
Napoli allowed Rafa to spend £97m (in summer 2013), whilst Mike Ashley has allowed a £100m+ net spend in the two years Steve Bruce has been at the club BUT that includes £40m (Ashley says it was £43m) for Joelinton, a player that Mike Ashley was trying to force on Benitez, despite the Spaniard saying he wasn’t worth anything remotely what Ashley was insisting Newcastle must pay for him.
Rafa Benitez didn’t have a perfect signing record at Newcastle United, no manager anywhere has, but he got a lot right.
When you are giving so little freedom to act by the club’s owner and see a refusal to act quickly on targets, as well as indeed a refusal to allow certain signings to happen at all, plus such a restrictive budget, then you are going to end up with some signings like Muto. He hasn’t been able to transfer his decent Bundesliga form to the Premier League whatsoever, but trying to get a PL level striker for less than £10m is never going to be easy and gambles sometime fail.
However, some absolute brilliant signings under Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United and so many at real budget prices – amongst his good to very good buys are Dubravka, Schar, Lejeune, Fernandez, Merino, Almiron, Clark, Hayden, Diame, Manquillo, Ritchie and Gayle. As well as excellent loan deals such as Rondon and Kenedy (first time). Whilst even the likes of Joselu and Darryl Murphy came in and did a very good job in terms of value for money.
If Rafa Benitez had been given the keys to the Newcastle United Mike Ashley safe and allowed to compete for whoever he wanted, within an agreed budget, you just wonder who he could have been persuaded to come and join an improving team (on a budget), that had the eighth best form in the Premier League over Rafa’s final 28 games and the fifth best form and fifth highest total of goals in the final 16 of Rafa’s PL matches at Newcastle United.
As for Rafa Benitez mentioning the great defensive records of Man City and Chelsea, he must just shake his head and look at the absolute mess of what Steve Bruce has done to the very good disciplined and drilled defence he built at Newcastle on a very tight budget. Only six clubs conceded less than Rafa’s Newcastle in both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons.
Whereas, last season only six PL clubs conceded more goals than Bruce’s Newcastle team and this 2020/21 season only four conceded more than NUFC, only two clubs outside the bottom two.
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