Rafa in a relegation battle - Why Benitez's survival record doesn't bode well for Newcastle

Newcastle United won't be the first club Rafa Benitez has tried to keep up.

Say what you like about Rafa Benitez, his CV certainly stacks up.

The Spaniard won two league titles with Valencia, domestic cups with Napoli and Liverpool, Europa Leagues (or equivalent) with Valencia and Chelsea, the Club World Cup with Inter Milan and, most notably, the Champions League, again with Liverpool.

The trouble is, Newcastle are no longer in contention to win anything this season, with their sole aim to survive in the Premier League.

And that's a remit with which Benitez will be unfamiliar, in this country at least - though it wasn't always plain sailing for the recently-dismissed Real Madrid boss, who does have some experience of a relegation battle, if, of course, his memory stretches back that far.

Before his tour of Europe's elite clubs began at the start of this century, the 55-year-old earned his stripes in Spain's lower leagues - first with Real Madrid's Castilla team, before moving on to Real Valladolid.

There, Benitez found himself in a similar situation to his Newcastle predecessor Steve McClaren, and was sacked after 23 matches having picked up just two wins all season.

Remarkably, La Pucela, who were bottom of La Liga at the time, finished three points above the relegation play-offs after winning nine of their remaining 19 fixtures.

The following campaign, Benitez took the reins at Osasuna, but was dismissed after just nine games - of which he won one - before Extremadura gave him another shot at management later that year.

Under Benitez, the now-dissolved outfit were promoted at the first attempt, but once again the Magpies boss found it tough to avoid being sucked into Spain's bottom-four vacuum.

Extremadura put up a far better fight than his Valladolid side did, but defeat to Villarreal in the relegation play-offs consigned them to an immediate return to tier two.

After taking a year's sabbatical, Benitez returned to Spain's Segunda Liga with Tenerife in 2000, and after another immediate promotion to the top flight, the former defender was head-hunted by Valencia. The rest is history.

Ominously, Benitez's Newcastle contract includes a get-out clause should he fail to keep them up (as reported by the Chronicle), but with his track record, they'd probably be wise to hang onto him.


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