After the dire reigns of Alan Pardew, Steve McClaren and John Carver, Newcastle United needed an imposing figure. Enter Benitez.
After a prolonged period of disappointment and general hopelessness, the unveiling of the former Real Madrid manager at St James’ Park coincided with a renewed sense of belief among the club’s infamously fervent supporters, with even their relegation at the end of last season failing to destroy the optimism on the terraces.
And Benitez has not disappointed so far, leading Newcastle to the top of the Championship table as they aim to return to the Premier League after just one season out of the limelight, while his unrivalled pulling power has helped secure the services of Premier League quality players such as Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie.
Harper, who remained at his boyhood for 20 years despite frequently finding himself on the bench as an understudy, believes the presence of a Champions League winning manager on the sidelines has had a huge change on the mentality of the club and the fans.
“I think the fans appreciate the club have gone out on a limb and appointed a proven manager with a fantastic, world class reputation,” Harper told The Chronicle. “You can see there’s excitement again at the possibility of what is going to come next and that’s been missing for a while.
“Once Newcastle gets turned around and heading in the right direction we have seen before how quickly they can generate some momentum. It feels like that now.”
It’s been a long time since The Magpies were fighting in the upper echelons of the Premier League, with their fifth placed finish under Alan Pardew in 2011/12 very much an anomalie amongst a decade of mediocrity.
However, there’s a growing belief that Benitez, who has stated his desire to build a legacy in the North East, can establish Newcastle as a Premier League force in the years to come.