Saturday's win at the Pirelli brought a fitting end to a rather bizarre 12 months for the Spaniard.
The Madridistas are not an easy bunch to please. It was 31 years since a side in one of Europe’s top leagues thumped home double figures in a domestic fixture, but Real Madrid’s 10-2 battering of Rayo Vallecano was not greeted by a carnival atmosphere or declarations that there is, in fact, only one Rafa Benitez.
Instead, Madrid rather trudged off to a chorus of murmurs and half-hearted applause.
Yes, visitors Vallecano had been somewhat harshly reduced to nine men inside the first half, yes they had taken the lead twice at the Bernabau before the referee transformed an intriguing contest into a farce, but Madrid still scored 10. The first side to achieve the feat since Bayern Munich against Eintracht Braunschweig in 1984.
Yet, if any result was to sum up his short-lived Madrid tenure it was this, more so even than the apoplectic vitriol he endured after the 4-0 humiliation at the Camp Nou. The apathetic response which greeted his Madrid side on 20 December 2015 proved once and for all that he was destined never to win over a fan base that had judged the book by its cover before even entering the library.
On the flipside, Saturday’s narrow, hard-fought 2-1 win at the Pirelli Stadium epitomised just how much his career has changed in 12 months. From the Bernabau to Burton; abhorred to adored. Goals from Mo Diame and Dwight Gayle secured another three-point haul to keep Newcastle on track for the Premier League.
It was hardly vintage but the travelling army didn’t care. Once again, the team exited the pitch serenaded by supporters. These days, Benitez is revered and respected. He may be a long way from the Bernabau and his hometown of Madrid but there’s little doubt that he feels more at home than ever on Tyneside.