The thing every member of the Toon Army feared most has happened – the search for the next Newcastle manager is on. Rafa Benitez is on his way from St James’ Park after just over three years in charge.
Although unable to save the Magpies from Premier League relegation in his first few months at the helm, the Spaniard took the Tyneside team straight back up by winning the Championship.
Benitez has since re-established Newcastle in the top flight but seldom received the backing promised by controversial and wantaway owner Mike Ashley.
Negotiations over a new deal stalled and no agreement was reached. Benitez leaves the Magpies when his contract expires on June 30. He is some act to follow.
Under Benitez, Newcastle recorded just their third top half finish in the Premier League since 2006 in 2018. While last season’s 13th place finish was more modest, the Magpies were in no real danger of relegation.
A passionate Toon Army fanbase will now be worried about the direction the club is taking. Ashley wants a buyer and now has a managerial appointment to make halfway through the summer transfer window.
This is the proverbial poisoned chalice, so who could the next Newcastle manager be? Here, we profile five contenders for the role as Benitez’s successor…
Mikel Arteta prominent in next Newcastle manager market
Former Everton and Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta has learned plenty from Arsene Wenger and now Pep Guardiola as Manchester City assistant coach.
They are two of the greatest Premier League bosses ever, but this is a big job for a novice. Arteta won’t have the resources he enjoys at the Etihad – unless Ashley sells to a wealthy investor.
During his own playing career, Arteta was a defensive midfielder with ability on the ball. The style seen at the Gunners and Man City will be very difficult to implement on Tyneside.
This would be a gamble. Although often tentatively linked with making the step up from backroom staff to dugout hotseat, you can’t be sure this is the safest stepping stone for Arteta.
Compatriot forwards Joselu and Ayoze Perez mean there is already a Spanish flavour at St James’ Park.
Whether Arteta takes the plunge at a club where stability is so transient remains to be seen but he’s a prominent early contender to be next Newcastle manager.
Jose Mourinho not as crazy as first appears
Now this will seem left field but, as his great mentor Sir Bobby Robson coached the Magpies for many years, Jose Mourinho is available.
It’s not the usual calibre of club consistently challenging for honours and playing in Europe that he has spent the majority of his career managing, but The Special One is somewhat damaged goods in English football now.
Mourinho won Premier League titles with Chelsea in both spells at Stamford Bridge and guided Manchester United to Europa League glory.
He has a poor track record of bringing younger players through, but also pretty much done it all in club coaching.
Depending on if a new buyer is found, this could be one heck of a challenge for Mourinho. Could it reignite the spark that seemed snuffed out at Real Madrid and has burned low back in London and at Old Trafford?
Stranger things have happened. Becoming next Newcastle manager could prove the perfect opportunity for Mourinho to prove his critics wrong and get his mojo back too!
Garry Monk seems a good fit
If Ashley wants a young English manager with experience, then Garry Monk fits the bill. He is available after leaving Birmingham City under something of a cloud despite excellent work in the Second City.
Managing the Blues who have well-documented and longstanding financial problems wasn’t an easy gig for Monk.
Birmingham survived with plenty to spare despite a nine-point deduction for not meeting EFL sustainability rules.
He coached Swansea in the Premier League after playing and captaining the South Wales outfit for many years. Spells in the dugout with Leeds and neighbours Middlesbrough didn’t set the world alight though.
It’s that experience of working within a budget that makes Monk appealing for this position though. Ashley isn’t likely to give the next Newcastle manager carte blanche in the transfer market.
Some shrewd signings, perhaps going back to St Andrew’s for Che Adams who would add extra dynamism to the Magpies frontline, could happen if Monk gets the job.
Gennaro Gattuso as passionate as any Geordie
Few football fans are as passionate as the Toon Army, so how about having a coach with similar fervour? Gennaro Gattuso, Rino to his friends, is free after losing his position at AC Milan.
As a player, he was a fierce defensive midfielder who played for Rangers before the Rossoneri.
Gattuso famously had a spat with former Tottenham assistant Joe Jordan when Spurs met Milan in the Champions League during Harry Redknapp’s tenure.
Italian managers are even more common than English ones in the Premier League nowadays. Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and Claudio Ranieri are just three of the most successful in recent years.
Gattuso would only intensify that roller coaster ride feeling on Tyneside. There’s never a dull moment following the Magpies anyway and, if playing anything like him, we could expect real steel running throughout the side.
He is also someone that Newcastle players will respect. Gattuso is a World Cup and Champions League winner, so if he wants a quick return to management after that San Siro exit this is a solid choice.
The second coming of Chris Hughton?
They say never go back, and Chris Hughton could be forgiven for ruling it out but maybe there’s unfinished business? He was doing a perfectly good job with Newcastle after their relegation 10 years ago.
The Magpies bounced straight back winning the Championship – much like Benitez did. Then with the team back in the Premier League and going well, Hughton was cast aside in favour of Alan Pardew.
Since then his career has been mixed. Like Monk, Hughton managed Birmingham in difficult circumstances and guided them to a top four finish in the Championship.
He then kept Norwich in the Premier League but there was also stagnation.
During four-and-a-half years with Brighton and Hove Albion, Hughton got them into the top flight and kept them there. Again, he found battling relegation to be a glass ceiling.
Hughton knows Newcastle and what Ashley is like. It’s just a case of whether the former Republic of Ireland full back lets bygones be bygones.