Rafael Benitez pulls no punches when setting out his targets for the season ahead. The only way is up.Those ambitions hardly come as a surprise when you consider his illustrious, trophy-laden track record.
Aside of his rather brief stint at Real Madrid last season, he has won silverware in his last seven jobs, with Extremadura, Tenerife, Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Napoli.
Most notably this time around, though, are not the Champions League, FA Cup and La Liga triumphs, but his achievements with Extremadura and Tenerife – two clubs he promoted into Spain’s top tier in 1998 and 2001.
The 56-year-old cut his managerial teeth earning promotion, and it’s a feat he is aiming for once again in the Sky Bet Championship, 16 years after his last.
“It will be very different to what I’ve experienced recently, but it’s a challenge,” Benitez told the EFL.
“I wanted to stay here, to be close to the family and be in the UK. Newcastle United are a big side and it’s a great opportunity. The club is a sleeping giant, as they say.
“The biggest target for us is to get promoted. It’s our aim to go up and we have to do everything perfectly, because it’s a division where the other teams are all working very hard and have talent of their own.
“They also know the Championship a lot better than we do. So it’s about getting it perfect, and making sure we go up at the end of the season.”
The Spaniard has spent the summer plotting his next success, which could potentially require some of the club’s exciting young talent to play a leading role alongside new signings Jesus Gamez, Dwight Gayle, Grant Hanley, Matt Ritchie and Ciaran Clark.
And Benitez believes the sooner all of those players gel at St James’ Park, the stronger their campaign will be.
“The position in pre-season has been trying to get to know the players, the staff and everyone connected with the club,” he added.
“It’s the same for the players – to get to know each other. After they’ve done this, then they can play a lot better together and win games. The main thing has been to stay together and familiarise ourselves.
“We’ve got a good squad with a few young players who have got great potential. Adam Armstrong has been training with us this summer after scoring a lot of goals away on loan last season. Rolando Aarons is another exciting player in our squad. Hopefully they can have good seasons and contribute to the team.”
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