Newcastle 2019/20 season review: Rafa's shadow still looms large

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Padraig Whelan

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After Rafael Benítez’s exit last summer, this was largely a year of consolidation with Steve Bruce at the helm for Newcastle.

Here’s our review for their campaign.

Player of the season: Allan Saint-Maximin

It has to be the man who is called Gucci among his team-mates.

He arrived for a decent price and with the maverick winger tag hanging over him.

But he has been a joy. When fans were in the stadium, he had them on the edge of their seats and when they couldn’t attend, he had them on the edge of the sofa.

The Frenchman is one of a select band of players whose wonderful individual talents make him worth the price of admission alone.

His four goals and five assists may not seem like a lot but he is a box-office talent who always makes the Magpies worth watching.

Rising star: Matthew Longstaff

As dream debuts go, his is up there with the best in Newcastle history.

Flung in by Steve Bruce in October for his first taste of Premier League action with the illustrious Manchester United in town, it couldn’t have gone any better.

The boyhood fan proceeded to score the winner in front of the Gallowgate with a fine low finish.

Expectations understandably increased after that but the 20-year-old followed it up with some good outings.

However, his ongoing hardball negotiations with the club over a new deal have soured things somewhat.

It can only be hoped his star continues to rise on Tyneside and that he isn’t tempted away by offers of riches from elsewhere.

Flop of the season: Joelinton

We are willing to cut Joelinton a certain amount of slack for his dreadfully disappointing debut campaign.

He arrived in an unfamiliar league at the age of 22 lumbered with an eye-watering £40 million price tag that he didn’t ask for.

That was already bad enough but being handed the hallowed No. 9 jersey when, as he showed at Hoffenheim, he isn’t that kind of striker made things even worse.

It set unrealistic expectations that he would always struggle to match but even with that factored in, he’s been the biggest flop.

He’s managed just two league goals (coming almost 10 months apart) and frustrated fans for much of his time on Tyneside.

Admittedly, things have gotten better of late as he begins to adjust but it has mostly been a season to forget.

Rate the manager

This is a difficult task.

He was nobody’s choice to fill the substantial shoes of Rafael Benítez and came in very much aware of his status as unwanted by some and little more than a Mike Ashley puppet to others.

But Bruce has done a reasonable job – even if he hasn’t torn up any trees with either results or the style.

It has not been an easy atmosphere for him at St James’ Park this year – fan unrest, takeover talk and then the coronavirus pandemic have ensured that – but he has largely handled it well.

Still, you get the feeling that if Benítez had his money to spend, things would have went much better, given the miracles he performed with less talented squads.

Ultimately, he’s done a fine job at a tough time. But you can’t blame the fans for still pining for Rafa.

What comes next?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? Or should that be the million riyal question.

This year, it seemed Newcastle were as tantalisingly close as they have ever been to ridding themselves of Mike Ashley.

And then out of nowhere, the Saudi-backed takeover was off the table.

Where does that leave the Magpies now? Who knows.

Rating the season: 6/10